Italy vs. China: Sitting Pretty

China's chairmaking industry is booming. But that doesn't mean staying on top will be easy

How did China get do good at making chairs? To find the answer, travel 120 miles from Shanghai to a cluster of villages in the Yangtze delta. Eighteen hundred years ago, an Emperor fond of its forests named the area Anji, which means "peaceful auspiciousness." Until recently, its residents farmed bamboo and grew white tea. Then in 1982, as economic reforms took hold in China, a state-owned factory set up to supply lab stools to a nearby university made the country's first five-wheeled swivel chair. Soon local bamboo farmers pooled their savings to start factories themselves. By the late 1990s, Anji's...

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