From The New York Times:
This part of the NY Times article is great:
SHENZHEN, China — The phone’s sleek lines and touch-screen keyboard are unmistakably familiar. So is the logo on the back. But a sales clerk at a sprawling electronic goods market in this Chinese coastal city admits what is clear upon closer inspection: this is not the Apple iPhone; this is the Hi-Phone.
“But it’s just as good,” the clerk says.
Nearby, dozens of other vendors are selling counterfeit Nokia, Motorola and Samsung phones — as well as cheap look-alikes that make no bones about being knockoffs.
“Five years ago, there were no counterfeit phones,” says Xiong Ting, a sales manager at Triquint Semiconductor, a maker of mobile phone parts, while visiting Shenzhen. “You needed a design house. You needed software guys. You needed hardware design. But now, a company with five guys can do it. Within 100 miles of here, you can find all your suppliers.”
Technological advances have allowed hundreds of small Chinese companies, some with as few as 10 employees, to churn out what are known here as shanzhai, or black market, cellphones, often for as little as $20 apiece.Read On
So far, however, China has done little to stop the proliferation of fake mobile phones, which are even advertised on late-night television infomercials with pitches like “one-fifth the price, but the same function and look,” or patriotic appeals like “Buy shanzhai to show your love of our country.”Here is the video that the Times article linked up to:
Love the English in this video.
A couple weeks ago I referenced Peter Hessler's "Rivertown." A truly great book on contemporary China (even if it was written in the late 90s).
There is a fascinating passage from the book where Hessler writes about shanzhai culture in today's society as well as the long-standing tradition it has in China. From page 258 of the book:
The demand for Nalgene-knockoff bottles was much more understandable, especially in a tea-drinking city like Chengdu, where the bottles spread quickly throughout the city's social strata. They were first acquired by cab drivers, who tended to be at the forefront of such trends - cabbies had a certain maverick quality, as well as plenty of money. After that, the businessmen followed suit, and then xiaojies, and finally by summer even the old people in the teahouses were sipping their tea out of fake Nalgene bottles. Soon you could buy them for twenty yuan in any Sichuan city or town.Some things never change. Modern "Hi-Phones" are just the 21st century manifestation of something that the Chinese have honed for centuries.
The bottles came with a label that described them as American-developed Taikong Pingzi - Outer Space Bottles. But they were clearly the product of Chinese factories, because they weren't quite standard and often the label was misspelled. In that regard things hadn't changed greatly from the seventeenth century, when a Spanish priest named Domingo Navarrete described the business methods in China. "The Chinese are very ingenious at imitation," he wrote. "They have imitated to perfection whatsoever they have seen brought out of Europe. In the Province of Canton (Guangdong) they have counterfeited several things so exactly, that they sell them Inland for Goods brought out from Europe."
I was really surprised to read that the Chinese tradition of copying goods goes back hundreds of years. There really is something long-standing about the Chinese ability to produce high-quality fakes.
This culture of counterfeiting goods passed on through generations is sociologically and anthropologically fascinating to me.