Shanzhai - The Chinese University of Hong Kong

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Shanzhai - The Chinese University of Hong Kong

“Western businesses need tounderstand the shanzhai culture tocompete and benefit from its creativityand momentum.”LIFESTYLEby Hazel Chung Chin Chingshanzhai products and provides anonline platform for people around theworld to exchange information.The site started in 2009 andis led by editor-in-chief TimothyJames Brown, known as “Tai-Pan”.The Canadian IT executive has beenworking in Asia for the past 13 yearsand is currently living in Taipei, thoughhe often travels to Hong Kong andthe mainland. Some of the website’soperating staff live in Shenzhen.Brown sees beyond the issues ofpiracy shadowing the shanzhai trend,recognising it as an exciting investmentopportunity instead. He and histeam believe shanzhai products areserious contenders in the technologyindustry. They view the shanzhaiworld as a source of innovation thathas received scant attention in thedeveloped world.Brown says the largest groups ofusers of the site are in the United States,Germany and the United Kingdom.Shanzai.com has also been extensivelyquoted by leading international business,technology and news publications.Given all this, it is not surprisingBrown is optimistic about the futuredevelopment of shanzhai products.“It will move into more and moreindustries and will start to havea larger influence outside China.Western businesses need to understandthe shanzhai culture to competeand benefit from its creativity andmomentum,” he says.As the Tai-Pan of Shanzai.com, Browngets to test drive a lot of interestingshanzhai products. Of all the creativedevices he has come across, he was moststunned by a mobile phone which alsodoubles up as a shaver. “It looks a littlecrazy but, actually, it performed well. Itcould be quite useful to businessmen!”Little did he know the “shaver phone”made its debut in a 1994 Stephen Chowmovie, From Beijing With Love (KwokTsan Ling Ling Tsat). Well, at least theshaver-phone concept did.Piracy or parodying popular cultureinnovationSo, are shanzhai products just blatant“copycats” or do they represent anotherkind of innovation and creativity? Askedabout the difference between shanzhaiand counterfeit products, Brown saysthere is a fine line between them.“When players copy trademarks,logos and designs, they are basicallycounterfeiting goods. When they copyand often modify ideas or products, theyshow how mainstream products can beimprovised or represented in differentmanners,” he says.Not everyone agrees. Some peoplestill have a negative view of shanzhaigoods as merely clones of the originalproducts. But even among the sceptics,there are those who admit that theimproved versions of the goods have,to some extent, brought more pros thancons to their lives.LifestyleIn a sure sign that the phenomenonhad “arrived”, the colloquial use ofthe term shanzhai was included inthe new Oxford Chinese Dictionaryearlier this year.It literally means a self-administratedregion in a mountain in ancient China. Inthe new dictionary, the term now alsorefers to the banditry seen in China’svast array of name-brand knockoffs. Butwhile shanzhai used to suggest cheapor inferior products, it now connotes acertain Chinese creativity and ingenuity,a way of life even.Take the recent “Apple Peel”gadget - Chinese manufacturers cannow transform an iPod Touch intoan iPhone by adding a microphone,an earphone and a SIM card. It is notjust devices either; songs, movies andeven television shows have spawnedalternative versions that can all bereferred to as shanzhai.Shanzhai going worldwideThe shanzhai trend even has anEnglish language website devotedto it. Shanzai.com covers over 1,000“We see more and more westernerswanting to understand Chinesebusiness tactics and industry. Thatis why we operate the website,” hesays. Certainly, he seems to be ontosomething. In the past year, there weremore than 1.2 millIon views of thevideos on the site’s YouTube channeland more than 600 subscribers areactively following the development ofshanzhai products through the site.(Above) Stephen Chow showed off hisgadget in the movie From BeijingWith Love (Kwok Tsan Ling Ling Tsat).(Below) Varsity reporters found oneshanzhai “shaver phone” in theLo Wu Commercial Centreon sale for a mere $500.28 Varsity NOV 2010 ISSUE 117 NOV 2010 ISSUE 117 Varsity 29


