The wholesale markets in cities such as Yiwu in China's southeastern Zhejiang Province throng with overseas buyers examining cheap clothes and trinkets, placing orders to fill up containers shipped off to the Middle East and Africa. Profits are spun by the minute.
Export trade has powered China's rise over the past 30 years. Modest-sized towns in Zhejiang now dominate the world markets for entire products--a signal of China's superior manufacturing. Qiaotou, for example, makes 15 billion clothing buttons a year--about 60 percent of the world's supply--and 200 million meters of zipper.