Special Report: China

So much has been written about China that it's hard to know what to believe. Reports charting its growth vary enormously and economists know better than to swallow unquestioningly the crudely manipulated figures released by the Chinese government.

Even so, few argue with the claim that China is the most remarkable story of economic expansion in history. Its GDP has seen double-digit growth almost every year since the early 80s and one of the biggest challenges for China's new leadership has been applying the brakes to its rampant economy.

The rise of China's advertising industry - its relationship with the economy is likened to a water balloon sucking on a tap - is equally difficult to gauge. The more conservative adspend estimates from ZenithOptimedia (on this page) pitch its size at $9 billion, allowing for discounts, although Initiative believes China's TV advertising market is worth $11 billion alone - a figure just as believable, given that no-one can agree on how many TV stations exist in China (500? 2,000? No-one is sure). That the outdoor and internet advertising sectors (probably the two fastest-growing) have yet to be properly measured only clouds the picture further still.

What is clear is that, as two ad men working there tell us (page 34), China is anything but dull. True, the calibre of its ads is unlikely to excite many awards juries yet. And, as King Lai explains (page 32), China's media agencies need to raise their game if they are to service the queue of brands itching to reach the world's largest audience properly. Yet such is the pace of change in China that, as JWT's Tom Doctoroff considers (page 31), the big question is not if but when China can produce a brand to match the giants of the West.