Showing posts with label Intellectual Property. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Intellectual Property. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rewarding Pirating?

A columnist at PC World is confused and upset as to why China gets ridiculously cheap copies of Microsoft Office.

From PC World:

Image from johannes-eva.net

In order to take a bite out of piracy, Microsoft sells copies of its Office Suite in China for just $29 dollars. I wonder how many copies Americans would have to pirate to get the same price? So much for the notion that "crime does not pay!"

I found the pricing information earlier today in a BusinessWeek story about how Microsoft is slashing prices to grab market share and fight off Google and the others that are giving away functionality Microsoft customers are used to paying for.

The magazine said Microsoft estimates 95 percent of all copies of Office used in China are illegal copies. Since the $29 pricing started in September, sales of Office have supposedly increased 800 percent.

This looks like a case of where crime pays big dividends. And, no, I am not suggesting for readers to pirate copies of Office in order to send Redmond a pricing message.

Still, we Westerners have been paying through the nose for Office for almost two decades. If anyone deserves a price break, it's us--not the thieving Chinese. But, it seems that if you are a fast-growing market, lawlessness aside, Microsoft wants to cut you a deal.

I understand what Microsoft is doing and why. I am happy for anything that reduces software theft, but that doesn't make me nearly as happy as a $29 copy of Office would.


Read On
The full version of Microsoft Office 2007 on Amazon.com costs $290.49 (while the home and student version costs $89.99. I just read the original Business Week article. I couldn't tell whether the $29 version in China is the full version. But even if it isn't, this is a huge price break for the Chinese.

I can see why this remarkable discrepancy in price would be frustrating for American users of Microsoft Office. It does, in some sense, seem to be rewarding pirating software.

I'm tempted to bring up the differences in cost of living between the two countries (ie. things are more expensive in America than in China), but really, when it comes to computers and high-tech stuff, the prices are pretty much the same. In fact, a lot of techie items, from my experience, are more expensive in China than in America.

The most obvious solution to this wide gap in prices is for Microsoft to significantly lower its prices in America. Given new challenges from Google, open source word processors, and surely many more challengers to the Office platform, I would have to imagine that in five years, a newest version of Microsoft Office will not cost $300.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Killer Booze

China's machismo culture of baijiu is under scrutiny.

From AFP:

Image from redbubble.net

BEIJING — One Chinese official is dead and another in a coma in a pair of cases highlighting the risks of China's culture of drinking heavily to seal political or business deals, state media said on Monday.

Jin Guoqing, a district water resources chief in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, died last week of a heart attack after drinking excessively while entertaining official guests, Xinhua news agency said.

Also last week, Lu Yanpeng, a district chief in Zhanjiang city in southern Guangdong province, fell into a coma after drinking heavily during a dinner with a Communist Party official, it said.

They were just the latest casualties in a booze-soaked culture in which officials and businessmen are expected to ply guests with strong Chinese liquor at elaborate banquets amid cries of "gan bei," or "drain the glass."

Xinhua quoted an official in eastern Shandong province, who asked to remain anonymous, saying officials would "lose face" if they do not get guests drunk.

"Neither my guests nor I want to get drunk but we have to play under the unspoken rule, which has been around for so long. We don't know how to do business otherwise," the official said.


Read On
From my experiences, Chinese men to feel the need to prove how manly they are by how much baijiu they can drink. Personally, I think this whole aspect of Chinese (male) culture is a bit silly. I believe I got this kind of stuff out of my system in my late teens.

The ironic thing is that many Chinese men simply don't hold their liquor that well because of their body chemistry. So it's easy to see why and how this kind of binge drinking can be problematic.

One other aspect I wonder about in these kinds of deaths is China's shanzhai culture. Just like every other kind of product in China, there is fake baijiu everywhere.

Little cigarette and alcohol shops notoriously sell fake bottles of the baijiu. The owner of the shop next door to my work got arrested last weekend because of this. I'm sure that the fake bottles of the nice baijiu brands make their way into nicer restaurants as well.

One can only imagine what is actually in the bottles of fake alcohol. If you think real baijiu is foul, imagine how awful fake stuff has to be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Obama's Blockberry

I guarantee this wouldn't have happened to John McCain. Obama's been Shanzhai'd!

