China's Entrepreneurial Opportunity

While America's middle class continues to deteriorate, China's middle-class is on the rise. It's been interesting to experience first hand a very hands-off government system in a place that claims the title of socialism , where in America, we supposedly are not.


Migrating to America is no longer the saving, spirited opportunity it once was. I see China as its own peoples' "Land of Opportunity." I have been able to watch first-hand as people transform their lives in a couple of short years and have seen the results of raising one's family's social class in less than a generation.


There is a local shop vendor we call "Ice Cream Man." He is college graduate of the University where I teach, and seeing a viable business opportunity, he stayed nearby the college after graduation and opened a small shop of trinkets, stuffed animals, speakers, headphones, and other items, all mostly costing less than $10. Last year, "Ice Cream Man" added a small ice cream stand (hence the name "Ice Cream Man") on the "front porch" of his shop, selling ice cream cones and "Love Storms" (like a blizzard) for $0.50 and a $1.60. This year, upon returning from summer holiday, we noticed the ice cream stand torn down! We were so sad that our ice cream was gone! But, upon further inquiry, we found that Ice Cream Man had expanded! He now has his trinket shop AND a separate full-size ice cream shop where he now also sells a few baked goods and special teas. He is 28 years old.  


I've heard countless stories from my students about their parents starting out with just a small rack of clothes to sell on the street and turning it into a large family business that supports sending their children to our private institution. Walking through the streets, I often find these "street vendors" annoying, taking up entire sidewalks and thoroughfares with their staged wares. But mostly I am filled with entrepreneurial vigor, seeing them fervently and faithfully pursing a better life for themselves and their families...and succeeding!


Yes, this is supposed to be a sidewalk. China

Yes, this is supposed to be a sidewalk


China. Night Market where they shut down the streets for vendors

"Night market" where they shut down the street for vendors


I had the opportunity to visit a very dear Chinese friend's hometown during summer holiday. I interviewed his mother about her life and how she came to be the successful owner of a 5-story baby clothing factory with 17 employees. Her husband died when her son (my friend) was only 6 years old. She began making baby clothes and selling them on the street. After a short time, her sister joined her, and together, the made clothes at night and went to sell them in the market during the day. A few years later, they were able to hire a few employees and buy some sewing machines, renting a small local apartment as their "factory." And today, my friend's mother has gone from a destitute single mom to sustaining an upper-middle class family lifestyle, now looking to purchase a second factory.    


Baby clothing factory, China


workers at a baby clothing factory, China


So, what's so different about China, you ask, that makes this "dream" so much more attainable than it would be in America today? Local regulation. Less government involvement.  No free handouts. While I will not argue that China doesn't have a strong national government that controls many of its peoples' movements and ideas, I will argue that they are less involved in the regulation of their daily lives and business. No enforced local building permits, no "health code," no exorbitant government fees and building purchase prices to start a business. And most importantly - no government benefits for the unemployed.


For the sake of a palatable blog article (and not a 30-page academic paper), I am making many generalizations and assumptions and leaving out tons of social phenomenon that would need to be considered for total understanding of the differences between China and America's business environment. But as a general summation, when I left America, businesses were closing, people were losing jobs, and more people had their hand out. In China, no one expects the government to rescue them. Instead, they work together as a family and community to make a better life for themselves and each other.


What do you think: Should it be the government's job to support those out of work, or should they be left to their own devices, turning to family and community for support?





Joslynn is the China Editor for Wandering Educators.  Her husband has dubbed her "former Marine and roller derby queen" - two descriptors that represent her hardcore nature and adventurous spirit.  Joslynn currently lives in China with her 13-year old son and 2-year old foster daughter on what started as a year's adventure while her husband is working in Afghanistan.  She is an English teacher at a college in Guangdong Province and spends her free time traveling, writing, and visiting a special group of local orphan. 

Joslynn recently completed her Master's degree in Community Economic
Development and hopes to return to the United States this fall to begin her PhD.  


Photos courtesy and copyright Joslynn J. McLaughlin