"If we are to feel at home in the world…we shall have to admit Asia to equality in our thoughts, not only politically but culturally. What changes this will bring about, I do not know, but I am convinced that they will be profound and of the greatest importance."--Bertrand Russell,History of Western Philosophy (1946)
Through 24 dynasties and 5,000 years, China has endured. When the most populous country on Earth joined the World Trade Organization in December, 2001, China opened its borders to become the manufacturer for the world. In only twenty-five years, China has transformed itself from a 100 per cent state-owned financial system to a market driven economy.
International companies have been key participants in this expansion, relying upon dirt cheap land, nonexistent environmental laws, and an inexhaustible labor supply to drive costs down and profits up. China's economy has expanded at the rate of 8–12 percent per year, building a middle class of consumers and a burgeoning market for many of the goods made in China.
Western manufacturers have moved to China not only to obtain cheaper labor, but also to gain a foothold and serve the gargantuan Chinese market free of trade barriers. Their footholds have had positive ramifications for U.S. exports. According to the U.S. Commerce Department, nearly 90% of all goods made abroad by U.S. manufacturers are sold to foreign markets. A 2004 study by the Heritage Foundation noted that U.S. companies that manufacture goods for both domestic and foreign consumers produce 56% of all U.S. exports and generate 21% of America's total economic output.1
When U.S. companies hire skilled or semi-skilled workers in China, they pay far less in wages. Monthly wages for a skilled worker in America generally run $3000 to $4000; a Chinese counterpart earns about $150. The company is required to pay into a Chinese governmentsponsored pension plan that covers healthcare, housing and retirement benefits. At least a third of the skilled Chinese workers' wages covers these benefits. Limited health services (by Western standards), China's naturally holistic approach to individual health (diet and exercise) and the absence of malpractice suits keep the costs of healthcare low.
What about the millions of workers at the lower end of the skill spectrum in China? Many unskilled laborers are left holding the fuzzy end of the tang wu lu (lollipop). Legions of peasants have migrated from rural to industrial zones and construction sites, lured by the prospect of work. Because they are not legal residents, under Chinese law, they have no rights outside of those written into their employment contract.