China's Dominance in Manufacturing—in One Chart

Despite rising labor costs, the country still makes a lot of what we buy -- and that isn't going to change anytime soon.

It doesn't take expertise in economics to know that China manufactures a lot of stuff -- just look at the label on your computer, floor lamp, and shoes. But it's remarkable just how, three and a half decades after Beijing first launched market reforms, the country's dominance in global manufacturing endures. This fantastic infographic from the International Business Times, based on economic data from 2011, puts it in perspective:


chinamanufacturing.jpg

These aren't trivial goods, either. Think of computers, essential to business operations around the world. China manufactures over 90 percent of them. Or cell phones, which, in addition to being convenient, function as an essential tool in countries lacking traditional telecommunications infrastructure. China makes 7 out of every 10 of them. 12 and a half billion pairs of shoes -- enough for every man, woman, and child in the world to have two -- are built in China. And nearly half of the world's ships, the backbone of global trade, are made -- where else? -- in ... you get the idea.

How long will this last? The rising cost of land and labor, combined with stricter environmental regulation, is supposed to force manufacturers to shift operations to cheaper countries. This is indeed happening -- but to a limited extent. In fact, China still has advantages that cheaper countries don't: tight and well-sourced supply chains, efficient transportation logistics, modern ports, and an enormous domestic market that, if all goes according to plan, will start buying a lot more of the goods that China produces.

So while the "end of cheap China" may be on its way, the country's major role in global manufacturing isn't going to evaporate anytime soon. 

Matt Schiavenza is a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He is a former global-affairs writer for the International Business Times and Atlantic senior associate editor.

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