The philosophy of shanzhai

The copying and improvement of ideas.

Aquila is a product of shanzhai.

Aquila is a product of shanzhai.

Shanzhai is a word from China meaning “mountain stronghold”, the locus of bandits who work outside of society.  The word in the Western mind is an abusive term for low quality counterfeit goods.  In China they take an expensive brand, specifically electronics, then they copy it, selling it cheap under a different name to the poorer elements of society.

A trait of successful people, the entrepreneur or the celebrity artist, is they are like the bandit, they are thinking outside of the mainstream, often catching existing ideas, creatively improving on those ideas, then selling them to a target group for profit.

Microsoft is noted for its office software sold at hundreds of pounds.  There is a shanzhai imitation of Microsoft Office which is often as good, or better, called OpenOffice, available for download free and legally based on open source code.

What the West forgets, or chooses to ignore, is that shanzhai is about improving on an existing idea then making it available to a mass market cheaply.  Shanzhai is a reflection of nature which is constantly via genes copying, improving and mass circulating a diversity of forms and processes of plant and animal.

Whilst it is sensible to copyright, patent and trademark original material and ideas, the enforcement of intellectual copyright is a different ball game, open only to those with the money to pay lawyers.  Strategy would be better spent working out how to monetise an idea or original material in a way that allows for the likelihood someone will copy and mass produce it.

If you visit a market stall or a high end clothes retail store you will come across clothing of the same material and quality, the difference only marked by price, the £1 market stall t-shirt sold for £20 in a retail store.  The difference is down to branding, a name and logo associated with a piece of cloth, you burning your wealth mostly on a name in association to that piece of cloth.  Putting vanity aside an individual can save a fortune avoiding brand name and paying for the quality of workmanship in an object.

In the view of shanzhai a photograph has no value unless it is attracting money, an outlook I have taken into account when I value an asset in my company at £1.00 with the value only rising based on income it attracts.  For instance all my photographs you often see on Liberated Way is owned by my company, I sold them for £1.00, and they sit in the accounts at £1.00  value; if one of those photographs turn a profit of £10 per year the photographs will rise to £10 in the company accounts.  I reject the Western approach of subjective valuations, I place concrete valuations on what income the asset is returning from its market.

As a historian I have the advantage over my competitors as I am like an Indiana Jones when it comes to identifying and then “borrowing” ideas or products from history.  My board game Aquila legally is an original invention, though I grabbed an idea from the grave of a dead Colchester druid, adapted it based on what historical and literal evidence I could find from textual Celtic sources.  Whilst I am unable to claim the rules I created for the game is “fact”, I can claim a working playable interpretation based on archaeological and textual evidence that will be marketable in dozens of markets.  The game is a product of shanzhai. I am aware of some beautiful historical rock art, those that will be translated into t-shirt designs. The ideas of animism shows potential for artificial programming that would put me at the cutting edge of artificial intelligence.  I grab ideas from history then adapt them to a market in the spirit of shanzhai.

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2 responses to “The philosophy of shanzhai

  1. Did you see the recent BBC Horizon programme The Creative Brain?

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