In 1978, Deng Xiaoping's reform and opening-up policy began to transform the nation, as evidenced, for example, in Shenzhen, which changed from a fishing village on the Pearl River Delta into an international hub for research and innovation in a single generation.
And in 1979, China chose to accept development assistance from the UN, learning from its long experience in poverty alleviation and industrial and agricultural growth.
China's success in the more than 40 years since then has been nothing short of miraculous. During this time, China:
Lifted over 750 million people out of absolute poverty;
Invested in public health and education, investing in human capital thus making possible a happier and healthier workforce that contributed to economic productivity;
Became the world's manufacturing centre, based on a growth model of foreign investments, resource-intensive manufacturing, cheap labour, and exports;
Multiplied its per capita GDP from $180 in 1979 to an incredible $12,000 today.
The signs of this progress are evident not just in statistics, but in daily quality-of-life matters. Throughout China now lie the classic hallmarks of a market economy, with opulent shops from luxury brands, foreign and domestic.
A far cry from what I saw as a young boy growing up near Chinatown in my native Kolkata, India, though fondly remembered as a warren of alleys, narrow aisles of food markets, elderly men playing board games in parks, with Chinese characters on the signs overhead.
For example, in Beijing during the early 1980s, cabbage was often the only vegetable on menus. With help from the UN's development agency in China, availability at markets expanded - supporting the diversification of domestic vegetables and introducing new ones from abroad, such as broccoli.
This startling success is on track to continue. China's per capita GDP is projected to more than double by 2025, reaching over $25,000, adjusted for purchasing power. The country's surging economy is set to overtake 56 countries in the world's per-capita income rankings during the quarter-century through 2025, the International Monetary Fund projects.
No less an authority than Professor Jeffrey Sachs, a United Nations SDG Advocate and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, has called China an "inspiration" in stopping the pandemic and ending poverty.
This progress is all the more remarkable considering the hit that the pandemic has delivered to the global economy. China's generosity and leadership on this front are commendable. China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the 9th World Peace Forum in Beijing "to build a 'Great Wall of Immunity' to battle the COVID-19 pandemic."
Still, challenges remain. As with any economy at this stage of development, the relentless pursuit of high growth is reaching its natural limits, and China faces new economic, social, and environmental challenges.