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.


pug ster said...

Iphones are overpriced anyways. Some people call counterfeiting, China calls it competition. Personally, I would like to buy one of these phones.

Rhodo Zeb said...

I just noticed a new beer on the market here in SH, Blue Diamond, with a total rip-off of Bud's (classic, red) trade dress. Do you have that up in Xi'An yet? Its a GZ company.

By the way thanks for the link love, sorry that I didn't reciprocate. Still getting used to this.

Mark said...

I haven't seen that beer, but I'll be on the look out for it (although I'm probably not going to try it).

No worries on the links. It's hard to keep track of that stuff.

I like your blog. I feel like we're kindred spirits (or something). Keep up the good work!

Rhodo Zeb said...

Thanks, I appreciate it. I like your blog as well, really a lot, its so bright and colorful, and I see you have taken your hand to some different analysis, with good results.

I admire you peeps out there is the West, part of me would love to live there. Shanghai's actually pretty boring, all the exciting stuff is happening out in the North-West and South-West. Of course I just posted some snark about how country Pudong is, that was meant to be tongue in cheek, a little inside Shanghai baseball.

I think the process of getting out there online involves making some friends and working together, driving a little traffic back and forth, and so on. If you read Sadly, No in the early days you would have seen how stupid blog wars also drive a lot of traffic.

Anyways keep up the good works and I will probably drop by later.