Let One Hundred Cultures Bloom
Nearly 30 years after the mind-numbing Cultural Revolution, China is free again to dream of what can be

The Middle Kingdom
China's growing middle class holds the key to its future

A Different Party Line
For China to survive, it must undertake the unthinkable: reform

Back-Alley Blues
The clearance of the capital's traditional hutongs is changing the way Beijingers live

Table of Contents

The Birth of Cool
A new generation of trendsetters is laboring to turn 'Made in China' into a symbol of style

Designer Chen Yifei

Architect: Pan Shiyi

Chef: Zhang Jinjie

Calligrapher: Xu Bing

Directors: China's newest filmmakers

Artists: Here come the Big Heads

Changing Places
Beijing's ancient hutongs are being torn up to build new apartments and skyscrapers—and an old way of life is dying out

The Middle Class
Inside the lives of China's new professionals

China in the pages of TIME
Click here to browse past cover stories on China from the magazine

The Birth of Cool
A new generation of trendsetters is laboring to turn 'Made in China' into a symbol of style that's part Western, part traditional and all original

STEPPING OUT: Chen Yifei's haute couture is a departure from the drabness of socialism and the gaudiness of sudden wealth

Nothing used to irk a Chinese yuppie more than hinting that his clothes looked like they were made in China. Even the proudest mainland nationalist knew that a homegrown brand signified ultracheap and tres tacky. High-flying Chinese wanted Italian suits, German cars and American M.B.A.s. Chinese was reserved only for food, and even then banquet menus proudly boasted Southeast Asian abalone, European pig trotters and African shark's fin.

No more. Just as "Made in Japan" went from being a mark of shoddy workmanship to a symbol of refined art and fashion, "Made in China" is also morphing into something with more panache and glamour. This goes beyond producing better-quality washing machines or televisions or computers. It's a revolution in taste led by style gurus who are redefining Chinese craftsmanship in everything from architecture and film to clothing and cuisine. Out are the oriental roofs plopped on cement-block buildings that constituted China's clumsy effort to create a homegrown architecture. Equally passé are the epic films with plum-cheeked peasant girls forever tilling the yellow earth. Gone, too, are the ill-fitting polyester cheongsams that only a karaoke hostess felt comfortable wearing.

Instead, these style mavens are fashioning a modern Chinese aesthetic inspired both by a Ming-era minimalism and a strenuous attention to detail—no tacky flourishes or cheap stitching. Their belief in Chinese materials and history has encouraged other mainlanders to eschew the West-is-best philosophy and embrace the East. "Finally, we've grown up as a nation," says Shanghai interior-design and clothing mogul Chen Yifei, wryly aware that the Chinese like to constantly tout their 5,000 years of history. "Now that we have confidence in ourselves, we can have confidence in our products."

Today, discerning Chinese dine on raspberry tea-smoked duck, wear Mandarin-inspired suits and buy contemporized calligraphy to decorate the Suzhou-silk walls of their weekend villas. The movies they watch—on pirated DVDs, of course—portray urban Chinese sipping green tea frappuccinos and perusing sex manuals written by slinky Shanghai girls. There isn't a brocaded young concubine in sight. "This isn't the kind of tacky chinoiserie you see in Chinatowns overseas," says property magnate Zhang Xin, who tries to cultivate chic, domestic designs.

The next step in this Great Aesthetic Leap Forward is to convince the rest of the world that China offers more than shoddy stuffed animals and flashlights that break whenever you need them. "China now has some really quality workmanship," says real estate developer Pan Shiyi. "Why do we always have to promote the stuff that's cheap?" To that end, fashion designer Chen has opened an office in Manhattan and is working on distributing his clothing at fancy retailers like Barney's. Chef Zhang Jinjie recently realized a similar dream by opening a restaurant in Singapore's sparkling new arts center, the Esplanade. Chinese painter Zhu Wei is selling his artwork to top galleries in London and New York City, and moviemaker Lu Chuan wants Western viewers to appreciate a Chinese film that doesn't take place in a long-bygone dynasty. "We Chinese are sometimes insecure about ourselves," says designer Chen. "The best way to fix that is to succeed on an international level with products that aren't copied from the West but show our real history and talents." Meet the trendsetters who realize that the real revolution will only come when "Made in China" stands for cultured elegance around the world.

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