The picture and story below are from The Wall St. Journal's "China Journal:"


It’s the biggest product launch of the year: a Chinese company is selling a BlackBerry-like device with promotional assistance from none other than the President of the United States.

Okay, not really. But that’s the idea behind this ad, the latest emanation from China’s zany shanzhai culture, a mixture of old-school copycatting and arch parody.

The ad promotes a smartphone called the “BlockBerry旋风 9500” (旋风, xuanfeng, means “whirlwind”), that more-than-slightly resembles the BlackBerry Storm, Research In Motion’s (RIMM) first touch-screen device, released last fall. The touch-screen BlockBerry purportedly runs on Windows Mobile software, has WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and 3G wireless capabilities, and comes in six colors, from purple to champagne. “Obama’s BlackBerry. My Blockberry旋风 9500,” reads the tagline below the president’s photo (which is inverted, apparently by a sloppy layout designer, with the American-flag pin backwards on the wrong lapel). China Journal admittedly hasn’t verified this with Robert Gibbs, but we’ll go out on a limb and say that Obama’s presence in the ad is unauthorized.


Read On
I wanted to post something more substantive today, but couldn't resist highlighting this ad. It cracks me up.

I've talked a few times before about Shanzhai culture in China. Coming from a country that is one of the biggest enforcers of intellectual property rights in the world, this culture continues to amaze me. It is literally everywhere on every street in Xi'an. Fake everything everywhere.

I couldn't help but laugh a couple times as I read the Shanzhai Wikipedia page:
The use of “shanzhai” became popular with the outstanding sale performance of “shanzhai” cell phones. According to Gartner’s data, 1.15 billion cell phones were sold worldwide in 2007, and according to data provided by the Chinese government 150 million “Shanzhai” cell phones were sold in the same year, thus making up more than one tenth of the global sales. [3]

The market for “shanzhai” cell phones lies not only in China, but also in the surrounding developing countries in Asia or even third world countries in Africa. The outstanding sales performance of “shanzhai” cell phones is usually attributed to their low price, (usually lower than $50), multi-functional performance and imitations of trendy cell phone design. Although “shanzhai” companies do not use branding as a marketing strategy, they are known for their flexibility of design to meet specific market needs. For example, during Barack Obama’s 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign, “shanzhai” cell phone companies started selling “Obama” cell phones in Kenya, with the slogan “yes we can” and Obama’s name on the back of the cell phone. [4] They also designed “ Bird Nest” and “Fuwa” (福娃) cell phones in light of the Beijing Olympic Games.

...

Shanzhaiism 山寨主義 is a philosophical term denoting a Chinese style of innovation with a peasant mind-set. Western style innovation cannot be developed in China. In the Web2.0 era, most products and services are produced by the west. It seems that China has no say and no way in the Web2.0 era.

Shanzhaiism has a long tradition. Products needed to be designed to suit peasants which account for most of the Chinese population.

Shanzhaiism has an equivalent English term: tinker. Lacking a garage, they build products in villages in the mountain that have stockade houses. However, with shanzhaiism in mind, people can produce fake and pirate products in a massively organized way.

...

The frequent reference of “shanzhai” cell phone on internet and in traditional media made people started labeling low-cost imitation cultural activities as “shanzhai” as well. Some of the most well-known events include, “Shanzhai” National Spring Gala (“山寨春节联欢晚会”), “Shanzhai” Lecture Room (“山寨百家讲坛”), “Shanzhai” Olympic Torch Relay (“山寨奥运火炬传递”), and “Shanzhai” Nobel Prize (“山寨诺贝尔奖”). One thing these events have in common is that they all imitate high-end, popular yet authoritative events in which grass-root power usually has no participating role.

