In 23 minutes, they designed an office, a hallway, and three living rooms for factory managers. On the top floor, the workers' dormitories required another 14 minutes. All told, they had mapped out a 21,500-square-foot (2,000 square meters) factory, from bottom to top, in one hour and four minutes. Boss Gao handed the scrap of paper to the contractor. The man asked when they wanted the estimate.
"How about this afternoon?"
The contractor looked at his watch. It was 3:48 p.m.
"I can't do it that fast!"
"Well, then tell me early in the morning."
They discussed materials—paint, cement, cinder blocks. "We want the ten-dollar doors," Boss Wang told the contractor, who was a Lishui native. "And don't try to make money by getting cheaper materials—do a good job now, and we'll hire you again. That's how we make money in Wenzhou. Do you understand?"
The Wenzhou airport bookstore stocks a volume titled, Actually, You Don't Understand the Wenzhou People. It shares a shelf with The Feared Wenzhou People, The Collected Secrets of How Wenzhou People Make Money, and The Jews of the East: The Commercial Stories of Fifty Wenzhou Businessmen. For the Chinese, this part of Zhejiang Province has become a source of fascination, and the local press contributes to the legend. Recently, Wenzhou's Fortune Weekly conducted a survey of local millionaires. One question was: If forced to choose between your business and your family, which would it be? Of the respondents, 60 percent chose business, and 20 percent chose family. The other 20 percent couldn't make up their minds.
From the beginning, an element of desperation helped create the Wenzhou business tradition. The region has little arable soil, and the mountainous landscape made for bad roads to the interior. With few options, Wenzhou natives turned to the sea, developing a strong trading culture by the end of the Ming dynasty, in the 17th century. But they lost their edge after 1949, when the communists came to power and cut off overseas trade links, as well as most private entrepreneurship. Even in the early 1980s, when Deng Xiaoping's free-market reforms began to take hold, Wenzhou started with distinct disadvantages. Residents lacked the education of people in Beijing, and they didn't attract the foreign investment of Shanghai. When the government established the first Special Economic Zone, whose trade and tax privileges were designed to spur growth, they chose Shenzhen, which is near Hong Kong.