China Rising: Small World, Big Stakes

The U.S. and China are intimately linked--for better or worse. Can we make room for each other?

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NELSON CHING / SIPA FOR TIME

Liu Li works at a factory in Kaiping which produces clothing for the American company Timberland.

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That is why the most important figure for China's future and in many ways for the Sino-U.S. relationship is not Hu--nor Rice, Rumsfeld or any other U.S. leader. It is someone like Liu. If her life continues to get better, the extraordinary challenges facing China's leadership will be ameliorated. The best news possible for high policymakers in Washington is that a 20-year-old girl in Kaiping is happy. Between bonuses and overtime, Liu makes as much as $120 a month, nearly twice what she says she would have made if she had stayed closer to home, and she saves more than half of it. It's a tough life, but Liu and her friends in the factory talk about their "coming out" from the villages as their chance to see the world. She shares a room with five other women, and at night in the dorm she and her friends test the freedoms of life away from their parents: wet towels snap, clusters of card players shriek and giggle. Liu doesn't expect to sew seams forever. In two years she hopes to save enough to study for a better job and move on. "Who knows," she says, gazing at a Timberland vest, "someday maybe I'll meet someone who wears one of these." If that ever happens, perhaps they will be friends. --Reported by Hannah Beech/Shanghai, Chaim Estulin/Hong Kong, Matthew Forney/Beijing, Susan Jakes/ Kaiping and Elaine Shannon/Washington

China’s New Heights

CHINA BY THE NUMBERS

•Mobile-phone text messages sent last year: 218 billion

• Percentage of the world’s ice cream consumed: 20%

• Percentage of Chinese with a positive view of U.S.-China relations: 63%

• Communist Party officials disciplined for corruption last year: 170,850

• Percentage of counterfeit goods seized at U.S. borders that come from China: 66%

• World ranking in automobile deaths: 1

• Percentage of urban Chinese with a college education: 5.6%; Rural: 0.2%

• Estimated rural Chinese who have never brushed their teeth: 500 million

• Estimated ballistic missiles pointed at Taiwan: 700

• Smokers: 350 million

LIVING LARGE

China has more than four times the population of the U.S., nearly all of it concentrated in the eastern half of the country

China - 1.3 billion

U.S. - 295 million

Sources: Access Asia, TIME research; map data from LandScan/UT-Battelle

$859 > Annual disposable income of a resident of Lanzhou. A Shanghai resident has more than twice that: $2,010

63,900 > Number of retail outlets opened in Chongqing, 1998-2004

1.3 million > Number of private cars in Beijing, up 140% since 1997

300+ > Number of skyscrapers in Shanghai. In 1985 there was just one

620% > Shenzhen’s population growth since 1990, from 1.67 million to 12 million

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