Why do Chinese copy so much…? Copying culture and its origins in China

It could seem that, despite the unprecedented rise of China

We’ve all seen a Chinese copy of something, maybe a fashion accessory, a poorly manufactured imitation of the original, with those weird names, or electronics pretending to be the iPhone 4 or 5… everything has a Chinese replica.

But now the copy phenomenon in China has spread to every business branch, not only the product itself, like as it happened with the copy of an entire Apple store discovered in Shanghai. Here’s one from Zhuhai (I saw two there, at least only in Jida):

An alleged Apple store, Zhuhai

There’s even entire villages devoted exclusively to copy and reproduce paintings from the best (Monet, Van Gogh, Edvard Munch…), being the most representative and famous the Dafen Village, in Shenzen:

Even the copy got its claws onto the food. Ever heard of fake eggs, fake rice or fake duck? And I’m not talking about wax copies for display, but real food to be sold and ate. They even copied an entire Austrian city…!

But with this post I want to talk about my personal experience on counterfeit goods and brands.

First of all, I met a new concept (for me at least), which I called the sponsored copycat brand. For example, in Zhuhai there’s a well-known, flashy hotel near the beach, mainly used for conventions and orgies. Yeah, you read it right. Pretty nice, and huge. And sumptuous, in the Chinese way of doing stuff for rich people (let’s call it baroque). Just say it looks like the US Capitol… Here’s the main hall:

On this hall, a pianist tries to create a charming and classy atmosphere. In the upper levels, various restaurants and free buffets, and above them, the permanently empty rooms; but my interest is on the floor level, where there are some clothing and souvenir shops for the occasional customers or people passing by.

Note the huge dirt stains on the carpet. In an alleged 5 stars hotel

There, you can buy from overpriced figures like this:

To top clothing brands like… Lare Boss, Peier Caillar or even the worldwide famous… Yanpeng Armani (note the registered trademark symbol in some of them!). Here are few examples of the copycat brands in those shops. Can you match them all..?

Pierre Cailar – Pierre Cardin

Emporio Armani – Yanpeng Armani

Suspicious logo…

Lare Boss – Hugo Boss

Please let me remark that all those shops were inside the hotel, around the main hall, and the clothes in there weren’t cheap at all! I wonder what would think the “occidental versions” of these brands…

So the question remains the same: why do Chinese copy this much?

First of all, in the Chinese culture, copying has never been neither illegal nor frowned upon or seen as a lack of talent. Never. In fact, the way to learn for long time ago is the repetition, the exact reproduction of the master’s work and teachings.

This is because copying (or trying to get as close as possible to his work) was and still is considered the best way to learn, the acceptable method of study, overall in art and crafts world, where it’s more easy to do so, but also in the business world, where knowing and reproducing the acts and steps of the successful ones is something considered normal: if I can copy the best, it means I’m as good as him! therefore becomes If I can do the purses as Prada, it means I’m as good as Prada, and if I’m as good as Prada, I’m Prada.

The best example of this is in the calligraphy learning process. Traditionally, the study of calligraphy was (and still is) based on copying masterpieces from reputed calligraphers, thus learning them by copying strictly, continuously, until the move of the hand becomes instinctive, routinely, and the copy perfect. Any deviation or personal deformations from the model were seen as a failure of the student, and so that, dismissed.

But there’s economic reasons, of course! By copying actual brands, they skimp on R&D costs, and sell the product to a population which cannot really differentiate between a BlackBerry and a BlockBerry, as it looks the same… thus cornering a big part of the (huge) Chinese market.

And as I said,  school’s current teaching system remains the same: creativity is not welcome, and “copy and reproduce” is the proper way to pass all the tests, specially the Gaokao. So when you finish all your studies, it’s normal this mentality gets stuck in your head…

But as a closing of this first part on counterfeits, let’s stick up for China’s reputation! It is clear that China certainly has an issue on the violations of intellectual property laws, but remember, before China, it was Taiwan the main copycat factory in the world!

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