While the purpose of above mentioned “shanzhai” events are arguably just for the participants to have fun and to experience being the authority, other “shanzhai” cultural phenomenon, like the “shanzhai” product, is profit-oriented. One example of such is that some low-end performing agencies will hire people who look like pop stars to perform in rural areas, where people cannot afford to watch the performance of the actual stars. Thus “shanzhai” Jay Chou( “山寨周杰伦”), “shanzhai” Andy Lau(“山寨刘德华”, “shanzhai” Faye Wong(“山寨王菲”)s’ performance can be seen in many underdeveloped places in China.
Shanzhai is definitely ingrained into Chiense culture. As China develops and becomes wealthier, it's going to be interesting to see how this culture develops and how the country deals with the phenomenon.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Subtitling TV and Movies for the Masses

Every single western TV show or movie available to the Chinese masses on the internet has the Chinese translation of the program at the bottom of the screen. For some time now, I've been wondering who comes up with this ubiquitous text. I just found out the answer.

From CNN (H/T to The Peking Duck's Twitter page):

Photo from Daylife.com

SHANGHAI, China (CNN) -- On Saturday at 10 a.m. it's show time for Brenda Zhang and her subtitle team. They roll out of bed, meet each other online and chat, while their modems download the latest episode of "Prison Break," which just aired half a world away on Friday night in America.

Once they have the show on their hard drives, the team spends the rest of the day creating subtitles for it in Chinese before putting it back online for other fans to watch.

Dozens of such groups exist in China. They are voluntary and are translating a mix of media, from books and magazines to games, TV shows and movies. The translated products are for an audience whose primary means of accessing foreign entertainment is the Internet.

The members of these online translations groups participate out of a desire to improve their English. For many there is also a passionate interest in overseas content and a desire to make it accessible to other Chinese people.

"This is a way to fulfill your life and do something you are interested in," said Zhang, a 24-year-old who translates for a team that calls themselves "Showfa."

"I think Chinese people need to know something different, to see how the foreigners think about life, think about love."


Read On
These people who do these translations are committed to their hobby. I can't exactly understand why they care so much given that they don't make any money off of what they do. But then again, I spend time on this here blog every day and I don't make any money on it. So I guess I can see why they do what they do.

The article says that there is a strict application process for being accepted into these groups. One member of the 1000fr group said "she had to translate 300 words in 15 minutes." These standards, translating words (probably with no context), surely explains why most of the translations are so awful.

When watching these Chinese subtitled programs, I can recognize a lot of the characters flowing across the bottom of the screen. It's hard for me to say whether what I'm kind of understanding gels with the English going on on the screen though. But Qian often (actually more often than not) has something to say about how terrible the translations are. She usually turns them off or switches it to the English translation, if possible.

The translations don't cut it for Qian, who has really good English. But it obviously works for the majority of Chinese people, who aren't proficient in English.

Whatever one thinks about the quality of these translators' work, there's no questioning their quantity.

As the article states, shows are turned over often within hours of their showing. If "24" is on on Tuesday night in America, you'll most likely be able to find it on the 'net in China by Wednesday (remember, China is twelve hours ahead of the US). Being able to watch TV shows as they air lets young Chinese people watch the show at the same rate as those in the States.

From what I've seen and heard, the most popular shows for young Chinese people are "24," "Desperate Housewives," and "Prison Break."

The most popular show during my time in China, by far, has been "Prison Break." I find this amusing since the show isn't particularly popular at all in America. I've watched a bit of it. It's painfully bad. You see pictures of the lead character "Scofield" all over Xi'an selling jeans or whatever. I've heard a lot of Chinese guys tell me how handsome they think Scofield is and lots of girls lament that he's gay in real life. The Prison Break phenomenon in China is indeed a curious one.

In addition to TV shows, American movies with Chinese subtitles across the bottom of the screen are everywhere. I've been impressed with some of the titles available. Both the Darren Aronofsky film "Pi" (I like its translation 死亡密码 - "Death's password?") and the 80's film "Stand by Me" are currently available with Chinese subtitles at PPlive.com. Neither of these movies are that popular in the States. Seeing that they've been translated, the Chinese 'net has just about every movie out there. Go search for whatever you want on PPlive. It's probably on there.

All of this stuff is, of course, illegal. Right now, the powers that be seems to be completely ignoring it though. Whether this culture will continue into the future will be an interesting thing to observe.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mobile Shanzhai

The Chinese are world-class copy-cats. And they have a strong tradition of counterfeiting too.

From The New York Times:


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
This part of the NY Times article is great:
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.

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."
Some things never change. Modern "Hi-Phones" are just the 21st century manifestation of something that the Chinese have honed for centuries.

