For those of us in the United States, China is the place that makes the stuff we buy. What if that was to change?

China, brimming with a population of over 1.3 billion, started buying with a vengeance? What if China became the place that manufacturers looked for their cues?

That question is quickly turning from a what-if to a how-soon. Hundreds of millions of Chinese want the sorts of things we want — from televisions and washing machines to bottled water and organic food — and more and more of them are turning those wants into purchases. China’s annual consumer spending is now around $4 trillion; though still only half the US figure, it is already a bigger consumer economy than Japan and close to that of the European Union. China is now the world’s largest consumer in a number of categories, including beer, cigarettes, and — remarkably — cars. Some Western automakers have begun skipping US and European markets and debuting models in China first.

Photo by Wilm Ihlenfeld/ShutterStock.

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