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China: Chemicals
Country Study > Chapter 7 > Industry > Manufacturing > Chemicals


China's chemical industry evolved from a negligible base in 1949, grew substantially in the 1950s and early 1960s, and received major emphasis in the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1984 chemical products served primarily agriculture and light industry. The three main areas of chemical manufacturing are chemical fertilizers, basic chemicals, and organically synthesized products. Chemical fertilizer was consistently regarded as the key to increased agricultural output. The output of many chemical products rose steadily, sometimes dramatically, from 1978 to 1984.

Except for a few items, such as soda ash and synthetic rubber, the great majority of chemical products, including fertilizer, came from small factories. Small-scale plants could be built more quickly and inexpensively than large, modern plants and were designed to uselow-quality local resources, such as small deposits of coal or natural gas. They also minimized demands on the overworked transportation system.

Larger and more modern fertilizer plants were located in every municipality, province, and autonomous region. In the early 1970s, China negotiated contracts with foreign firms for construction of thirteen large nitrogenous-fertilizer plants. By 1980 all thirteen plants had been completed, and ten were fully operational. From 1980 to 1984 many inefficient fertilizer plants were shut down, and by 1984 additional plants were being built with the most advanced equipment available. To capitalize on China's rich mineral resources, the new plants were being constructed close to coal, phosphate, and potassium deposits.

Compared with advanced countries, China's chemical fertilizers lacked phosphate and potassium, and contained too much nitrogen. To boost supplies of phosphate and potassium, China relied heavily on imports during the Sixth Five-Year Plan.

Basic chemical production grew rapidly after 1949. In 1983 production of sulfuric acid was approximately 8.7 million tons with major production centers in Nanjing and Luda, and large plants at many chemical-fertilizer complexes. Soda-ash output in 1984 was 1.88 million tons, with production concentrated near major sources of salt, such as large coastal cities, Sichuan and Qinghai provinces, and the Nei Monggol Autonomous Region. Production of caustic soda was scattered at large facilities in Dalian, Tianjin, Shanghai, Taiyuan, Shenyang, and Chongqing. In 1984 output of caustic soda was 2.22 million tons. Nitric acid and hydrochloric acid were produced in the northeast, in Shanghai, and in Tianjin.

The chemical industry's organic-synthesis branch manufactured plastics, synthetic rubber, synthetic fibers, dyes, pharmaceuticals, and paint. Plastics, synthetic rubber, and synthetic fibers such as nylon were particularly important in the modernization drive because they were used to produce such basic consumer goods as footwear and clothing. From 1979 to 1983, plastics production grew from 793,000 to 1.1 million tons and chemical fibers from 326,300 to 540,000 tons. The major centers for organic synthesis included Shanghai, Jilin, Beijing, Tianjin, Taiyuan, Jinxi, and Guangzhou. The industry received large amounts of foreign machinery in the 1970s.

Data as of July 1987

Last Updated: July 1987

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for China was first published in 1987. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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