A Fascination With Copying

For decades China has been renowned for it’s ability to copy and mass-produce foreign designs on a massive scale. It is this mass manufacturing that has been the driving force behind the country’s massive economic boom in recent years. However, as a new generation of young creatives begin to embrace today’s changing China and the new freedom that comes with it, will the phrase ‘made in China’ soon be evolving into ‘designed in China’?

China’s primary industry today is taking sample designs of gadgets, clothes, toys, etc. provided by western companies, reproducing them on a large scale in one of hundreds of thousands of factories, to then export back to the west to be sold. To be able to do this and do it well, meticulous attention to detail is key, and this is something the Chinese have certainly mastered. Team this with an abundance of workers willing to work long hours for little pay, and it’s no surprise so many companies, big and small, both high end and low end, choose to manufacture their products in China. No wonder it’s been labelled ‘the world’s factory’ seeing as only a tiny percentage of goods produced in China’s factories actually stay in China, the rest end up in shops all over the world.

However this Chinese fascination with copying foreign designs is no longer simply a means of successful mass production for foreign companies, it has become a part of everyday life in modern China. Whether it be American style homes and suburbs, British style villages or imitation and counterfeit goods, this obsession with copying has spread through all parts of Chinese consumer culture.

Counterfeit Capital of the World…

Chapter six of Karl Gerth’s As China Goes, So Goes the World, explains how consumers live in uncertainty due to the huge number of low quality counterfeit products on the Chinese market.

Brand owners in China estimate that 15 to 20 percent of all prominent branded goods in China are actually counterfeit…’

Sometimes there’s no way of telling what is real or what is fake until it’s too late, as victims of countless counterfeit scandals, such as the ‘big-head-baby’ formula scandal of 2004, have found out.

Shanzhai Culture…

Gerth also explains the concept of Shanzhai culture, when copies of popular western designs, most commonly mobile phones, are passed off not as fakes but as imitations, usually with similar sounding names, far lower prices and sometimes with more features to suit the Chinese market. These shanzhai products are not viewed as negatively as counterfeit products, they are sold openly and have ‘gained a level of social acceptance’. These ‘imitations’ are interesting, because although the appearance of the product has been copied, shanzhai manufacturers often add features, alter programs and change certain aspects of the design, therefore, in Gerth’s words, ‘blurring the line between imitating and originating.’

Thames Town…

30 km from central Shanghai, you will find Thames Town, a town made up of English style houses, streets, parks, shops and churches. Everyday soon to be married Chinese couples flock here to have their wedding photos taken against this bizarre backdrop of a perfect English market town.

Copy Artists…

I recently watched a documentary called Copy Artists, that explored the town of Dafen in Shenzen, a town famous for its oil painters. However the majority of the painters that live and work here are not creating works of their own, they are working in assembly lines, producing imitations of famous paintings to sell. Most of the people who work in these assembly lines are art students, working to pay their way through their studies, but others are struggling artists who have never been able to make a living selling their own work. Despite the high quality and amount of effort that goes in to each and every painting, workers earn very little, probably about as much as factory workers do in the city. People have argued that this process of copying classic pieces to sell is wrong, but the studio owners behind them argue that because they are not trying to sell their pieces as the original and are always open with the fact that it is merely an imitation, that it is perfectly ethical and not counterfeit.

A New Generation…

It is exciting to know that to counteract this copycat culture, an aspirational new generation of creative people with big ideas now have the freedom to express themselves and open the door to make way for a new way of design thinking in China. This generation are not content with copying foreign designs and are striving to push China in the direction of not only making, but also designing their own products. The documentary China Rises: City of Dreams, features Shanghai based fashion designer Jenny Ji. In an interview, Jenny sums up the attitude of this creative generation and their new found freedom…

‘I’m a designer from the new generation and I feel great. I don’t have the old restrictions and boring attitudes…

The old pessimism has gone, and I can embrace the new changes. I’m always dreaming of the choices available to me…’

Fuelled by a society that is bursting with confidence and originality, the future of China has the potential to be one of design and innovation rather than simple replicating and manufacturing, an exciting thought for any young designer like myself.

Something About Women

Humility, resignation, subservience, self-abasement, obedience, cleanliness, and industry.  Back in the day these were the qualities deemed appropriate for China’s little girls to aspire to.  The seven virtues that author Ban Zhao (a woman) urged China’s women to display in her book Admonitions for Women.    Women in feudal China were birthed and grown and shaped for men and men alone.  Confucian philosophy preached the highness of men and the lowness of women.  The overriding attitudes towards China’s women in the past were pretty clear.   They were mostly considered as property.  The women of China were there to obey their fathers, husbands and sons, no questions asked.

