Transport, Post & Telecommunications


Since the founding of the PRC in 1949, China has formed a comprehensive transportation system comprehending railways, highways, civil aviation and water transport, and a posts and telecommunications network accessible from all directions. As the market economy system was established after the initiation of the policies of reform and opening to the outside world in 1978, historic changes took place in transport, posts and telecommunications—they have developed quickly and are heading for openness and competition, emerging from a closed and monopolistic state. By the end of 1999, the total length of transportation lines in China had reached 3.55 million km, 16.3 times and 2.88 times the lengths in 1949 and 1978, respectively; the total length of optical cable lines had reached 194,000 km from zero in 1978. In 1978, there were no mobile telecommunications in China; however, in 1999, the mobile phone users reached 43.24 million. Mobile telecommunications have developed to the extent of using analogue and digital networks, and realized automatic roaming with some countries and regions. Data telecommunications have grown from nothing to the stage of having an efficient network.

The level of technical equipment of transport, posts and telecommunications is continuously rising. By the end of 1999, the length of double-track railways had reached 20,935 km, with a double-track rate of 35.7 percent, a nearly 20 percentage points increase over 1978; and the length of electrified lines had reached 13,629 km, with an electrification rate of 23.4 percent, a 20.4 percentage points increase over 1978. Developing from nothing, the length of expressways has reached 9,083 km. The numbers of railway engines, civil vehicles, motor transport ships and airplanes have all doubled or redoubled. New berths at major harbors total 1,236, of which 347 are 10,000-ton-class berths, and the number of new civil airports is over 90. With the improvement of transport capacity and expansion of posts and telecommunications, transport, posts and telecommunications have developed by leaps and bounds. In 1999, the various transport means carried 4,023.5 billion tons/km of freight, and 1,125 billion persons/km—4.1 times and 65 times increases over 1978, respectively. The posts and telecommunications volume totaled 331.1 billion yuan, 109 times that of 1978 in constant prices.


In 1949, there were only 21,800 km of railway lines in China, with only 11,000 km opened to traffic. Between 1979 and 1999, newly constructed lines opened to traffic reached 17,919 km, of which electrified lines totaled 11,783 km. In 1999, the length of railway lines opened to traffic reached 57,900, a 19.1 percent increase over 1978.

There are north-south and west-east trunk lines in China. The north-south line, with Beijing as its hub, consists of the Beijing-Guangzhou Railway, Beijing-Shanghai Railway, Beijing-Kowloon Railway and Beijing-Harbin Railway. The west-east line, with Zhengzhou as its hub, consists of the Lianyungang-Lanzhou Railway and Lanzhou-Urumqi Railway. The latter has been extended westward to link up with the railways in Kazakhstan. Thus Asia and Europe are linked by railways from Lianyungang in China to Rotterdam in Holland. New railway lines have been built in mountainous areas in southwestern China, mainly the Chengdu-Chongqing Railway, Baoji-Chengdu Railway, Chengdu-Kunming Railway and Nanning-Kunming Railway. Besides, the Turpan-Kashi Railway has been newly built in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.


In 1949, the length of highways in China was just over 80,000 km, and more than one third of the counties nationwide were not accessible by road. However, by 1999, the total length of highways opened to traffic had reached 1.352 million km. Now, all counties, towns and townships are accessible by road. After 1978, China began to build a large number of major expressways, including the Shenyang-Dalian, Beijing-Tianjin-Tanggu, Guangzhou-Shenzhen, Jinan-Qingdao, Chengdu-Chongqing, Yichang-Huangshi, Beijing-Shijiazhuang, Shijiazhuang-Taiyuan, Shanghai-Ningbo and Taiyuan-Jiuguan expressways. In 1999, there were 58,000 km of newly built highways, 2,825 km of which were expressways.

Civil Aviation

Between 1949 and 1978, China invested several billion yuan to construct and expand a group of airports, laying the foundation for civil aviation in the country. Since the initiation of the policies of reform and opening, a group of airports have been built and expanded to satisfy the needs of economic development. By the end of 1998, there were over 140 airports opened to civil airplanes. Of them, more than 80 could accommodate large airplanes such as Boeing 777s, 767s, 757s, 747s and 737s, and A340s. By 1999, the total length of civil air routes in China was 1.522 million km, 3.5 times that in 1978, and 1,122 air routes had been opened, 128 of which were international air routes.

The domestic airlines radiate from Beijing to all provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, all open cities, and border and remote areas. The international airlines reach more than 50 cities, including Tokyo, Bangkok, Jakarta, Paris, Frankfurt, Moscow, London, New York and Vancouver.

Water Transport

China’s mainland coast is over 18,000 km long, and its rivers total 220,000 km in length. Such excellent natural conditions provide convenience for developing inland river transport and ocean shipping. The major inland navigable rivers in China are the Yangtze, the Pearl, the Heilongjiang, the Huaihe, the Qiantang, the Minjiang and the Huangpu, not forgetting the Grand Canal between Beijing and Hangzhou. In 1999, navigable inland waterways in China totaled 110,300 km, the volume of cargo transportation was 2,126.3 billion tons/km, and the volume of passenger transportation was 10.73 billion persons/km.

Now there are more than 5,000 berths at some 70 major inland river ports. The Yangtze, the “golden waterway” of China’s inland river transport, has considerable annual volume of both freight and passenger transport. Nanjing Harbor, the largest river harbor in China, has an annual capacity of more than 40 million tons. Ocean shipping in China is divided into two major navigation zones: the northern and the southern ones. The northern one has Shanghai and Dalian as the centers, and the southern one has Guangzhou as the center. Harbors (including inland river ports) built after 1978 have an annual capacity of 497.26 million tons. There are more than 20 major coastal harbors in China, with an annual capacity of 1.05 billion tons, and the passenger turnover of 64.01 million Shanghai Harbor ranks among the 10 largest trade harbors in the world, with an annual capacity of over 100 million tons. China has an ocean fleet with a capacity of 22 million tons of goods, sailing among 1,100 harbors worldwide.

Posts and Telecommunications

Since 1978, the development of posts and telecommunications has entered a new historical stage. The scale and volume of the telephone network, and the level of technology and services have all realized qualitative leaps. China has built up its public telecommunications network to cover the whole nation and link it up with the rest of the world.

The public postal network now boasts complete services and multiple transportation means. Many advanced methods are used, including optical cables, digital microwave networks, satellites, program-controlled exchanges, mobile telecommunications and data telecommunications. By the end of 1999, the nation’s total mobile telephone exchange capacity had reached 160 million circuits, and the number of mobile telephone users had reached 43.24 million, making China the third-largest market for mobile phones in the world. The total number of telephone users in China reached 110 million in 1999, accounting for 13 percent of the nation’s population, while the percentage in 1978 was 0.38 percent; and in urban areas, the percentage in 1999 was 28.4 percent, while in 1978 it was only 1.9 percent. In rural areas, 79.8 percent of the administrative villages now have telephones. China has 102,000 post offices nationwide, and the total length of postal routes and rural mail delivery routes reaches 6.215 million km. All large and medium-sized cities provide international express mail service, and have developed international automatic telex, data transmission, express fax, and TV program transmission services. Besides, various services via the Internet, including e-mail and e-commerce, are now available.