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.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shanzhai City

I just spent the morning with Jackie and her cousin shopping at Guangzhou's famous Baiyun Shopping Center. What a surreal place.

The place is a complex of hundreds upon hundreds of shops selling fake designer goods. Stall after stall was filled with fake Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel items. It dwarfs anything that I'd ever seen in Xi'an, even though I thought the stuff I'd seen in Xi'an was staggering large.

We were shocked by the number of foreigners walking around the place.

Most of the foreigners weren't American or European though. They were predominantly African and Middle Eastern buyers of bulk orders wanting to ship goods back to their home countries. While shopping, I tried as best as I could to listen to their bargaining with the shop owners. All sorts of languages were being thrown around. I saw a number of Middle-Eastern men and women scoping out products with, what I assume were, Arabic-Chinese interpreters.

In the past, I'd heard a couple of the African guys I know who teach English say that they come down to Guangzhou pretty often to do business. Now I know what their business is.

I snapped a few photos of the place. I could tell that people were not happy to see a foreigner with a camera and one woman even confronted me about having my camera, so I didn't get too many shots.

Here are a few of what I did get though:


The entrance of the complex. I was able to catch a bit of the Hornets/Rockets game (and the freak that is Shane Battier).


Small stalls the size of bedrooms like these are the connections between factories and buyers that supply Africa and the Middle East with fake designer goods.








For my St. Louis homies

Seeing all of the activity going on at the shanzhai complex today in Guangzhou, it struck me that despite the thousands of factories that have closed and the millions of unemployed migrants, southern China is still doing incredible amounts of manufacturing. Indeed, Guangzhou and the Pearl River Delta is still a bustling part of the world.

Here is an article on Guangzhou from current issue of The Beijing Review:

Image from Wang Jing & Co.

Guangzhou is the capital city of Guangdong Province in China's developed southeast coastal area. Zhang Guangning, deputy to the 11th National People's Congress and Mayor of Guangzhou, told Beijing Review that the goal for Guangzhou's GDP growth in 2009 is 10 percent.

Beijing Review: How has Guangzhou been affected by the financial crisis? Will its economic growth decline?

Zhang Guangning: Exports account for 43 percent of Guangzhou's total economic volume. The global financial crisis has put big pressure on Guangzhou's economic development. In 2008, the city's GDP totaled 821.6 billion yuan ($120.11 billion), up 12.3 percent. Per-capita GDP reached 81,233 yuan ($11,876), up 10 percent. In 2009, we will strive for the goal of 10-percent GDP growth and 8.5-percent per-capita GDP growth.

How will you realize this goal?

Sustaining economic growth is the top task of Guangzhou, and expanding domestic demand is the fundamental way to reach this goal. According to the Outline of the Plan for the Reform and Development of the Pearl River Delta and the arrangements of the Central Government and Guangdong Provincial Government, Guangzhou will grasp the opportunity of hosting the Asian Games to accelerate the formation of a new economic growth pattern driven by domestic demand. Meanwhile, we will try to maintain exports and foreign investment for stable and fast economic development.

Read On
Although Xi'an has a huge population (around 7 million), my Chinese hometown feels like a back-water compared to Guangzhou. I've been to Beijing and Shanghai before, but it's been a couple years. Being in Guangzhou is showing me China's booming economy much better than Xi'an does.

Jackie and I are not in Guanzhou by choice (the American consulate is here), but I'm glad that I'm getting a chance to see the engine of China's export-based economy.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Counterfeiters Demand the Right to Pirate

Recently shut down counterfeit goods sellers are angry. They want China to allow them to continue to break the law.

From The International Herald Tribune:

BEIJING: Any tourist who has stepped foot in this city's famous Silk Street Market can testify that it is home to some of the wiliest, most tenacious vendors who ever tried to pawn off a fake handbag on a naïve foreigner.

So when the market managers temporarily shut down 29 stalls this month for selling counterfeit goods, no one expected the merchants to quietly acquiesce to the loss of business.

"We expected trouble," said Zhao Tianying, a legal consultant with IntellecPro, a Beijing intellectual property firm representing five foreign luxury-brand manufacturers who sued the market for trademark violations. "But we never imagined this."

