A Great Leap Forward

Can China's famously thrifty workers become the world's big spenders?

Peng Yangjun and Chen Jiaojiao for TIME

Liu Dandan, 27, left, and her husband Zhou Zhou, 32, an editor at Esquire magazine's Chinese outpost, at home in Beijing, own a Mercedes-Benz and fill their closets with branded luxury items. They even dress their 6-month-old baby in designer duds.

The voices in the garden restaurant at the high-end Bulgari Hotel in Milan are what you'd expect: those of Italian businessmen and -women enjoying lunch and a cigarette on a pleasant afternoon. A few Americans mix in, relishing a European getaway — they're not strangers to Italy. But that would not necessarily be true of the table of Chinese visitors. Or the busload of Chinese tourists gathering in front of the famed La Scala to hear a guide explain the history of opera. Or the others exploring the magnificent cathedral Il Duomo. Perhaps they arrived on one of the three weekly...

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