Image

A women’s role was firstly to keep the hubby happy and second to have babies.  Specifically little, bouncing boy babies, who, if their father ever died, would take on the task of making sure their mama was behaving herself.   In feudal China an arranged marriage was just the way society rolled and regardless of how miserable a women was her responsibility was to stay married.  No divorce.  No remarriage.

The idea of widow chastity really sunk it’s teeth into Chinese society and not only were women unable to remarry if their husband passed away, many actually took to committing suicide to ensure their purity and virtue was intact for the entirety of their lives.  “By the early Qing period (1644-1911), the cult of widow chastity had gained a remarkably strong hold, especially in the educated class. Childless widows might even commit suicide. Young women whose weddings had not yet taken place sometimes refused to enter into another engagement after their fiancé died. Instead, they would move to their fiancé’s home and serve his parents as a daughter-in-law.”  (Patricia Ebrey).

It seems fairly obvious that women were made for men.  When it was decided during the last Tang dynasty that itty bitty baby feet were beautiful women took to binding up their daughters feet in order to make them more desirable.  Long strips of cloth were used to restrict growth by wrapping them so tightly that the toes would curl under creating a much shorter, narrower and more arched appearance.Image

During the Ming and Qing dynasties women were actually not eligible for marriage unless they had bound feet and despite the obvious pain this would cause a young girl this practice was carried out for almost a thousand years.

Times would change however, and so did China’s feelings towards its young ladies.  During the mid 1900’s and with the establishment of the People’s Republic of China the life and prospects of young girls changed drastically.  Gone were the days of complete obedience and arranged marriages.  The early 1950’s introduced laws that radically altered the lives of China’s women.  They now had equal rights with men.  They were to receive equal pay and the same vocational opportunities as men.  They were not required to have an arranged marriage.  They were let loose and allowed to follow their dreams.

Today, although the women of China are still the main homemakers and do the bulk of the child rearing they are also at the forefront of the workforce.  China’s women are ambitious and are now encouraged to work their way to the top even if that means trampling over the men, that a hundred years ago they would have been serving.    “Today China has a greater percentage of women in its Parliament (21.3 percent) than the U.S. does in Congress.” (Newsweek Magazine, 2010).   The attitudes towards women that preached lowly subservience and resignation are seemingly a thing of the past and women are finally able to be recognized right alongside their male counterparts. Image

Generational Traditions in China

Tradition, this word means something different to everyone, but the same general traditions are upheld in a culture. To us in the UK, tradition could be the local parade, Christmas celebrations or even as close knit as family traditions that have been happening for generations. Traditions stretch across a culture, and as they are intimately linked to each other. Tradition affects culture, and as new generations pick up traditions things change. Some traditions being forgotten or changed into something different.

This blog post will look into the traditions of China, and how some of the generations celebrate tradition, change or have even stopped them all together. When deciding on what aspect of life I wanted to focus on for this report most of the generational differences would of been seen as bad, or sad. I wanted to show a nicer side to the generational differences, where tradition is upheld and still seen with respect.

Chinese new year is the first tradition that comes to mind when thinking about China,  as a child I thought it was odd as it did not happen on the same day as our own new year. The Chinese new year is never on a set date but between the 21st January and the 20th February this is due to the Chinese running on a lunar calendar rather than a fixed one like the west.

In China the tradition of new year is celebrated with the exchange of money in red envelopes, exchanging gifts with the family, firework displays and much more. This tradition has been happening in China for generations, a time to gather with the family. Generations have celebrated the new year in different ways, as each generation is raised it seems that the customs of a Chinese new year are dwindling. Not that far in the past Chinese new year was hugely celebrated, the older generations in China would still remember them to this day, grand fireworks displays, 15 days of celebration to bring in the new year. During new years lantern processions would take place in the streets, as people welcome another year. The modern Chinese new year consists of a 7 day holiday from work, of which all socializing is mainly done through the internet or use of mobile phones and even ordering in food from a restaurant instead of cooking themselves. The family still gathers though and younger people travel in from there place of work to spend this special time with family.

The Chinese new year festivity’s have changed through generational jumps, still being revered by the elderly but the younger generation not embracing all of the older customs, not enough time, having a work place to go back to. This generational gap of technology and longer working days/working away from home shortens the festivity’s and some of the older customs. Here we see things such as the lantern processions dying, cooking the day before new year is also a dying tradition, as there is more money it is easier and more relaxing to let a restaurant cater for the big day. This being said the Chinese new year is still celebrated and embraced by all generations even if the tradition is slowly getting smaller in size.

