The shanzhai dilemma, part I: a serious parody

This post is also available in: Spanish

Last week I attended a lecture given in Barcelona Activa about China from a professional and business point of view. Among all the explanations, there was one issue that attracted specially my attention: “shanzhai” products.

The term shanzhai refers to the range of products and brands made in China imitating and pirating other already existing ones. At the same time, the concept is inherent to features like vulgar, cheap, low quality and certain parody applied to the objects.

Almost all of us know it: shanzhai products may be found in any oriental retail store in our cities and even our towns and villages. But the most extreme cases are in the own China, where you can find thinks like a “BlockBerry” promoted by Obama, who is also the image of the “Obama Fried Chicken” chain, “Mc Mc Donald´s” restaurants and “Bucksstar Caffee”,…


These and others examples which may cause laughter, are the heads of a entire movement that is anything but a joke.

Firstly, because behind the shanzhai articles there is a culture and economy unknown and difficult to measure, and are the cause of huge claims involving the brands which loose a portion of market for, in its opinion, the indiscriminate use of their patents. In addition, such is the development of the shanzhai activity, that in some cases -specially in electronics gadgets- the quality levels achieved are not negligible at all.

In second place, from the Chinese point of view, shanzhai is the materialization of a deep rooted Chinese customs and traditions: the collectivist view of life, according to which, what is created in China, belongs to the whole country´s citizenship, regardless the individual person who created it.

The shanzhai world explained in the session brought me immediately a doubt that I asked one of the Chinese speakers in the Q&A time:

Are the Chinese manufacturers of these products requested to comply with environmental, labour and safety and health requirements at their workplaces, as the big manufacturers of the original products do?

The answer I got and the shanzhai dilemma in the next post…

will continue