The Peoples Republic of China may be a communist country, but what is on display this week in Southern California is Chinese capitalism, American style.
A huge contingent of China's finest entrepreneurs is on the move for the next six weeks -- with more than 13,000 visiting Universal Studios, Disneyland and at the finest outlet malls in Los Angeles.
They are enjoying the reward of being Amway Corporation's best salespeople in a growing Chinese market.
Amway operates in more than 80 countries worldwide, and in China it has experienced massive growth selling a variety of household products such as vitamins and detergents, and personal items like toothpaste.
Four Days Said to Cost More Than $80 Million
The company's top sellers are being rewarded with all-expense-paid whirlwind trips to some of California's most popular tourist attractions. Over four days, they are experiencing theme parks, upscale discount shopping and visits to several Amway corporate facilities in the Orange County region.
The cost of the trips is reported to be more than $80 million, although company officials would not confirm that figure.
For many of the loyal devotees, the highlight of their brief vacation is the VIP trip to Disneyland and Universal Studios.
[The Walt Disney Company, parent of Disneyland, also is the parent company of ABC News.]
"It's magic to see how the films are made here," Hua Ying of Fujing Province said. "We like to see the films but we didn't know how they were made."
Her husband, Fang Bi Yu, said that they had to sell more than 1,500,000 Yuan [$219,500]-worth of Amway products to qualify for the free trip.
"It's a reward for achievement," he said. "You work hard the whole year. It's a dream place -- America, the U.S. We're realizing our dreams. It's a perfect trip. [There is] just not enough time to travel around."
Qi Rui Yi, from a village in a rural farming area of Henbei Province, believes Amway has given him opportunities that he could not have otherwise found.
"It's a great business opportunity," he said. "I'm from a village, from the countryside. I was poor when I was a child. I didn't have any university studies. But I can achieve this."
He added proudly that the Southern California visit is his fourth overseas trip.
China Was Wary of Amway
Amway has been in China since the mid-1990s. After a rocky start, the company has seen tremendous growth as the Chinese people have embraced Amway and its unique form of marketing.
Although door-to-door sales have been a staple of American life, the Chinese government was wary of such sales techniques, which were viewed as being akin to a pyramid scheme. Officials even went so far as to suggest that Amway's sales pitch was an "evil cult."
The American corporation persevered and eventually convinced Chinese officials that building sales through direct marketing was a viable business model.
In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission investigated Michigan-based Amway in the 1970s and decided that it was not an illegal pyramid scheme.
Expert Believes Amway May Have Taken a Lesson From Chairman Mao
Baizhu Chen, an associate professor of finance and business at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business and an expert on investment in the Chinese market, said that throughout Chinese history, political and religious movements have been organized on a grassroots level.
Chen believes that while some Chinese officials may view Amway as a pyramid scheme or a cult, other officials could view the company as a national threat.
"Once you mobilize 100,000 people from grassroots, this can quickly turn into something against the government," Chen said.
Amway also may be treading on turf very familiar to Communist Party officials.
"Chairman Mao required the party to be organized on the platoon level," Chen said. "One of the reasons the communist revolution was successful is because the communists have done a great job, a wonderful job of organizing the grassroots."
Chen believes that the Chinese population will embrace any company that offers good value. He pointed out that trust built on a personal level has been a Chinese tradition for hundreds of years.
Amway Trip Involves 'Staggering' Logistics
The Amway trip includes a visit to a company farm in Lakeview, Calif., where researchers develop new products using organic farming techniques.
"Coming to company property is a little bit of a homecoming, whether you are an Amway person from the U.S. or from China," said Kate Makled, manager of corporate communications for Michigan-based Amway.
Makled said the shear enormity of moving thousands of excited visitors is a herculean task.
"The amount of logistics that have to be properly coordinated and planned for is staggering -- the number of hotel rooms, the number of transfers," Makled said. "We have a rotating system of groups of right about 1,000 people that are coming and going and following a similar itinerary each day."
Stop at Citadel Outlet Mall
Another stop on the complimentary trip was the enormous Citadel Outlet Mall, a few miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
The process of moving from site to site is finely orchestrated using scores of bi-lingual guides with numbered flags. Thirteen buses carried more than 500 visitors.
As the buses arrived at the shopping center, the visitors rushed to the stores eager to buy goods, many of which were, ironically, made in China.
Watching the crowd arrive was Tammy Bekhor, a spokeswoman for Citadel Outlets.
"We're extremely excited," Bekhor said. "The tenants are extremely excited. We're all geared up to make everybody feel welcome. We've translated our mall brochure. It's all translated into Mandarin. We also have Mandarin-speaking greeters. We're ready for them to go shopping."
When asked about the number of Amway guests that will be arriving in the next few days, she said, "I have not seen this volume before and that definitely is something that is different with this Amway group. Never in my life have I seen 310 buses rolling up in 15 days."
Zhie Duan of Juangxi was looking forward to purchasing chic designer goods at discount prices.
"Things are more expensive at home, way expensive," she said, adding that she especially would be looking for panty hose.
During their 90-minute outing, the outlet mall was awash with shoppers wearing brightly colored Amway IDs and carrying lime-green Amway backpacks.
For most Californians, a trip to the mall is just a routine chore. But Yin Huang of Chong Qin was hopeful she might meet a Hollywood star.
"I would like to meet the state minister, Arnold Schwarzenegger," she said of the California governor. "If I met him, I would say I love him."