I’m thrilled to feature guest blogger Stuart Beaton‘s piece about shanzhai, or fake goods, in China. Stuart hails from Australia, but has made Tianjin, China his home. He teaches English at a medical university there and has written a hilarious column for China Daily about food, his expat life, and his lovely wife, Ellen. So as you can imagine, it’s such an honor that he’s agreed to guest blog today. Here’s Stu:
In China, it’s hard to avoid fake things – from DVDs to watches, perfume to clothes, they’re available almost everywhere you look.
I must admit that without fake DVDs, I’d probably have gone stark raving mad by now. The alternative – endless hours of CCTV 9 – isn’t one that I’m that keen on, so they at least give me a chance to see what’s happening in cinemas elsewhere.
This makes me feel sorry for the film studios, actors and artists involved, who miss out on the rewards of their labour. Fake products can even reduce the perception of the real item, as the market is flooded with poor quality copies.
But shanzhai – a term that originally meant “mountain village, and now covers fakes – doesn’t just stop at the street level.
A few years ago I worked at what was, for want of a better term, an English “factory”. It had a witty name, and it basically worked like a large separating funnel – students were poured in at one end, their money was extracted in the middle, and they came out the bottom with a smattering of extra English.
One day I went into work to find the school’s leader, accountant and secretary huddled over the antiquated photocopying machine. It had jammed, and a piece of paper that looked suspiciously like a copy of my Degree was being extricated from it.
This intrigued me, so I stepped forward, and volunteered to help – mostly so I could find out why my qualifications were being copied. I removed the jam, and turned and asked the leader what was going on.
“A new teacher is coming to the school, and we need to help them get a visa”, was the answer.
So how did my Degree fit into this picture?
It transpired that the new candidate didn’t have a degree, and thus wouldn’t be able to get a “Z” visa to work legally in China. My Degree was going to be copied, altered, and submitted to the Immigration Bureau in order for them to get one.
That’s where I nearly fainted from shock.
I had to work hard for that piece of paper, and watching someone attempt to use it to make a shanzhai copy was more than I could bear. I pointed out to the leader that it was hardly a good idea to submit a degree from a University in another part of Australia than the new teacher was coming from.
The leader relented, and my Degree wasn’t used after all. Another Australian University’s website was raided for their crest, and a Bachelor Of Science Degree was duly printed out. A smudge of ink from the company’s stamp provided the Uni’s seal, and another pass through the copier was made.
I’m ashamed to say that this shanzhai effort succeeded, and the teacher was given a visa. They went on to expound the pointlessness of going to University, and even went as far as telling students that “University was a waste of time, you can’t possibly learn anything there”. Which was, in a twisted way, very true for that teacher.
Sources tell me that this faking of documents is common place, and that it’s become something of a game between schools and officials. For the teachers in question, it’s a heavy price to pay if caught. They face fines and even deportation if found to be working illegally.
All I know is that when it comes to fakes and forgeries, I’m going to definitely avoid them in the future.
Or until the next blockbuster movie comes out at the local DVD store.