Change is afoot in the Middle Kingdom, and investors patient enough to ride through the turbulence will be handsomely rewarded.

Over the past thirty years, China has undertaken the most remarkable economic journey in history, pulling hundreds of millions of peasants into the global marketplace. To get there, the country capitalized on its seemingly endless supply of cheap labor, becoming the world's factory.

But this is coming to an end.

End of an era
In the past few months, members of China's army of cheap labor have started to revolt. First came the tragic developments at Foxconn, a major electronics manufacturer which counts Apple, Dell, and Hewlett-Packard among its clients, in which several workers committed suicide, presumably because of the harsh working conditions. Then workers at a plant owned by Honda (NYSE: HMC) brought the Japanese carmaker's production to a standstill.

In response to these developments, Foxconn announced a 122% wage increase, as well as other steps to improve workplace morale. Honda agreed to a 24% pay raise in order to get its assembly lines working again. The workers are rising, and they are getting results, which will likely inspire fellow workers around the country.

The rollbacks aren't over
Higher wages are great for factory workers, but what about the companies like Honda and Wal-Mart that rely on cheap labor in order to supply customers with low-cost goods? Even if every one of the Chinese plants supplying Honda boosted pay by 30%, it would have less than a 1% impact on its bottom line.

Even so, discount retailers like Wal-Mart have proven quite capable of tracking down the cheapest labor available. China's status as the world's low-cost producer was never a sustainable advantage, and it was a matter of time before the factories moved on to new markets in Vietnam, Indonesia, or the African continent.

Good kind of pain
In fact, rising wages for Chinese workers is good news for multinational companies. I mean, what could be more attractive than a market of 1.4 billion people with rising living standards? Whatever temporary discomfort worker revolts may bring, down the road companies looking to sell into the Chinese market will be in a much better situation.

And this is where investors can capitalize on these developments. Finding both foreign and domestic companies (from a Chinese perspective) that are focused on the Chinese consumer will provide healthy returns in the years and decades to come.

Nike (NYSE: NKE) is one American company with its eyes clearly focused on China's future. Nike opened its first office in China in 1991, but didn't really see sales take off until 2005. Last year, however, sales in the Greater China region were $1.7 billion. With the company's heavy investment in brand building, it has ensured that it will benefit handsomely as the number of people in China with disposable income increases.

Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) has also put in the time and effort to build its presence in China, jumping through the local joint-venture hoops that Beijing demands of foreign firms looking to gain access to Chinese consumers. Today Coke commands over half of the Chinese soft drink market and continues to work to make its beverages synonymous with refreshment for consumers from Harbin to Guangzhou, from Shanghai to Urumqi, and everywhere in between.

As incomes rise, so does the demand for status symbols, which is why leather fashion goods manufacturer Coach (NYSE: COH) has been emphasizing the Chinese market in recent years. The company opened its first flagship store in China earlier this year and is already a year ahead of schedule in its Chinese growth plan.

A little local flavor
While these familiar names are indeed well positioned to address the rising consumer demand in China, more adventurous investors might like to sample more local fare.

Two domestic Chinese companies that will see the benefits of rising disposable income are (Nasdaq: CTRP) and Home Inns (Nasdaq: HMIN). As wages rise, Chinese consumers will have more money to spend on recreational travel and these two are the 800 pound gorillas in the travel game.

The Motley Fool Global Gains team will be heading to China in early July to find more companies ready to cash in on the rise of the Chinese consumer. If you'd like to receive their dispatches from the road and learn about which companies they think are poised to capitalize on the next stage in China's growth, just enter your email address in the box below and you'll also receive a free report with five Chinese buys.

Nate Weisshaar does not own any shares of the companies mentioned above. International is a Motley Fool Hidden Gems recommendation. Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart Stores are Inside Value choices. Apple and Coach are Stock Advisor recommendations. Coca-Cola is a Income Investor pick. The Fool owns shares of Coca-Cola. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.