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Is shanzhai culture piracy?

Post Time:2009-05-06 Source:Beijing Review Author: Views:
Shanzhai, which literally means "mountain village," started off as a term to describe copies of electronic brand products but now copying anything that is popular, from cultural activities, songs and movies to all kinds of products, is considered shanzhai. Even celebrity look-alikes are shanzhai. Shanzhai can often involve an element of parody.

Some see shanzhai as the result of lack of creativity and a potential hindrance to innovation. Others disagree, arguing that it is unfair to label shanzhai as a type of intellectual property right (IPR) violation, since shanzhai often challenges authority and breaks conventional ideas.

Is the shanzhai style of parodying popular culture piracy? The public has held a heated debate in the media.


Jin Tian, Tianjin Daily: Supporters of shanzhai are people who want to proactively expand production and circulation of cultural products, rather than being passive consumers. But the process is tainted by cloning, copying and plagiarizing to produce fake items. Despite its current popularity, shanzhai's weak creativity means it cannot survive in the long term.

Ge Jianxiong, People's Daily: Shanzhai is designed to bring fun to people's lives and should be allowed to exist as long as it doesn't hurt anyone or violate any law.

But a copycat is a copycat and often infringes on IPR regulations. Shanzhai thrives partly because of legal loopholes. A few deceitful companies invite celebrity look-alikes to shoot advertisements, at a fraction of the cost actual celebrities charge. These look-alikes not only have similar faces but also behave like the celebrity.

Advocates of the shanzhai culture value it as a form of innovation but creativity might be destroyed if the shanzhai phenomenon begins to dominate the entertainment industry and other artistic markets.

Cultivating social creativity depends on an overall social atmosphere that highly values innovation. Innovation always faces huge costs and the risk of failure. But copying hampers human creativity.

Shan Shibing, Changjiang Daily: Under the disguise of grassroots culture, shanzhai makes illegal profits and avoids charges of plagiarism, IPR violations and tax evasion.

The rampant shanzhai culture, characterized by poor imitation and distorted taste, degrades the quality of contemporary arts and modern civilization. Shanzhai represents fading artistic creativity and lost cultural tastes amid social transformation. It is impossible for shanzhai to replace what it imitates in the long term. The current prosperity of shanzhai is also unsustainable.


Ou Muhua, Guangzhou Daily: Shanzhai has so far principally involved mocking celebrities or pop shows. It is unfair to eliminate such programs because they are not suitable to those who prefer refined entertainment.

Removing shanzhai will be akin to suppressing cultural diversification. Many artistic works are derived from imitation and improving on the original.

The popularity of shanzhai will help liberalize the minds of artists, and a more open cultural atmosphere will draw audiences in bigger numbers back to entertainment venues.

Guo Qin, Changjiang Daily: Imitation and mockery of popular movies or pop shows was around before the word shanzhai was coined. Shanzhai is an essential form of public entertainment. Public culture has long coexisted with elite culture. Introducing shanzhai as an alternative form of culture won't change this balance. But shanzhai that violates IPR rules must be punished by law.

Sun Weiguo, Guangming Daily: Shanzhai has been well received by the public. With the advent of the Internet, almost overnight, large groups of netizens with cyber identities have been chatting anonymously and sharing various ideas online, which helps spread the concept of shanzhai. By parodying the culture of the elite, those who advocate shanzhai are merely using it as an outlet to release the stress of daily life.