The vendors have responded with the same ferocity with which they nail down a sale. Dozens of them have staged noisy weekly protests at the law firm, mocking the lawyers as bourgeois pawns of foreigners. They have confronted witnesses who had provided evidence of trademark violations and filed their own countersuit, claiming only the government can shutter a business.

A few characters scrawled in pencil on the wall outside IntellecPro's office sums up their message: "We want to eat!"

Read On
While I can understand that the sellers want to have the opportunity to do the work that they've chosen to do in their lives, I don't have too much sympathy for them. They're blatantly breaking intellectual property laws and probably making a decent amount of money doing so.

In the post I made a few weeks ago entitled "Fake Chic," a reader, Alex, left the following message:
It would seem that our Western obsession with abstract notions of "real" and "fake" mean nothing in a part of the world where filling your belly is not a certainty.
Now I agree with Alex that a lot of rural China and the poorer people who buy "shanzhai" goods don't even have very concrete concepts of what real and fake are. But I do not believe that Alex's sentiments apply in this situation: the Beijingers currently protesting, who sell fake Prada hand bags to westerners, are probably not struggling to eat. And the buyers of their goods are mostly westerners, obviously people not struggling to eat.

I know that the owners of the hundreds of fake goods' stalls in Xi'an's Muslim Quarter are famous (maybe notorious is a better word) for being shrewd and rich from their sales of fake goods.

I have a slight bit more sympathy for the shanzhai transactions that go on in the countryside or outside of major metropolitan areas. While still wrong, I can at least understand why the buyers need the cheap items and that both parties in the transaction are, to a degree, ignorant of the laws they're breaking.

But sellers of blatantly fake Louis Vuitton bags or Rolex watches in Beijing or Xi'an or Shanghai, who are most likely making very good money off of their transactions, know what they're doing is wrong. For that reason, this story of their shops being closed down certainly doesn't break my heart or anything.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Intellectual Property Compromises

Tudou.com (in Chinese, tudou 土豆 means potato) is fighting a legal battle for its right to purvey copyrighted material.

From Forbes:


For all the rampant piracy in China, there are signs that Chinese Web sites are feeling the heat of a mounting legal offensive from the country's own film, television and music industries. China's homegrown version of YouTube, Tudou.com, may have made the first concession.

However, Tudou is willing to offer only a compromise, not actual compensation, for the copyrighted content it shares on its Web site. Arguing that the "ocean" of cybercontent out there makes it financially untenable for the popular video-sharing site to pay for everything, Tudou is willing to offer "revenue sharing" instead. It remains to be seen whether any other Chinese video-sharing sites, such as Youku and Ku6, will follow in Tudou's footsteps. Whether Chinese film, television and music groups will be satisfied with their share of profits is another matter.

Buried under a mountain of lawsuits, Tudou has agreed to yield some of its advertising revenue to content providers. How much? That is still unclear, but Chief Executive Gary Wang told Chinese media last Thursday that the company may share 10% to 30% of ad revenue, after it takes a closer look at sales data for content. First in line for this revenue-sharing arrangement will be Shanghai Film Group, Shanghai Oriental Film & TV, Zhejiang Television, Jiangsu Television and NEPTV, all groups that have worked with Tudou in the past.

Read On
Recently, I've been wondering how and why companies like Tudou and Baidu continues to profit while blatantly break all kinds of intellectual property laws. I assume that this is because China's intellectual property laws are lax and not enforced.

Yet at the same time there are massive amounts of TV shows and movies freely available to watch on Tudou and China's other big video site, Youku.com.

Not that I officially endorse this pracrive, but which show do you feel like watching for free right now: The Simpsons, Entourage, or Desperate Housewives? Seeing that these Chinese sites are messing with American TV shows and movies, it's surprising to me that these sites continue to flourish.

I suppose it's worth asking; can Americans or other people not in China reading this right now access these links that I just provided? Or have they been blocked in America? I know that America doesn't go around blocking sites like China does, but I'm under the impression that US ISPs have been known to block sites which are the source of rampant pirating.

It'd be surprising to me if media companies actually agreed to sharing Tudou's proposal of sharing the profits made off of their illegal sharing. Seems to go against media distribution companies' core principles of anti-piracy.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fake Chic

China's fake goods' markets, or shanzhai, are getting more sophisticated and innovative.

