According to new data just released by the United Nations, China surpassed the United States in 2010 to become the world's No. 1 manufacturing nation, ending America's dominance as the world's largest manufacturer since the late 1800s (see chart above of the top five manufacturing countries). China's manufacturing output in 2010 of $1.922 trillion and 18.89% share of world manufacturing output of $10.176 trillion,was slightly ahead of America's manufacturing output of $1.855 trillion and 18.24% share of global manufacturing production.
Before the mainstream media or others gets overly impressed with China's rise as a manufacturing superpower (e.g. Andy Stern in the WSJ praising China's "superior economic model"), they should proceed with caution for the following reasons:
1. China's manufacturing workforce is estimated to be around 100 million and could be as high as 120 million, compared to America's manufacturing employment of about 11.5 million. Therefore, China is producing roughly the same manufacturing output as the U.S. but Chinese worker productivity is so low it needs 9-10 workers for every one American factory worker.
2. Even though China is now the world largest manufacturer, its GDP per capita of only $2,800 (data here from the USDA) is just now reaching a level of output per person that the U.S. achieved back in 1878, 133 years ago (see chart below).