June 5, 2017 8:00 am JST

An animated look at how Asia has changed over 50 years

As economies took off, the region's people began to live longer

ALAN SMITH, Financial Times data visualization editor

Asia has changed considerably since the Association of Southeast Asian Nations came together as a political bloc in August 1967. But how can we get a sense of the pace and direction of that change?

 

Inspiration comes from the Gapminder Foundation, a nonprofit created in 2006 by the late professor Hans Rosling. Gapminder collects and curates data (going as far back as 1801) that allows comparisons of the economic and social progress of countries across the world. Professor Rosling famously used animated charts in his entertaining TED talks to bring the data to life. Here at the Nikkei Asian Review, we have used the same technique in this video to focus specifically on the progress of Asian countries. The chart might seem complex, but it is worth learning to read:

  • Each circle represents a country, and its size represents the total population of the country. 
  • The horizontal position of each circle shows a country's GDP per capita; a country on the left is poorer than a country to the right.
  • The vertical position of each circle shows a country's life expectancy. The higher up the chart, the longer we can expect someone in that country to live.
  • The animation shows how all of these elements have changed for each country from 1967 to 2015.

As the chart develops, it is possible to see a general pattern of movement. The circles gradually become larger, indicating population increase in each country. They also move upward and to the right. This is positive progress -- almost all countries are getting richer and the people in them are living longer. But look closely and you can see the change is not consistent across all countries. For example, China in 1967 is last in GDP -- but you can see it quickly begins to overtake other countries, especially from 1990 onward. Similarly, South Korea's progress from the 1970s onward is remarkable.

Not all of the stories in the animation are positive. According to the Gapminder data, Cambodia's life expectancy plummeted to 18 years of age during the horrific genocide of Pol Pot's regime. The way Cambodia's circle falls spectacularly to the bottom of the chart in the 1970s reflects the deaths of millions of people in one of Asia's darkest chapters. Meanwhile, the impacts of financial crises can be seen as little wobbles that temporarily set the bubbles back before recoveries begin.

Given Asia's remarkable journey during the past 50 years, one thing seems clear from the charts -- visualizing the past can certainly give us a better sense of what the future might hold for Asia.

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