Traditional Chinese medicine is also a generational tradition, the Chinese believe in their medicine and the role it plays. To the west this could be seen as alternative  medicine but in China it is used in some of the health care delivered. As generations pass the knowledge and willingness to use traditional medicine changes, the practice is still in use and taught. A survey was carried out by the Prince of Wales hospital in Hong Kong on the attitude of 91 students who study medicine towards traditional Chinese medicine. The survey showed that 40% were positive, 59% neutral and only 1% was negative. This shows that the youth of china are picking up the tradition from the older generation, where the use of traditional medicine may be changing in china, the generational gap is a lot smaller than to be expected.

China, known for many traditions, has born 1 tradition that won the west over, took over the big screen and bought about a new era of movie hero’s.  Kung Fu has been part of Chinese culture for thousands of years, but as the modern era approaches China this may be a tradition that is due to die off or fade into the background. While watching a documentary for a previous report i made note of the attitude of a kung fu master and his students. The film crew focused on his top student, along with his attitude towards learning kung fu, the message was clear; he did not want to learn kung fu, he would rather go to the city, get a job and lead a rich life in the new China. The master was also interviewed about this, and he seemed sad that the art was dying out, but wishes his student a good life, as long as the master had passed on the lessons he only hoped they would be continued as such a tradition had been alive for so long. This shows a decline in the quest for knowledge, rather the yearning for a life outside of the school where a job can be gained. This is kind of sad in a way, the traditions of old masters may be dying out, people who put their  lives into the advancement of kung fu and only wish to pass on this knowledge. Who knows we may see a day that kung fu is only taught the way it is here, in weekly lessons or even just become a memory.

There is a lot to talk about on this subject of tradition, as China is rich in its cultural heritage but i hope i have portrayed some of the better sides to the generations as traditions are passed on, old customs live on in the hope that people remember where they came from and more importantly why the customs exist in the first place. Things change as time goes by, each generation will drop parts of traditions due to time or even not believing in them anymore.

‘Liang Ru Wei Chu’

Differences in generations-Money and possessions

Over the last one hundred years there and been change on a mass scale in China. How has it effected the different generations of a family? Have priorities changed? Has the value of money changed and has the possessions they valued changed?

I conducted an interview to try and answer some of these questions. The girl I interviewed was in her twenties; her parents fifty plus and her grandparents in there eighties.

I firstly asked about the value of money across the generations and how it differed. She said that the stability of China has changed over the years and this has effected how the people value their money. When talking about her Grandparents she said they came from a different world to her. China was very poor and they valued everything. They would save every penny and not purchase anything. She said her parent’s generation, now being in there 40s and 50s, purchases began to change as China was growing they started to be able to enjoy life more. They spent some money on digital products but tended to invest in stocks and property and gold.  Whereas her generation like to purchase and the most expensive objects she has owned have been ‘ cell phones, laptops and digital cameras.’

She said because China has always been quite unstable due to it growth the currency is also quite unstable. The way of using money in China has changed. She said in China amongst the older generations credit cards are un-popular. She says the older generations won’t use credit cards because they are unstable and they don’t like the idea of using ‘future money’ and hate the idea of being in debt. She says this is changing now and most young people own a credit card because they love to purchase. There are still differences in her grandparents and parents generation. She said her Grandparents put all their money in the bank and love the feeling of seeing their money grow. She said for them it its kind of like OCD the happiness they seem to get from watching their money grow. Compare this to her parent’s generation who like to feel stable so invest the money in different things and spread it around. She also mentioned that to feel secure most people in their fifties own more than one property around the country maybe three or four.

There is a word in Chinese ‘Liang Ru wei chu’ that illustrates her parents and grandparents view on money it means, roughly, purchase depends on income. Meaning previous generations wouldn’t spend money they didn’t have. This has changed for her generation who feel more secure and stable. However there are still differences in her generation between urban and rural. She says that in the rural areas they have the same kind of mind-set as her grandparents and save every penny. I think this would be again to do with feeling unstable as there is a big divide between the rich and poor in China and people can still just be told to leave there homes.

The interview naturally took a side-track from my topic of money and possessions and moved into marriage and opportunity. She told me through the generations success has different properties. For the older generation who were subject to wars a poor economy for them to be successful was just to stay alive and be secure so generally they’d be married by twenty have kids and follow those steps. Whereas for her parents generation, during Chinas growth, they started to come away from the traditional steps and wanted to find a chance and grab it. It was still frowned upon for that generation not to be married by twenty five and traditions still came through. She said for her she might be expected to be married by about thirty but it wasn’t seen as that important it was more important for her generation to be seen as an individual character following her own path. They strive to be unique maybe this is by studying higher education or studying abroad. The idea of standing out from the crowd has become ever more important.

