china economy
A worker walks near a construction site in Beijing on May 3, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

Chinese exports saw a 1.8 percent dip in a year-over-year comparison in April, the Wall Street Journal reported, following an 11.5 percent increase in exports in March. The world’s second-largest economy has struggled to adjust to an economic slowdown as the country’s growth has contracted in recent months.

“Global demand hasn’t seen any big improvement,” Standard Chartered economist Ding Shuang told the Journal. “Relatively speaking, things are better. There’s a gradual improvement on the external side.”

The Chinese stock market slumped in August 2015, dropping 8.5 percent and seeing its worst single day in more than eight years — sending ripple effects out through international economies in what was dubbed China’s Black Monday. The nation’s once breakneck rate of economic growth has contracted in the eight months since.

First-quarter GDP growth hovered at 6.7 percent, compared with 15.4 percent in 2008 in the runup to the Beijing Olympics. Authorities in both the public and private sector have borrowed trillions of dollars in an attempt to stimulate the economy and to pay off past investments, and debt as a percentage of GDP reached 237 percent earlier this year.

The nation of some nearly 1.4 billion people has struggled to shift from a manufacturing or industrial economy to a consumer-based one, and its future will depend on its ability to successfully make that transition, experts said. Where jobs in factories making everything from steel to sneakers once dominated the Chinese economy, the model has begun to shift to one of consumption in the past several years.

"China hasn't found a new economic growth engine," one local told National Public Radio last week, adding, "If I had to use a word to describe the current state, it would be 'confusion.' We don't know where the country is headed."