Time Magazine explores the Cult of Apple in China

June 23, 2012, 6:42 PM UTC

FORTUNE — “Apple symbolizes the best of American Big Business,” writes Hannah Beech in this week’s issue of
Time Magazine
, “its innovative drive, its stylish flair, its advertising acumen.”

The company has also succeeded because of its deep and complex relationship with a country halfway around the world, where nearly all its gadgets are assembled. Labor violations within the tech firm’s China supply chain–Apple has no factories of its own and instead contracts assembly out to a vast supplier network–have grabbed headlines in recent months.

But the supply-side problems are only part of the Apple story. The American company is thriving in China, even as other Western tech firms struggle with local competition and communications restrictions imposed by the authoritarian state. Apple products now serve as the ultimate totem of upward mobility in a country with a fast-growing middle class…

Apple’s relationship with the People’s Republic embodies some of the global economy’s brightest opportunities but also its thorniest dilemmas. An American tech giant must decide how much to adapt its practices in a faraway land. Should Apple represent the best of the West in the Middle Kingdom, or must it conform to the less salubrious way China Inc. operates? From China’s side, how much longer will an increasingly nationalistic government allow foreign companies like Apple to profit so handsomely on its shores? Caught in the middle are 1.3 billion Chinese whose toil in factories and taste for luxury products will dictate the future of the world’s marketplace.

Beech, Time‘s Beijing bureau chief, does a nice job weaving together the strands of a complex story, much of which will be familiar to Apple (AAPL) investors but to which she adds some on-the-ground-in-Chengdu reporting and a few details we hadn’t seen before — such as the fact that Apple logos have begun to appear not just on fake Apple stores and fake iPhones (including an iPhone 5 that don’t yet exist), but also on nearly 700 Apple-branded gas stoves.

It’s the cover story on Time‘s International editions, available free for subscribers here and for purchase in Apple’s iBookstore under a new arrangement between Time Inc. (TWC) and Apple two years in the making. See here.

It’s also available in the domestic edition — but inside the magazine, where it runs behind a cover story about the history of the American Dream written, ironically, by the former editor of Newsweek.