Shanzhai Saturday: Going Full Pirate

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Shanzhai refers to Chinese imitation and pirated brands and goods, particularly electronics. Literally “mountain village” or “mountain stronghold”, the term refers to the mountain stockades of warlords or thieves, far away from official control.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve told you about some “image projects” in different parts of China, buildings constructed for no reason other than prestige/tourism. A big waste of money and, in many cases, a local eyesore. You’ve seen pics of the fake Big Ben, the copycat China Pavilion, and the shanzhai Great Wall.

If I was a local official considering one of these image projects, I’d immediately dismiss something like a fake Big Ben or China Pavilion. Too provincial. Why think small when you can build something like the Great Wall? Not only do you get the benefits of copying a world-famous Chinese cultural icon, but all your local cronies know that when it comes to piracy, you don’t screw around. That’s some serious pirate street cred.

So, in addition to the Great Wall knockoff guys, who else has been going full pirate? Or to put it another way, what could compare to the sheer brazenness of constructing a shanzhai Great Wall?

There really is only one possibility, a landmark so infamous in China that I don’t even need to name it. I refer, of course, to this:

No Need to go to Beijing -- This is in Yinchuan, Ningxia

You just have to take your hats off to the good copycats of Yinchuan. They did indeed go full pirate — wall, building, flags, even the portrait. Congratulations!

This is a great idea, and so by the rules of the shanzhai community, we would not expect that this Yinchuan masterpiece is the only one of its kind. A quick online search and, lo and behold, a proliferation of unmentionable landmarks (courtesy of JSChina and Shanzhaiba):

Henan Knows What I'm Talking About

Arrgh! Shanxi Channels Its Inner Pirate

I could go on, but I think you’ve grasped the concept here. These shanzhai heroes are not content to rip off some cheap software, a movie, or a running shoe. No, these folks are thinking big, and only the best will do.

Unfortunately, some fantasies are never meant for reality, and I say that if you can’t copy well, you shouldn’t bother copying at all. The brave officials that commissioned those shanzhai masterpieces above shouldn’t have their proud pirate tradition sullied by poseurs like this:

Going Half Pirate in Nanjing (and that's being generous)

I’m thinking that China needs some sort of shanzhai quality standard. We can’t have our cultural and historical icons muddied by inferior fakes. Only the best knockoffs, approved by folks going full pirate, will be acceptable.

3 responses on “Shanzhai Saturday: Going Full Pirate

  1. sholot

    regarding the first pic, actually the building itself is an old architecture dated back to about 1000 A.D. it is called the south gate of Yinchuan. I have to admit the decoration is …but the building itself is definitely not a knockoff of the Beijing one. I am sorry I cannot find a English link. here is a traveler’s blog (in Chinese) that explains the building in detail.
    http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_61ac9b120100jpsi.html

    my same suspicion also goes to the pic showing Shanxi one. it also looks to me as an survived gate of an ancient city. but since you didn’t put the name. I could not check whether it is true…

    1. Stan Post author

      I think I’d be more open to granting the Yinchuan guys some leeway here if they hadn’t gone and put Chairman Mao’s portrait up. That sort of seals the deal for me. Using an existing structure does save a few bucks, though, which is nice.