Shanzhai and Piracy, Is There a Difference? Part 1


November 19, 2014 by ...

Part 1 of a multi-post explanation of Shanzhai in China

Xiaomi has been called an Apple clone. This term implies that Xiaomi is pirating or knocking off Apple design. It is therefor necessary to understand how copying and piracy is viewed in China, this series will help to shed light on the topic.

On needs to understand that piracy is rampant in China. The phenomenon is deeply rooted in China’s past. Derivative works were the only acceptable way for a scholar to publish a book, for example. These people were made to ‘plagairize’ and then publish books. They were punished if they attempted to editorialize on the content of their ancestors. This has lead to what we come to know as piracy. In China, however, piracy takes many forms. One is blatant theft and the other is a creative derivative work, as I explain later.

The first type is scorned on by the Chinese while the latter is revered. The term Shanzhai can be used with both types of copies as well. It is usually used in the derogatory sense, but that too depends on the work in question. Some may smirk calling Xiaomi gear Shanzhai, while others smile and agree. This blog usually uses the term ‘Shanzhai’ in the playful sense.

Shanzhai what it is
Shanzhai today is re purposing and repackaging the work of another. The reasons for doing this are many and as prodigious as their creators. What is consistent, however, is that shanghai then as it is today, means to take the work of another and mold it to fit a current reality or circumstance.

Shanzhai is typically playful and or utilitarian and should not be confused with brazen fraud. Fraud is the illegal replication of a good in order to convince the consumer into believing that they have purchased an original copy. Shanzhai, on the other hand, may and often uses the original as a baseline and then tweaks it to the specs and needs of the end user. Just like the stories told in ancient China, the shanghai master recreates the old with a bit of the new in what becomes a different product.

Interestingly enough, a poll of Chinese showed that 56.9% of them believe that shanzhai should not be regulated and 24.1% made no comment which was greater than the percentage of people who thought it should be regulated -19%. The same poll showed that according to the respondents, shanzhai culture included- innovation (40.8 percent), “ambition? (29.4 percent), and Do It Your Self spirit (39.9 percent). Negative connotations were plagiarism(33.7 percent) and low quality (24.9 percent)3.

This would definitely meet the criterion of being Shanzhai.



One thought on “Shanzhai and Piracy, Is There a Difference? Part 1

  1. […] the money to purchase another brand. In addition, they claim that the company merely sells ‘shanzhai‘ gear or Apple knockoffs. In writing about the firm they are even more direct but reinforce […]


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