I've just returned from my first trip to China, and as a small- business owner, it was eye opening.
I had always hoped my first trip would be a business trip because the real story of China is not in the Great Wall or the Forbidden City, but what's happening to -- and because of -- the Chinese economy.
I went to Shanghai to participate in the Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network conference.
When most American small-business owners think of China, they think of all the business and jobs and companies they've lost to Chinese competition. Because of low labor costs, government subsidies, and artificially low Chinese currency, it's been tough -- if not impossible -- for many American companies to compete.
But the women entrepreneurs at Dell's conference show that China's economy is more complex than that.
Many of these entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the opportunities China presents to grow their businesses, whether they sell products or services.
Here are some of the strongest impressions I got from my very brief visit to China:
Growth in middle class. "Three hundred million more Chinese enter the middle class every five years -- a market the size of the United States," says Paul-Henri Ferrand, Dell's chief marketing officer for small- and medium-size businesses.
Everywhere I went, young, middle-class Chinese tourists poured out of buses, and shoppers poured into stores. Unlike the older Chinese generation, they want to spend money on themselves.
Think about that: another market the size of the United States.
Huge. Everything is larger, vaster. The great wall isn't just great; it's gargantuan. …