For years, Chinese leaders looked to the millions of poor workers from the country’s interior as the engine of a roaring export economy.

They would move to coastal provinces, toil in factories and churn out the world’s household goods. These days, the workers are crucial for China’s economy in another way:

They must start buying the very products they manufacture, spending their paychecks on lipstick and lingerie, plastic lawn chairs and plasma television sets.

Officials see them as

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