My Research Project

I have had to switch my project plan recently. While I will still be studying Chinese Business Culture and Ethics, I will be looking into a more specific part of it: “Copycat” or Shanzai culture. As many people have noticed, Copycat Culture is very prevalent in China and some call it an impediment on Chinese economic development.  After China started to reform economically and open up to the world, many entrepreneurs had no business experience or resources.  Chinese industries could not compete with industry in the rest of the world.  In order to start businesses, they copied products that were already successful.  This “copycat” culture has continued to grow because it worked for those first entrepreneurs thirty years ago.  I remember when I went to Hong Kong; there were a lot of “Swiss Navy” watches and knives being sold. To the right is another example of Shanzai with a copy of Apple and Steve Jobs.

Chinese Steve Jobs

I want to determine how Chinese people feel about Copycat Culture and, more importantly, what they feel its affect on China’s development and global image is.   In order to study this, I will be going to Zhongguancun, a major technology hub in Beijing that happens to be close to Tsinghua University.  When it was created in the mid-1980’s, Zhongguancun was originally intended to be the Chinese equivalent of Silicon Valley and even produced Lenovo.  Ironically, it is also a great place to buy Copycat electronic products.  Zhongguancun has several markets in it with many different stalls and many customers coming daily.  There, I plan on studying all types of electronic copycat products, their quality, and meeting the people that sell and buy them.  I want to know if Copycat Culture is fueled by a high demand of people looking for items that seem expensive, if it is fueled by people looking to make money as fast as possible, or if it is coming from the same idea that anything originally created in China will be inferior to foreign products.

Zhongguancun is located only two miles south of Tsinghua University making it an easy place to travel to and study.  When I go there for the first time, I plan to get to know the layout of the buildings and markets.  I want to be able to navigate them then find stalls, products, and areas that will be the most interesting and helpful to study .  After getting acquainted with everything, I will interview people shopping in the market as well as people running stalls.  I also plan on buying several of the products being sold there in order to figure out how high or low in quality they really are.  For the shoppers, I plan on asking questions such as

-“What kind of products do you buy that are copied and which ones do you buy that are legitimate and how do you decide?”

-“Do you think that copycat culture is beneficial or detrimental to Chinese Business?”

-“Do you think it is ethical for businesses to copy other people’s products?”

-“Do you think Copycat Culture keeps China from being more innovative?”

and for the stall owners I will ask questions such as

-“Why do you sell copied products?”

-“Do you think there is a big difference in the quality between copied goods and real ones?”

-“Do you ever reject products that are too low quality or seem too fake?”

I also plan to go to legitimate stores (like Apple stores) to ask the owners, employees, and customers how they feel about Copycat Goods and why they choose to buy/sell legitimate goods rather than copied ones.  I am hoping to get a rounded view of this topic by hearing as many opinions as possible.

The most interesting part of my research is going to see how Chinese people feel about Shanzai Culture and more importantly, why.  Here in the U.S, copying products and ideas is not only frowned upon, but also illegal.  When we see pictures like the one I posted above, we laugh but, in China, it is normal and happens every day with no effort put in to come off as even a little original.  This topic is important because, as China continues to grow and expand economically, it will have to put an end to Copycat Culture in order to project itself as a more stable country to do business.  I want to know if they are worried or care about having a negative reputation.  Finding out what the public opinion on Copycat Culture is will also help me draw conclusions on the implications it will have on the future of Chinese Business.

Zhongguancun