From Reuters:

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - It's time to ditch the designer goods and adopt fake fashion, say some Chinese, as "sham glam" takes the world's most populous nation by storm.

Though previously shunned as unsophisticated, fake products increasingly have their own chic appeal in China and a fashionable moniker -- "shanzhai."

Literally meaning "mountain fort," the term "shanzhai" is applied to everything from knock-off trainers and mobile phones to lookalike celebrities and television shows, and refers to the remote, maybe lawless locations they traditionally get made in.

And the popularity of these goods seems sure to grow as China's economy slows along with the rest of the world and real designer products spin out of the price range of more Chinese.

Many "shanzhai" goods sport altered names, trying to tread a fine line between imitation and straight-out fake, and cost much less than their above-board, well-known brand-name equivalents.

Samsung goes to Samsing, Adidas goes to Odidoss or Avivas and Hike, Like or even Mike substitute for Nike, with the U.S. sports wear firm's mark at times reversed and given an extra flourish.

Read On
I've spoken at great lengths about Xi'an's fake goods' markets. They really are everywhere. You can buy fake Nikes from literally dozens of places around town. In fact, it's harder for me to think of where you can actually buy real authentic pairs. There are places selling the legit western products, but they're fewer and farther between.

This article is interesting where it talks about the difficulty and, often, unwillingness of law enforcement officials to prosecute the the peddlers of fake brands.

There truly is an acceptance of fake goods in Chinese culture. So much so in fact that it's hard to see if and when the culture of fake products will ever end.

That's not to say that every Chinese person endorses the buying of fake goods though.

Jackie, for instance, does not like having fake products. She'd rather have fewer real, quality products than several fake knock-offs for the same price. Jackie refers to the fake clothing as "farmer fashion." By this, she means that only farmers and people from the countryside find the fake clothes and their poor-quality exciting and fashionable.

One aspect that I've thought about recently relating to fake clothing and electronics products is this:

A lot of fuss has been made in the past about Nike's use of sweatshops and terrible labor practices. If Nike, a western company selling expensive products, is considered to have questionable labor policies, one can only imagine what the Chinese-run knock-off counterpart to Nike's practices are.

These fake products' factories can't possibly be pretty sights.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Second-Hand Smoke, Warmth, and Chatting with the (Soon-to-be) Inlaws

China's Spring Festival is a time of gift giving. And possibly the most popular gifts of the season are cartons of cigarettes.

From Xinhua News Services:


BEIJING, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- Despite knowing all the harms of smoking, Li Pingping, who lives in Shanghai, still decided to buy two cartons of cigarettes as presents for her father back in southwest China's Chongqing.

"When you pick up gifts for the elders during festivals or anniversaries, cigarettes are a nice choice," she said.

Li will take the cigarettes with her on the three-hour-flight to her hometown Chongqing Municipality.

It's Chinese tradition to give cigarettes when meeting new friends or visiting relatives, either to show friendliness or respect.

But the tradition has long stood in the way of the government's and anti-smoking organization's efforts to discourage smoking.

Xu Guihua, deputy director of Chinese Association on Tobacco Control (CATC), said "the lack of understanding and support" has made their job difficult.

Read On
I'm proud to say that I was part of the "problem" this year; Jackie and I gave two cartons of red Hao Mao (translated to "good cat") cigarettes to her dad on Chinese New Year's Eve.

The purchase was actually a bit controversial. Jackie and I bought them at a small store which we figured was legit, ie. wouldn't sell us fake cigarettes. Jackie then went home that night and told her dad that we bought red Hao Maos for him for the holiday. He said that the carton should have a date that the cigarettes were made on them. Our carton didn't and we were a bit worried that we'd purchased fake cigarettes.

On New Year's Eve when we gave Jackie's dad the cigarettes, he looked at the box and thought they looked OK.

The real test was in smoking the cigarettes though.

I watched him as he deeply inhaled the relatively expensive cigarettes. He took a few puffs and then said, "可以。是真的。" Or, "They're real."

He then went on to smoke several over the course of the next few hours.

