In the eyes of the world, China still needs to develop, but this obscures a range of ingenuities cooked up in restaurants, bathrooms, on streets and beaches across the country.
As a die-hard surfer whose car is perennially sandy, I was struck by a simple innovation some time ago in the seaside town of Beidaihe that could help keep my ride squeaky clean if only it were exported to Australia.
After emerging from the sea, Bohai Sea bathers step into a hollowed out, water-filled ditch at the foot of some stairs leading from the beach. Here, the sand is washed off in an instant, eliminating the need to waste water and stand in line at a tap.
This beachside convenience caught my attention in the summer of 2007, shortly after I arrived in the land responsible for the wheelbarrow and paper.
Since then I have encountered numerous examples of Chinese ingenuity, such as holes in the backside of toddlers' shorts, which provide an incentive for early learners to squat like grown ups while answering the call of nature.
Restaurants are home to numerous conveniences, such as hot towels and an endless supply of hot water. It's great to be able to wipe your hands and face clean before a meal after coming in off the grimy streets and then ease the food down with warm water or tea. And the plastic gloves used to devour a greasy chicken wing or two are another great innovation.
China is home to a whole range of health-related goods and techniques (indeed Chinese medicine cured an ailment suffered by this writer after Western treatments had failed him).
Take the varnished walnuts, or small metal balls, some of my more mature neighbors circulate in one hand to stimulate their hearts and brains, and the habitual pen spinning by students and office workers. Or the sun umbrellas, sleeve covers and all manner of protective clothing worn by women to stay lily-white. Some women bicyclists even cover their faces with hats whose front rims resemble huge sunglasses.
Then there are the long poles with which people carry all manner of heavy objects in an effort to lighten backbreaking loads. In the mountainous city of Chongqing, a huge army of porters ekes out a living by carrying luggage, furniture, or even children, with their long poles. These hardy workers call themselves the "Army of Poles" (bangbang jun) with great pride.
I'm also grateful for the lightweight plastic handles convenience store owners often place on the top of 1 or 2 bottles to help carry the load.
And what about the treaded sidewalks to guide the blind along the country's footpaths? Aren't they great?
A favorite trinket of a colleague of mine is a "lao tou le", a long bamboo or wooden stick with a hand carved on one end to help older folk scratch areas of the back they've long been unable to reach.
Although back scratchers aren't exclusively Chinese, lao tou le's translation - "happy old man" - gives it a distinct local flavor.
But my favorite innovation, on account of my innumeracy, is the simple numerical system used in elevators to denote floors - 1 means the first level, 2 the second ... This system, together with the beachside sand wash and other innovations makes China seem advanced to me.
(China Daily August 26, 2009)