This interview uncovered a lot of interesting results and because it has changed so quickly the differences between the generations is very clear. However I don’t think it’s that different from this country and differences in generations and traditions tend to fade through the generations the only difference with China is that it has happened over a shorter period of time due to its rapid growth.Alot of globalisation seems to be occuring in China and I think this has a big influence on the differences between generations.

The interview also highlighted the divide between China, between the rich and the poor, at the moment. This is something that seems to constantly appear in research into China that half the country have become rich quick whereas the other half are still in the same position and very poor.

Because it’s cheap!

I am currently studying jewellery design, but I will not be writing about beaded necklaces that are made for Mardi Gras. Actually, we do not celebrate it in Europe in the same way that it is celebrated in the United States. I am mostly going to express mine and others opinions about daily life and how we deal with jewellery and clothes shops in Dundee, the UK, France, and Europe.

In order to find the opinions of other people, I sent out a questionnaire to teenagers, workmen, students, unemployed, and retired individuals. I tried to ask people from different social classes to find if money made a difference. The questions I asked were simple and were based on questions that I was curious to find the answers to. After the answers I received, I also came up with a few more questions to ask.

The first question I asked was, “When I say ‘Made in China’, what does that mean to you?” The replies I received were very similar, ranging from “huge factories, poor people working, children workers, rapidity, profitability, cheap goods, bad quality”.  Almost everyone thought the same thing, more on a negative side. The question is, “do people continue to buy Chinese items even if they criticize it?” I found that people do still continue to buy items despite what they know.

Even as a jeweller, I admit that I buy cheap jewels that are made in China (Claire’s, Topshop, New Look, Primark). These jewels are the kind that are easily breakable, lost, cheap, and are not important.  I always check the labels of things I buy out of curiosity, including clothes and jewellery. Honestly, I know where and how the stuff I buy are made when it says “Made in China”, but out of habit I still continue to buy it. It seems wrong, especially when I am aware of the bad conditions, pollution, and other factors. Why don’t I change? It is probably because it’s a habit. I’m still a student so I always try to find the cheapest deal when I buy clothes and jewellery. Many people I interviewed do the same. Even though we are aware of what is happening, we live too far from the reality of the other side of the world and are more concerned about the money in our purse.

I’ve asked my friends and myself the reasons as to why we continue to buy cheap things all the time, especially when we don’t need it. Why do we not keep our money in order to buy something of better quality, made in Europe in good working conditions, but more expensive? The response that came up was quantity. Our society is a consumer society. The fashion society will tell you what to wear and say that what you are currently purchasing will be outdated in a few months! We do not want the expensive brand made by a fashion designer. Instead we prefer similar clothing just for the attitude and look. Most people don’t have the money to buy designer brands, unless they are from the upper class! You can just ignore that and try to buy “ethical” clothes and jewellery that was made in better working conditions or go to second hand shops. I try to do that sometimes, but I find that things made in Europe are too expensive to buy all the time or items in second hand shops are not “fashionable”.  I received similar responses from my panel. Some people are not interested in buying second hand clothes, but more to try less but Asian goods.

I’ve asked some people the reasons why they want to stop buying jewellery and good “made in China” and they reply, “ because Made in China items are destroying western jobs, factories, and the economy.” When I ask them about the working conditions, people are aware of how the products are made and feel guilty, but most of them admit that this is not the first thought that came to mind.

A few friends have argued that products “Made in China” are everywhere, so it’s kind of hard to boycott it. We can’t really do that because China has such a large export industry worldwide and it’s probably not a wise thing to do either. Europe is in a huge crisis and people are very aware of their money and how much things cost. We may tend to blame China, but actually they are just making what we want and ask for: cheap, consumable, but a detriment in quality and working conditions.

We tend to blame China for many reasons, but goods produced from other Asian countries like India and Bangladesh, South America and Turkey are all made in poor working conditions. The quality for products from these countries is similar to Chinese goods and pollution from clothing factories is quite harmful. A large number of jeans are made in Turkey and sadly workers in textile factories have serious health injuries. The public tends to turn a blind eye towards these issues. Why do we only really focus on what happens in China? I asked this question to my panel and gave them information about jean factories in Turkey as a comparison. Some people came up with interesting responses. They said that China is one of the most powerful countries in the world, western people and westerns factories are possibly afraid of that. They try to make China the black sheep because they were able to increase their economy so quickly. Chinese made goods quickly and at an affordable price in large quantity, due to the large numbers of workers they have! Westerns try to use the guilt factor with consumers in order to keep their economy alive.