Understanding China, One Blog at a Time

An American in China

Archive for December 1st, 2009

Honking in China

Posted by w_thames_the_d on December 1, 2009

Took a cab to work today, actually it was a ‘legal one’, as opposed to those motorcycle-cum rickshaws that I usually ride with. Funny thing is that in the car, i was isolated from the sounds that usually surround me on my journeys to and from work.

Chinese are very communicative, and this notion also exists while driving. Unlike the USA, who use the horn as an offensive weapon, here it is more polite, like a suggestion. While walking one is surrounded with polite little beeps, and bells clanging. It operates like radar, one can tell by the pitch and length of the signal, the distance of those nearby.

Bikes, scooters, bike/scooters, and machines that I have never seen before tear up and down the streets of Beijing, all bleeting along like geese exhorting their leader onward. When I first came, I found it offputting and maybe offensive, but now I see that it is quite efficient. Just keep looking forward, listen to the sounds and you can navigate the streets unharmed. (actually quite a feat if you have ever seen the norms and culture of driving of the Chinese at busy intersections).

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One photo says it all…

Posted by w_thames_the_d on December 1, 2009

This is a store by the art museum in the Pingguo area of Beijing. I love this place but find the name ‘Fake’ really amusing in terms of the fact that there are so many fake goods here.

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Big Building

Posted by w_thames_the_d on December 1, 2009

Beautiful building, but just seems a bit too proud…

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Oh Gug…

Posted by w_thames_the_d on December 1, 2009

Gug, that is what it said, I laughed, my friend didn’t understand. I looked at her new boots, the “Gug’s”. Yeah I am in China and yeah we all have heard that counterfeiting is as much a part of life here as oxygen, but if you have never had the pleasure of living here, you truly cannot appreciate this idea.

Coming from the west, we have an idea of the sanctity of a brand, or at least the illegality of counterfeiting one. Here in China, neither of those ideas rings true. Firstly in China, piracy is so rampant that it is commonplace to own pirated goods. The subways are filled with people sporting Rolex watches and Prada, and Luis Vitton bags. Now understand, China is number two in terms of Billionaires in the world, but these folks are not on the subways in China.

So, one might ask, how do all of these Chinese afford Prada, LV etc? It’s all fake. In the states we can get away with sporting a fake Rado, as fakes are so few and far between, odds are we wont get noticed. Here in China it is the opposite. I have friends who are afraid to buy real Prada or other brand names, as everyone just assumes it to be counterfeit. This doesn’t mean that they don’t buy pirated goods, they are merely more objective, they purchase fake Polo and the like, the things that are less likely to be considered a counterfeit. The impact is that here, the possession of such high-priced goods becomes nothing less than meaningless. You have to look at the watch, pants, shoes, restaurants the person frequents, all in the hopes of discerning if the watch they carry is the real deal. Potentially this is just pure socialism/communism at work, making them all similar?

So,.the question becomes, is why do they do it?Does anyone really think the 22-year-old guy knocking back U$ 200 per month can afford a real Rolex? I mean if it is a fake, and everyone knows it is a fake, then why do they even bother. The answers are human nature and justification. As for human nature, it is the promise of marketing, we want to be cool or accepted. Ads tell us that Adidas, and Ray Ban’s are cool, so if we can’t pony up a couple of hundred, we do the next best thing. It’s all about how we feel right?

The other idea is that being human, we can justify any action. I read an interesting article once about ‘justifying’ ones actions in a situation like this. There is a famous training academy in China, called New Oriental, which prepares students for overseas studies. The ‘preparation’ includes allegedly utilizing copyrighted materials, and gaming the system in terms of obtaining test questions illegally (see below).

article here http://asianweek.com/2001_03_02/news12_chineseschool_cheat.html

Educational Testing Services (ETS) brought a suit against New Oriental for, in essence copyright infringement and systematizing the ability to cheat on college entrance tests. The interesting thing is that the headmaster of New Oriental, essentially blamed ETS, for the indiscretions of his own academy. The headmaster said that ETS is to blame as they didnt make the training materials available enough for the Chinese students..
ok lets see….. you dont provide me training materials, so i make unauthorized photocopies, ok, I follow that but stealing test questions?

