In a country of 1.3 billion people, it's not easy to do anything first or best. But rising living standards, a greater flow of information and increasing ties with the outside world have enabled many young Chinese to find their own niche in the economy and in life.
One young man from northern China has made it to the top of his profession — on his belly.
At his self-titled Chinese Celebrity Guo Wei Belly Dancing Club, Guo Wei is instructing his students in the use of a veil. It is an indispensable tool in a belly dancer's kit, he tells them.
In less than 30 years, Guo has gone from an average childhood in the northern industrial city of Handan to being a leading figure of China's navel-gazing.
Now, mostly female college students and young women with white-collar jobs — and the occasional young man — each pay more than $750 a year to twirl their exposed midriffs in Guo's Middle Eastern-themed studios.
Guo's parents divorced when he was young, and he was left to fend for himself. His wanderings took him from a job as a gym coach in Beijing to Cairo, Egypt, in 2004. He took up belly dancing there with a teacher who, he was surprised to learn, was named Mohammed.
"I thought it was strange that he was a male teacher. I had wanted to study with a woman, because I thought women made better belly dancers. But men are more careful teachers. Besides, women like male teachers better," Guo says.
Hu Lingna, a demure young woman from Shanghai, started as Guo's student and is now a fellow belly dance teacher at his school.
"I found him on the Internet, and at first I thought it was a bit odd. But then I saw him dance. He was just so natural — more feminine than a woman, and very attractive. There was nothing more to consider, so I just came here," Hu says.
Guo's lithe torso undulates across Chinese stages and television screens with increasing frequency. A generation ago, his performances would have been banned as "spiritual pollution" or "bourgeois decadence." Guo claims some recent success in China in winning acceptance for belly dancing, or as it's rendered in Mandarin, dupiwu.
"At first, some folks were simply attracted by the novelty of something they had never seen before. Others, as soon as they heard that I was a male dancer, had no interest in watching. They just weren't able to accept it," he says.
There is hardly a cultural endeavor where China is not making its mark these days. Guo is now China's ambassador to the world of belly dancing, shaking it with Egyptians, Europeans and Americans at international festivals.
The enterprising Guo is always on the lookout for the next exotic cultural import. Further cementing his role as impresario of abdominal gyrations, he has just unveiled the Guo Wei School of Hula Skirt Dancing.