Shanzhai is a new word in modern Chinese, meaning fake goods. Expressions such as shanzhaiism, shanzhai culture, or shanzhai spirit pervade all walks of life in China. One can see fake books, fake Nobel Prizes, fake movies, fake stars, things like that.
Initially, the term was limited to the mobile phone industry. Shanzhai phones are knock-offs of branded products such as Nokia or Samsung, which are marketed under trademarks such as Nokir, Samsung or Anycat.
In fact, they’re not just shoddy fakes. In terms of design and functionality, they are hardly inferior to the originals. Modifications, either technical or aesthetic, give them an identity of their own. They are versatile and stylish.
The most important feature of counterfeit products is their high degree of flexibility. They can be quickly adapted to specific needs and situations, which is impossible for large companies, where production is a long-term process. Shanzhai makes full use of the potential that the situation brings. For that reason alone, it is a well-deserved Chinese phenomenon.
A fusion of disruption and creation
Copycat products are often more creative than the original. For example, a counterfeit mobile phone adds a feature to detect counterfeit money, which gives it the status of an original product.
Here, unexpected changes and combinations lead to innovation. Shanzhai interprets an unusual kind of creativity. The copycat product gradually deviates from the original until it eventually mutates itself into the original. Trademarks that already have a solid market position are constantly being modified.
Adidas became Adidos, Adadas, Adadis, Adis, Dasida, and so on. In other words, one is playing an out-and-out Dadaist game with trademarks, which not only enables creativity but also has a parodic or subversive effect on economic power and monopoly. Disruption and creation come together here.
The word Shanzhai originally refers to camps in mountains and forests.
In the famous novel “Water Margin”, the rebel army of the Song Dynasty (including farmers, officials, merchants, fishermen, and monks) camped in the mountains and forests to resist the corrupt imperial rule. The literary context in the novel alone endows Shanzhai with a subversive meaning.
Therefore, copycat performances on the Internet that imitate official media are interpreted as subversive actions targeting public opinion hegemony and power monopoly. This phenomenon shows that people hope that the copycat movement can deconstruct state authority at the political level and unleash democratic energy. But to narrow down Shanzhai to its anarchic, subversive side is to overlook its innovative potential as a game. As for the novel “Water Margin”, what makes it close to a copycat is not the plot of its resistance, but the way of its creation and production.
First, the authorship of the novel is very ambiguous. It has been speculated that the stories that form the core of the novel were written by multiple authors. Second, there are multiple versions of this novel. One version includes 70 chapters, while others include 100, or even 120 chapters.
In China, cultural products are often not tied to the individual author. They usually come from the collective, rather than the expression of a talented and creative individual. They cannot be clearly attributed to an artist subject as their owner, or even as their creator.
Other Chinese classics, such as “A Dream of Red Mansions” or “The Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, have also been rewritten repeatedly.
There are different versions of these classics from different authors, some with happy endings and some not.
The power of deconstruction
A similar situation can also be seen in contemporary Chinese literary circles. If a novel is a success, imitations of it spring up immediately.
These forgeries are not always poor imitations that ineffectively camouflage or strive to approximate the original. Aside from blatant logo tampering, there are also fakes that alter the original by embedding it in a new setting, or giving it a surprising twist.
The creativity of such fakes is based on their active transformation and transformation. For example, the success of “Harry Potter” has contributed to the development of this trend.
There are many imitations of “Harry Potter” that continue to write the original in a deformed way. “Harry Potter and the Porcelain Dolls” Chineseized the story.
In the book, Harry Potter, together with his Chinese friends Longlong and Xingxing, defeated his oriental nemesis Dharma, the Chinese version of Voldemort, on the majestic Mount Tai. Harry Potter can speak fluent Chinese in this story, but it is a bit difficult to eat with chopsticks.
Copycat products are not intended to deceive. What makes them attractive is that they specifically remind that they are not the original work, but are just playing with the original work. The counterfeit hidden in the cottage produces deconstructive energy in the form of games. The design of the counterfeit logo is also humorous.
On iPncne, a knockoff phone, its logo looks like a scuffed iPhone. Shanzhai products often have their own charm. Its innovation is unquestionable, but what determines this innovation is not the discontinuity and abruptness shown when breaking the old and creating new ones, but the interest in the game of modification, deformation, combination and transformation.
Process and change also dominate Chinese art history. Those remakes or sequels that constantly change the collection of master works and adapt them to new environments are themselves master-level copycat works.
In China, continuous transformation is a method of creation and innovation. The Shanzhai movement deconstructs innovation as “creating from nothing” (Latin: creatioex nihilo, or translated “creating something out of nothing”), then Shanzhai is “to-create”.
It opposes identity to changing difference, identity to active, positive differentiation, being to process, essence to way. In this way, Shanzhai embodies the true Chinese spirit. Natural
From a process of constant change, combination and variation. Evolution also follows a pattern of constant transformation and constant adaptation.
If the Western world sees shanzhai as nothing more than fraud, plagiarism, and intellectual property infringement, it will never be able to match the creativity inherent in shanzhai.