TWENTY-six-year-old Li Qihua is no ordinary taxi driver. As he negotiates the tangled traffic on the highways and side roads that crisscross the Pearl River Delta, he can engage in an intelligent discussion about the Shenzhen stock market and the social implications of China's open door policy. For he has witnessed the ups and downs of the Shenzhen exchange and personally experienced the benefits of China's march towards a market economy. It was less than eight years ago that high school-educated Li from Zhangjiang in southern Guangdong first set foot in the Pearl River Delta. Like other migrant workers, Mr Li was lured by the prospect of a job which paid more than the boring and humdrum work of a farmer. He had little money in his pocket. All he had was a determination to succeed. Today, Mr Li has bought a flat in Baoan, west of Shenzhen, through which he has acquired the right to permanent residency. Soon, the taxi he drives to earn a living will be his when he completes repaying its mortgage. His siblings have followed his path to economic success. His sister now runs a beauty parlour and plans to open another with him, while his brother has his own restaurant. The children have brought their parents to join them for a better life in the most affluent part of China. Like the average Chinese, Mr Li was fascinated by Shenzhen's pioneering move to set up a stock market. He was smart enough to take a part-time course in finance at the Shenzhen University. The knowledge he acquired served him well: it taught him not to follow the herd. In 1992, when senior leader Deng Xiaoping's tour of southern China pushed the market to historic highs, he decided to cash in all his shares and thus avoided the subsequent crash. 'Most people in China are still ignorant of how the stock market work and they behave like sheep,' he said. 'You can only invest for the short-term, not medium or long-term.' Now that the price-earning ratios of companies have fallen to a realistic level, Mr Li said the time to get into the market again was coming. He says the best time to buy will be the end of 1996. Although most of his peers have returned to their hometowns, Mr Li said many had had their outlook on life changed by their experience in the Pearl River Delta. 'They know there is another world outside,' said Mr Li. 'Previously, they would not think for themselves - and did not need to - because work was assigned to them. Today, although they are still farmers, they know they can make a difference if they plan ahead. For example, they may be able to earn more by growing particular cash crops, processing them and selling them here. 'What matters is market information and the ability to respond.'