China's ascent as an economic powerhouse is no secret. It has been stoked by nearly $500 billion of foreign investment in the past decade. In 2003 alone, $53 billion flowed in--the first time China eclipsed the U.S. as the No. 1 recipient of foreign investment. But all that cash isn't drifting in on global trade winds. Matching a capital-starved Shanghai manufacturer with a New York City financier requires an expert middleman, someone with Chinese-market savvy and an ability to bridge cultural divides. Here TIME profiles an élite group we have dubbed China's Rainmakers: pioneering venture capitalists, investment bankers and other dealmakers who helped send money to the Middle Kingdom and open the country to the world.
Acting as midwife to China's difficult economic rebirth can be financially dangerous. The country's legal and management landscape is murky. Disputes between Chinese managers and their Western backers are commonplace, while graft and corruption are rampant. But for these leaders, the art of the Chinese deal is about building a modern, civilized society. "Foreign investors who bring money and technology to private domestic firms are doing exactly the right thing," says Yasheng Huang, author of Selling China: Foreign Direct Investment in the Reform Era. "If you can structure your investment so that you take advantage of China's growth story without having to depend on its economic system, you have most of your success right there and then." We say, Let it rain. --By Jim Erickson/Hong Kong