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excerpt Shanzai!
from "Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Rebellion in China," by Sky Canaves and Juliet Ye,, 22 January 2009

Shanzhai, which literally means “mountain fortress” and implies banditry and lack of state control, refers to China’s vast array of name-brand knockoffs. Shanzhai versions of Apple Inc.‘s iPhone, for example, include the HiPhone, the SciPhone and the deliberately misspelled citrus-themed iOrgane.

Recently, the definition of shanzhai has expanded. On China’s Internet, blogs, bulletin boards and news sites carry photos of automobiles jerry-rigged to run on railroad tracks (“shanzhai trains”), fluffy dogs trimmed and dyed to look like the national mascot (“shanzhai pandas”) and models of the Beijing Olympic Games’ National Stadium made out of sticks (“shanzhai Bird’s Nest”). . . .

Once a term used to suggest something cheap or inferior, shanzhai now suggests to many a certain Chinese cleverness and ingenuity. Shanzhai culture “is from the grass roots and for the grass roots,” says Han Haoyue, a media critic in Beijing, who sees it as a means of self-expression. “It gives people another choice and the possibility of resisting dominant cultural values.”

Chinese authorities appear to regard shanzhai warily, especially when it comes to intellectual property issues. “The shanzhai culture as a celebration of the DIY [do it yourself] spirit or as a parody to mainstream culture can add fun to our daily lives,” said one recent editorial in an official state newspaper. “However, we should remain vigilant against it as a justification for rip-off products.”