The economic disparity between urban China and the rural interlands is among the largest in the world. Many impoverished rural dwellers are flocking to the country"s eastern cities, which are enjoying a construction boom.
Social discontent manifests itself in protests by farmers and workers. There were 87,000 protests, or "mass incidents", in 2005, according to official figures. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people travel to Beijing each year to lodge petitions with the authorities in the hope of finding redress for alleged corruption, land seizures and evictions.
Other pressing problems include corruption, which affects every level of society, and the growing rate of HIV infection. A downside of the economic boom has been environmental degradation; China is home to many of the world"s most-polluted cities.
The rate of economic change hasn"t been matched by political reform, with the Communist Party - the world"s biggest political party - retaining its monopoly on power and maintaining strict control over the people. The authorities still crack down on any signs of opposition and send outspoken dissidents to labour camps.
Potent symbol: Mao"s potrait survey Beijing Tiananmen Square