China has achieved a rapid increase in the gross value of industrial output (used before China switched to GNP accounting in 1986), which, according to official Chinese statistics, rose by 13.3% annually between 1950 and 1979. The greatest sustained surge in growth occurred during the first decade, with the rate averaging 22% annually during 1949–60. During 1961–74, the yearly growth rate fell to about 6%, partly as a result of the disruptions brought on by the collapse of the Great Leap Forward (which accompanied the withdrawal of Soviet technicians in mid-1960) and of work stoppages and transportation disruptions during the Cultural Revolution. Growth averaged 10% from 1970 to 1980 and 10.1% from 1979 to 1985. Major policy reforms of 1984 further accelerated the pace of industrial growth, which reached 20.8% by 1988. After a brief retrenchment period in 1989–90 as government policies prioritized inflation control over other concerns, expansion of the country's industrial sector resumed apace, exceeding 20% in 1992 and 18% in 1994. Industrial output was officially up 13.4% in 1995, with state enterprises contributing the majority.
While approximately 50% of total industrial output still derives from the state-owned factories, a notable feature of China's recent industrial history has been the dynamic growth of the collectively owned rural township and village enterprise as well as private and foreign joint-venture sectors. Also apparent has been the spatial unevenness of recent industrial development, with growth concentrated mainly in Shanghai, the traditional hub of China's industrial activity, and, increasingly, a number of new economic centers along the southern coast. The coastal provinces of Jiangsu, Guangdong, Shandong, Shanghai and Zhejiang provinces together account for close to 33% of the country's total industrial output and most of its merchandise exports. One key factor in this industrial geography has been the government's establishment of several Special Economic Zones in Guangdong, Fujian and Hainan provinces, and its designation of over 14 "open coastal cities" where foreign investment in export-oriented industries was actively encouraged during the 1980s.
Before the first five-year plan (1953–57), China had only one major steel center—Anshan, in the northeast—and several minor ones. All these produced 1.93 million tons of pig iron and 1.35 million tons of steel in 1952. By 1995, China was producing 92,970 million tons of crude steel and 101,700 million tons of pig iron. China had one trillion tons of confirmed coal reserves and an estimated five trillion tons of coal reserves and 48.7 billion tons of iron ore in 2000. Anshan continues to be the hub of the industry, but other huge steel complexes have been constructed at Baotou, Benxi (about 50 km/30 mi east of Anshan), Taiyuan, Wuhan, and Ma'anshan (near Nanjing).
China's cotton textile industry is the largest in the world, producing yarn, cloth, woolen piece goods, knitting wool, silk, jute bags, and synthetic fibers. Labor-intensive light industries played a prominent role in the industrial boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s, accounting for 49% of total industrial output, but heavy industry and high technology took over in the late 1990s. In addition to garments and textiles, output from light industry includes footwear, toys, food processing, and consumer electronics. Heavy industries include iron and steel, coal, machine building, armaments, petroleum, cement, chemical fertilizers, and autos. High technology industries produce high-speed computers, 600 types of semiconductors, specialized electronic measuring instruments, and telecommunications equipment.
Since 1961, industry has been providing agriculture with farm machines, chemical fertilizers, insecticides, means of transportation, power, building materials, and other essential commodities. Handicraft cooperatives also have been busy making hand-operated or animal-drawn implements. Production of a variety of industrial goods has expanded, increasingly in order to supply the country's own expanding industrial base. In addition to fertilizers, the chemicals industry produces calcium carbide, ethylene, and plastics. Since 1963, great emphasis has been placed on the manufacture of transportation equipment, and China now produces varied lines of passenger cars, trucks, buses, and bicycles. In 1995, output included 1,452,697 motor vehicles (more than double the 1991 figure). Output for 1997 was over 1.6 million units. The industry underwent a major overhaul in the late 1990s in order to stimulate efficiency and production.