The bottom line is that they, like everyone the world over, can justify an action, whatever it may be. Sure the headmaster’s comment is pure justification and folly, but it give us valuable insight into the psyche of the consumer here. By his rationale, isnt it reasonable to think that the common Shanghai-er, can say that Rolex doesnt make it easy enough for a commoner to own a new Submariner so they have the right to obtain one, or reasonable facsimile by whatever means possible? Scary though isnt it.

This brings us to the real problem- enforcement. If this is true, why has nothing been done about it? I dont know the particulars of this case, so I wont comment but I will give more insight into the prevalence of pirated goods in China.

Tiananmen is the home of the government of the PRC. Nearly 3 miles away, east bound on the very same street is a Beijing landmark., the silk market. The silk market is a favorite to foreigners, kind of like a United Nations of people purchasing fakes. This 5 story complex is a ‘one stop shop’ for all your counterfeit needs. In it you find Rolex, Rado, Polo, Callaway, Prada etc. Literally you can find ANY fake good you want there.

As I said this place is open from about 930- 830 seven days a week. The locals know it sells fakes, I know it, and now you know it. One would assume that if all of the afore-mentioned is true then the government would also know it as well, maybe they do maybe they dont, maybe they just blame the legal system.

The PRC’s legal system being what it is, makes it quite difficult to take action against vendors of counterfeit goods. If they catch them in the streets they, uh confiscate the merchandise. If, however, the goods are being sold in a place like the silk market such measure may appear to be drastic, (think of all the local authorities who would lose their palm grease if these products were taken away). Yes, the locals are worried about-face and the powers of the owners of such establishments so cut them a wide path, it is China, you just accept it, call it cultural.

But, the truly frustrating thing is that if you are a business owner (this happened to an associate and me), it is very very difficult (read as impossible) to bring a charge on a company who is pirating your goods. The problem is that lets say you go to a convention in Shanghai and you show your goods. You see someone who has copyrighted your goods at the convention, you approach them about it, you talk to the owner. basically you can do nothing! Literally, you can get the name of the company and try to sue. So lets say you are based in Shanghai as is he, you sue in Shanghai right? Wrong! In order to sue, you must find the sub-supplier, or the guy who supposedly actually made the part for the company owner. Then, you must go to this sub-supplier’s little town, where the goods are made and sue him there!

Now imagine going to the Appalachians somewhere, in some little town of 200 which is controlled by a family of red necks proud of their indoor plumbing, that would be the USA, but we are in China. Now imagine that scenario, but in China, and about 50 times worse, that is what you are up against. You have to:

1-find the sub-supplier, the owner may not know this, so it is up to you
if you cannot find him or her, you lose
2- you must sue in his/her province in his town, in his village
in a country where contacts are everything, you must go and convince a judge to
offer a verdict to you, a guy with a big nose who the judge will never see again
against an acquaintance at a minimum, and probably a family member
3-you must attempt to convince the judge from point ‘2’ of the veracity of your arguments in terms of law
you will be doing this in light of point number ‘2’ but in addition, you are arguing law
with a public official, be it a judge or not, who still in this day and age most likely has
no formal legal training. That is right, being a judge in whachamacallit China does
not mean that this person has any knowledge whatsoever of the law of the land, much
less international law ( I’m studying Chinese law , so have seen this type of thing)
4-obtain a verdict in light of all the above
5-obtain enforcement of the verdict

Damn it is tiring merely blogging about it, imagine the hassle of actually going through with it. Most international companies call this the “China cost”. Just a cultural aspect of doing business in a huge market. To the common consumer it is actually nice, DVD’s U$1, video games .80 cents, fake eggs (yeah they have them) merely pennies. For those living or traveling here it is a boon, for companies, just another hurdle in that crazy world of international business.

Interestingly enough, I have lectured at a few universities here and am surprised at the level of remorse or shame the locals actually have about this subject. Along with certain events of the past 40 years, it is like taboo. I guess all of the international pressure has gotten to them. I say that and then reflect, nah it hasnt gotten to them, just like a child stealing a cookie, they just hate to get caught!

I love Beijing!!

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