FUXIN, China (Reuters) - Coal has supplied more than 70 percent of China’s energy for the past 50 years and that shows no sign of waning. Consumption, in fact, has increased 10 percent a year the past decade, despite efforts to close inefficient mines, cut pollution and find alternative energy sources. Here’s a timeline showing China’s long history of coal use.
* Scholars say China first began burning coal for heat, cooking and smelting steel during the Han dynasty (beginning in 206 BC).
* 1895: Treaty of Shimonoseki, signed by China after losing a war with Japan, is the first of a number of “unequal treaties” with foreign powers giving overseas enterprises the rights to develop Chinese coal mines. The first mines are used to supply the fleets of foreign navies.
* 1931: Japan invades and occupies northeast China, seizing the region’s coal mines and steel mills. After expanding along China’s eastern coast, Japan eventually takes control of other major coal producing regions.
* 1949: Red Army led by Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong takes control of Beijing. With China under an international trade embargo, the new government looks to coal to develop its economy, which has been crippled by a decade of Japanese occupation followed by civil war. Output in 1949 stands at just 30 million metric tons.
* 1958: China plans to more than double coal capacity to 335 million metric tons within five years as part of its “Great Leap Forward” industrialization program, but the withdrawal of Soviet aid and a nationwide famine force Beijing to revise targets.
* 1962: Output reaches 220 million metric tons, almost half the level of 1960 when millions of farmers were forced to leave the countryside and go to work in mines, factories and steel mills instead.
* 1966: Output exceeds 300 million metric tons, but Mao’s decision to launch the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution soon disrupts Chinese industry and production slips back to 225 million metric tons the following year.
* 1978: With total annual coal output already at 618 million metric tons, third biggest in the world behind the United States and the Soviet Union, China’s experiment with capitalist reform is launched, allowing private enterprises to invest in the coal sector.
* 1984: China switches to “guidance planning” system, allowing coal mines to sell surpluses on the market after fulfilling mandatory production quotas. Policy leads to rapid expansion of private coal operations.
* 1997: Small “township and village enterprises” account for 46 percent of total coal output, up from 17 percent in 1979, and safety and efficiency problems abound.
* 2005: Explosion at Sunjiawan coalmine in Fuxin kills 214 miners, one of the worst disasters in years, prompting another crackdown on unsafe mines and government officials accused of profiting from them.
* 2006: New policies are introduced banning coal mines with production capacities lower than 30,000 metric tons a year. Annual output reaches 2.38 billion metric tons. * 2009: China becomes a net coal importer for the full year for the first time in its history. Total number of mines cut by 40 percent to 15,000 after long campaign to eliminate small players from the sector.
* 2010: Total output estimated to rise 8 percent to more than 3.2 billion metric tons, according to data from the China Coal Industry Association
Reporting by David Stanway, editing by Bill Tarrant
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