As financial turmoil in the United States developed into a full-scale economic crisis, orders slumped in traditional markets. China, then the fourth-largest economy, was suddenly presented with the opportunity to become even more powerful, but the question was, how?
Underwear exporter Qian Anhua was among the first to provide an answer as, despite huge economic incentives from the state, factories across the manufacturing provinces of Guangdong, Zhejiang and Jiangsu were closing en masse. “We need to improve the quality of products and the productivity of workers, as well as their working conditions,” he told me, in early 2011. Qian was, and remains, the chairman of Antex, a textile giant based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang’s capital. Some of the world’s most famous underwear brands were among his clients. “We have invested a lot of money in technology. In some departments, 90 per cent of the machines are already controlled by a computer,” he explained. “This allows for an improvement in quality and a big increase in competitiveness.”
Premier Wen Jiabao also understood that the future of China lay in socioeconomic transformation. As 2012 came to a close, Wen told reporters, “China needs to learn to grow slower, and grow better.”