The long hours are worth it in pursuit of a larger goal, he said. "The only thing we want to do is we want to change our lives. We want to get a better life quality by working hard."
For the 300 million people who have lifted themselves out of poverty in less than a generation, the hard work has paid off. But for others -- 700 million others who survive on less than $2 a day -- extreme poverty is an ongoing reality.
For all the change in China, 40 percent of villages don't have paved roads. And there are other enormous problems to tackle. One quarter of the country's water is unsafe to drink.
Diane Sawyer caught up with some women in the countryside determined to make a little money, setting up makeshift restaurants and trying to recruit passerby to stop and eat. They said they don't make much money from their enterprise, but their farm produces enough vegetables to feed their families.
Next door, a woman growing red beans in her front yard said life has improved a little for farmers like her, but she still has dreams.
Sawyer asked, "What's the one thing you'd like to have now?"
She answered, "A car."
Despite the hardships she faces, she offered a bag full of melons as a parting gift. Other neighbors down the road proudly showed off a refrigerator, stocked with noodles, yogurt, and Pepsi. A man saved to send his son to college by growing wheat and corn, hoping for the next generation to break out of the poverty cycle.
Despite China's rapid economic growth, the United States GDP currently dwarfs China's.
For Friedman, the country that will dominate the next century must be willing to be a leader in certain fields.
"The 21st century is going to go to the country or government that provides these four things: the best education for its people, the best infrastructure for its businesses, the best rule of law, and the best environment," he said.
China's main goal, Friedman said, "is to restore its greatness, what it sees as its place in history as a great economic power, a great cultural power, a great political and geopolitical power."
In order for the United States to continue to be the world's number-one economy in the face of such competition, Feng said Americans face a choice.
"This is the choice of the American people," he said, "because everybody has to work hard to change their lives. American people can also work hard and keep the number one position."