Wang Zhe, a first-year mainlandstudent at The University of Hong Kong(HKU), does not hide the fact that the“brand names equal status” concept isdeeply planted in her mind. She thinksthe originals are more trustworthy andare a sign of good taste.Wang may not want to use shanzhaiproducts or wear shanzhai clothes, buteven she has embraced a part of theshanzhai culture. Despite her distastefor such products, she agrees thatshanzhai websites have already becomean indispensable part of her life.The blocking of Facebook and otherwebsites in the mainland has spawnedshanzhai versions of many popular sites.Wang showed Varisty the Chinese sites“inspired” by Facebook and YouTube,namely Renren and Youku. “Renren is atotal copy of Facebook but almost everymainland student uses it.”Wang says shanzhai websites are asimportant to mainlanders as Facebookand YouTube are in Hong Kongpeople’s daily lives. Even after theyarrive in Hong Kong and are exposedto a world without internet censorship,the connections and emotionalattachment to Renren cannot bereplaced by Facebook.Amy Ngai Man-ling, a Hong Kongstudent who studies in Shenzhenexpresses similar sentiments.“If these websitesdidn’t exist, a large partof my social network andcommunication channelswouldn’t exist either.”Even Hong Kong students who areliving and studying locally are usingshanzhai websites. Man Ka-wing is a19-year-old local student studying atThe Chinese University of Hong Kongwho chooses to use shanzhai websites.30 Varsity NOV 2010 ISSUE 117“Weibo (Microblog) and Twitter aresimilar in properties, but Twitter iseven less prevalent among my friends,”says Man.Man says the Chinese microblogsare very clever at coming up withpromotional strategies such as invitingcelebrities to set up accounts andcreating noise in the media. Man usesthe microblogs just to follow celebritiesand she believes most Hong Kong usersdo the same.For Jack Qiu Lin-chuan, an associateprofessor of the School of Journalismand Communication of the CUHK, theshanzhai phenomenon is about morethan following stars or getting morebang for your buck. Professor Qiu,who has been studying the shanzhaiphenomenon for six years, looks atshanzhai culture on a social level.Professor Qiu looks at shanzhaiculture on a social level.Christine FungHe thinks the shanzhai culture givespeople choices and the possibility ofresisting dominant cultural values.“Shanzhai is a grassroot’s innovation;it can solve issues of social class.Shanzhai products cater to the needsof low-end users, they enable everyonein society to be equally exposed totechnological advances.”“They are fromthe grassroots andfor the grassroots.”He promptly pulls out three shanzhaiphones that he has used at varioustimes to show Varsity how suchproducts are also tailor-made for userswith specific needs. One has a dual SIMcard system, developed for users whofrequently travel between Hong Kongand the mainland. Another one, whichhas larger and longer-lasting batteries,is designed for people like securityguards who listen to music overnight tokill time.Price vs durability and safety -misconceptions of shanzhaiSome users think the low prices ofshanzhai product’s may compromisetheir durability. Chung Tsz-hong, alocal university student has usedseveral shanzhai devices. Two yearsago, he purchased a shanzhai iPhoneat a computer exhibition in Sham ShuiPo. Chung says this shanzhai iPhonelooked very much like the original andthe interface, functions and icons werevery similar. You could only tell themapart by comparing their weights. Theshanzhai version was lighter.At $900, it was 80 percent cheaperthan the genuine article, but theshanzhai model only lasted twomonths. The short lifespan of Chung’sfirst shanzhai product did not make himstop using others, however. Attractedby their low prices and extra functions,Chung continues to go shanzhai. Herecently purchased a 4GB MP4 videoplayer for $400 that comes with a oneyearwarranty.While some may worry that shanzhaiproducts may explode, due to shortcutsin safety to ensure low prices, Jack Qiutakes a more relaxed view. “Shanzhaiproducers face strong competition,therefore they have to enforce qualitycontrol on their goods in order to staycompetitive in the market,”he says.He says the idea that shanzhaiproducts are unsafe, is a commonmisconception. He had visited factoriesthat manufacture shanzhai phonesand was not surprised to see the samefactories manufacturing accessories forthe branded phone companies such asNokia. “We are basically using productsof similar quality without big names.”Qiu says shanzhai manufacturerscan keep their prices low mainlybecause they do not need to pay forintellectual property rights or patents,unlike large companies.In this Chinese version of RobinHood, “right” and “wrong” arepresented in an ambiguous light. Whilesome may still pour scorn on shanzhaiculture, it is hard to deny its influence.For enthusiasts like Tim Brown andJack Qiu, shanzhai challenges how weunderstand creativity.So in future, do not be too surprisedto see photos of fluffy dogs groomed tolook like the national mascot walkingin the streets (shanzhai pandas), jerrybuiltvans running on railroad tracks(shanzhai trains) or a pictorial story“Skygazer tree - Alianya” (shanzhaiAvatar) on mainland internet sites orblogs. As Qiu says, “Creativity is nolonger confined to elite innovation andcreativity is not expensive. The greatestcreation happens in the presence oflimited resources.”A photostory that “borrows inspiration”from blockbuster Avatar to tell a similarstory of “man versus nature”. It appearsto be an advertisement for tourists tovisit Xishuangbanna.Courtesy of Shanzai.comThis photo shows President BarackObama greeting the shanzhai guests:Michaele and Tareq Salahi, at a StateDinner hosted by Obama for IndianPrime Minister Manmohan Singh at theWhite House in Washington.A Chow Chow dog turned shanzhai “panda”often draws attention when out for a walkbothfrom the public and the police. Theowner has been stopped 28 times!A van-train found by a netizen and postedon a forum on showing a shanzhai train ata work site in Chinese suburbs which seemsto be transporting coal.Courtesy of Chinadaily.com.cnCourtesy of Shanzai.com Courtesy of Shanzai.comCourtesy of Shanzai.comTop 10 ShanzhaiPhenomena in 20091. Let’s Go Watch MeteorShower – Hunan TV’s shanzhaiversion of “Meteor Garden”2. Gong Mi - a contestant ofHappy Girls 2009 and the internetis filled with buzzes about herlook as shanzhai Cecilia Cheung.3. San Qiang (A Simple NoodleStory) – Chinese version ofCohen brothers’ Blood Simple byZhang Yimou.4. Gate Crasher – Uninvitedguests gatecrashed the WhiteHouse party that PresidentObama held in honor of visitingIndian Prime Minister ManmohanSingh on November 24.5. Han Jiangxue – Grassrootscholar providing lectures thatimitate CCTV 10’s Lecture Room.6. Lao Meng – initiator ofshanzhai Spring Festival EveningGala, a more amusing shanzhaiversion of elite CCTV SpringFestival evening gala.7. Kaixin (kaixin001.com) – Afaithful copy of “Facebook”8. Shanzhai mobile phones –iPhone’s numerous “brothers” inChina. HiPhone even had the slogan“not iPhone, better than iPhone.”9. Muntazer al-Zaidi – Bushshoe-thrower on the receivingend of a similar footwear attack.10. “Top 10 Everything” listsThe “Top 10 Everything” ofchinadaily.com is a shanzhaiversion of Time magazine!source: http://www2.chinadaily.com.cnNOV 2010 ISSUE 117 Varsity31Lifestyle

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