I've been around Jackie's parents and her extended family all week. During this time span, I was probably exposed to more second-hand smoke than my entire life living in the United States. Jackie's dad, cousins, uncles, and paternal grandma chain-smoked cigarettes nearly every minute they weren't feasting on delicious home-made food (which was a rather large percentage of the time spent over the past week).

I'm a non-smoker, but second-hand smoke doesn't bother me that much. I don't think I'd like to live with a smoker who smokes inside (and yes, all Chinese people who smoke do so inside), but it doesn't bother me that much to be around smokers on special occasions.

And this Spring Festival has been a very special occasion. Honestly, the past week has to be up there with one of the best weeks I've had in China since I came here three years ago.

Although this is the second time for me to spend the Chinese New Year with Jackie and her relatives, this is the first year that I've spent the new year with Jackie as her fiance.

The difference between the two years has been stark.

Last year, Jackie's relatives were very friendly and warm towards me. But this year, they've really treated me as a family member. I've felt an amazing amount of love and warmth from them as we prepared and ate food, got a bit tipsy on baijiu, played ma jiang, went to KTV (karakoe), and did all of the other things which Chinese people do during their most important holiday of the year.

The communication between myself and the family surely added a lot to my enjoyment. This is due to me studying very hard over the past year. I still don't claim to be fluent, but I have had far fewer problems chatting with Jackie's family members this year than I did last year. Her dad and I, particularly, can chat with great ease.

One interesting aspect of our chatting is that I was told throughout the week that I've been speaking 河南话, or the dialect from Henan Province.


I live in Shaanxi Province in the middle of the map. Henan is directly east of Shaanxi.

My manager at work is from Henan and he and I speak Chinese quite often. I don't think I picked up the pronunciation from him though. Instead, Jackie said that I use the 4th tone too often when speaking and a lot of the words/sentences I say end up coming out in a Henan dialect.

Although I am studying 普通话 (standard Mandarin Chinese) and should not be happy about my Henan dialect-like pronunciation, I am thrilled to hear that I speak with one. It shows me that my Chinese is to the level where people can understand what I'm saying, even if it comes out as sounding like someone from a different province. To me, being told I sound like someone from Henan implies that I'm speaking with some degree of proficiency.

I'm back at work today and the holiday is largely over for me. Yet I'm sure I'll see Jackie's parents and relatives a time or two more before the Latern Festival in about ten days. The Lantern Festival is the official end of the Chinese New Year.

This past week reminded me a lot of Christmas at home back in America last month. I'm very content that I can have such experiences both in America with my family as well as in China with the people who are soon going to be my extended family.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Currency Valuation Rhetoric

China had an interesting reaction to Obama's new treasury secretary nominee's criticism of its currency's value.

From Bloomberg:

Jan. 28 (Bloomberg) -- China took Barack Obama’s views on the yuan seriously. So seriously that it is doing the exact opposite of what the U.S. president would like.

China let the yuan fall the most in a month on Jan. 23, right after Timothy Geithner, Obama’s pick for Treasury secretary, relayed Obama’s campaign position that China was “manipulating” its currency. The reaction was China’s way of telling the new U.S. leader what he can do with his foreign-exchange views.

What should currency traders do now? Is a trade war brewing between the world’s No. 1 and No. 3 economies? Is the yuan about to strengthen? Will Obama risk the ire of the most populous nation to make good on his protectionist campaign-trail rhetoric? Perhaps the answer is for everyone to relax.

Read On
Obama can't serious think that China would revalue its currency to accommodate America's wishes. No, China has its own problems to be worrying about.

Obama's rhetoric surely is in preparation for the protectionism he's about to implement.

I can't quite comprehend why he, or any American consumer, has problems with China's manufacturing. I understand that a young Chinese boy or girl is assembling the products instead of an American man or woman. But America doesn't want to pay a lot of money for cheap goods. Americans thoroughly enjoy Walmart's shelves being full of cheap products made by the Chinese.

America cannot have it both ways. I'm going to get a kick out of the sky-rocketing prices that Obama is going to try to fight after he enacts his protectionist policies.

I suppose in the long run that getting cheap crap to be more expensive will help ween America off its addiction to consumption. That would be a good thing.

But I can't imagine the coming protectionism fulfilling its intended purpose: creating more American manufacturing jobs.