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The End of Cheap China, Revised and Updated: Economic and Cultural Trends That Will Disrupt the World by Shaun Rein

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CHAPTER 1CHINESE BILLIONAIRES OUTNUMBER AMERICAN ONES

I was sitting on a leather couch in an opulent meeting room in Shanghai’s five-star Okura Garden Hotel in the former French Concession in 2010. Above my head dangled a chandelier of such scale that it would fit in at Versailles. I imagined former supreme leader Mao Zedong sitting in the room, as he did decades earlier when the hotel was his stomping ground on visits to Shanghai.

A man who appeared to be in his early forties was standing in front of me and doing tai chi. He was thin, had a fully shaven head, and wore a simple white oxford shirt unbuttoned at the collar. He had a serene aura about him that commanded the respect of everyone else in a room that included some of the most successful businessmen in China; he seemed to be the king among kings. He smiled at me, asked me to sit, and gently requested that someone pour me some tea as he continued his routine.

Looking around, I knew that most of the others joining us were worth tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. A few might have crossed the billion-dollar mark. All were entrepreneurs who had built up brands every Chinese person knows. There was Chen He Lin, the slight and gregarious founder of ASD, a kitchenware company known by Chinese housewives for durable, safe, and affordable crockery. He had looked at me curiously, perhaps because I was the youngest and the only foreigner in the room or perhaps because I was the only face he didn’t recognize. After looking ...

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