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China’s development over the past 30 years has been one of the world’s biggest success stories, but has also been a series of changes that have been hard to appreciate if you haven’t live through it.

While there’s no time machine (yet) to give you a chance to relive the past three decades of China’s economic boom, the geeks at Google together with the rocket scientists at NASA may have come up with the next best thing.

By combining satellite images with some sophisticated software, the Google Earth Engine Team created Timelapse, a global zoomable video service that lets you track changes anywhere on earth over the last 32 years.

Being convinced that the world revolves around the Middle Kingdom, Mingtiandi immediately put this new tool to work zooming in on Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong to see how much our favorite cities have changed since 1984.


Beijing Time Lapse

China’s capital is thousands of years old, but – apart from some historic landmarks – the centre of the city is largely unrecognisable after 30 years of China’s economic boom. The city’s population has grown from 5.4 million in 1980 to over 21 million in 2016.


Shanghai Time Lapse

Still cocooned in decades of socialist economic policies, Shanghai had less than 6 million inhabitants in 1980. Since that time the city has grown into a regional financial centre and attracted migrants from across China, and professionals from around the world, so that it now is home to more than 24 million people.


Shenzhen Time Lapse

From 58,000 people in 1980, Shenzhen has grown from a fishing village into one of China’s leading cities with a population of over 10.8 million. The southern metropolis’ high tech economy and proximity to Hong Kong has helped drive real estate prices there to the highest levels in China.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong time lapse

Hong Kong was already a centre of commerce by the early 1980s, but the city has been reshaped since then by an economy supercharged by a mainland growth engine. With just over 5 million inhabitants in 1980, Hong Kong has since grown to over 7.3 million, as the city’s Victoria Harbour gradually gave way to new malls and office towers.

The Timelapse system combines over 5 million satellite images acquired from 5 different satellites. If you would like to check out your own city – and you’re lucky enough to have access to Google, then just click here.

Google and NASA Team Up to Bring You 30 Years of Chinese Development in 30 Seconds

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