I spent a few hours last night at a marketing and business development love-in put on by a handful of business chambers here in Shanghai.
The room was packed and the drinks were good – plug here for the Mesa/Manifesto bar/restaurant at the good end of Julu Lu – but, more importantly, the night was a great reminder of how the business community’s focus on China is changing.
There were a few manufacturers there, but most of the attendees were young, enthusiastic and working for companies looking to make a buck out of the Chinese middle class, rather than save a buck on China’s working class. Even the one manufacturer I spoke to was making products for the domestic market.
But what really surprised me was the number of Chinese marketing professionals in attendance. They were still out-numbered by expats, but as a greater-China born headhunter pointed out to me, there really is little substitute for hometown advantage in marketing. As a result, even as the lure of Chinese consumers creates plenty of job opportunities, expats are finding themselves competing with local Chinese for the same jobs, and the same salaries.
This signals a transition point in China’s growth trajectory. China’s position at the top table of world affairs relies not on continuing to churn out cheap goods for the Wal-Mart shoppers of the world, but on lifting the lot of local Chinese relative to its competitors. That journey starts with pay-parity at home, and the importance of this to Chinese cannot be under-estimated, and not just from a pride perspective.
As China equips its shoppers to pull the country up through its own Chinese-made bootstraps, the era of Chinese fealty to western economic masters draws to a close.