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A spoof translation about knock-off culture

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At the beginning of February, a blogger writing under the name RNAmonkey (逆转录猴子) posted a translation of an interesting article that analyzed the shanzhai (山寨) phenomenon in China — the culture of knock-offs and bootlegs that has captivated Internet users and public intellectuals alike in recent months.

"All of China is a Knock-Off" (整个中国就是一个山寨) was the title of the piece, and it claimed to be a translation of an article by Steven Zuckerberg, an American who had spent his youth in China. It also cited Danwei as the source of the article — odd, because we'd never published anything like it.

Danwei contacted the author a few days after the piece went up, by which time it had already been cross-posted to blogs and forums across the Chinese-language Internet. RNAmonkey (real name: Wang Hongzhe) confessed that the piece was "a little kuso" (aka egao 恶搞), and apologized for any inconvenience he had caused by connecting it with our site.

There were other indications that the article was a put-on: It was originally posted to the Douban website as a review of Chronicles of a Mountain Village (山寨纪事), a book whose title uses the underlying meaning of shanzhai rather than its contemporary connotations (the review was later pulled for being irrelevant). Some readers felt that the "translation" was a little too fluent, the examples a little too apt, for it to have been an English-language original. But the majority of commenters took it at face-value and discussed the article as if its arguments had been put forth by a foreign observer of Chinese culture.

This was by design, reports Evan Osnos, who spoke with Wang about his motivations for framing the piece as a translation:

His essay was an experiment: Would China respond differently to criticism from abroad than it would to criticism from home? It’s a long-running question that gets to the heart of China’s erratic appetite for dissent, and the same question that vexed Lu Xun, the famous social critic, who wrote seventy-five years ago: “Throughout the ages Chinese have had only one way of looking at foreigners. We either look up to them as gods or down on them as wild animals.”

In his Internet experiment, Wang has added a compelling twist on the nature of Chinese nationalism. He did not simply want to prove that patriots would predictably bristle at the criticism, but that Chinese readers of all stripes would listen to criticism more closely from an outsider, even if they did not agree with it.

As for Steven Zuckerberg, the intials S.Z. were another clue that the article itself was a shanzhai translation.

Update: "goodoldroger" at Devil's Haircut supplies an interesting response to the unmasking in a blog post titled "Could all of China be a knock-off?":

I'm sure that lots of people have read the blog post All of China is a Knock-Off. "Through" the voice of a foreigner familiar with the last two decades of Chinese history, the piece analyzed the lack of self-reliant innovation throughout China. I read it as soon as it came out and, like many other people who immediately felt it wasn't something that a foreigner would write, I went incredulously to Google the original, because translation had said it had been republished from Danwei.org. But the piece was nowhere to be found on Danwei. Interestingly, Danwei's zhwj left a straighforward comment saying that the piece had nothing to do with Danwei — and now there's a New Yorker blog post which shows that it was indeed written by a Chinese person, a PKU student. OK, I'll grant that the piece is written well, and it's spread widely. Some of its viewpoints have my support. Even the real foreigners at the New Yorker have heard of it. But as for the approach, I find it stupid, genuinely stupid, because it's not interesting in the slightest. Taking the trouble to fabricate an author named Steven Zuckerberg (any relation to the Zuckerberg of Facebook?) in order to test the response of Chinese readers to "local" and "foreign" viewpoints? Sigh. How interesting. Ultimately, the author's actions unintentionally touched on what's the heart of shanzhai: it started off as something entirely fine, but then he had to go and pull this stunt and imitate someone else, so that in the end it turned distasteful. Isn't that what shanzhai is? What could originally have been developed into an economical mobile phone for a particular target population has to be done up into a NCKIA, a fake that's not recognizable as anything at all.

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There are currently 8 Comments for A spoof translation about knock-off culture.

Comments on A spoof translation about knock-off culture

“Throughout the ages Chinese have had only one way of looking at foreigners. We either look up to them as gods or down on them as wild animals.”

That's two ways.

XiaoShang

Either...or...so just one way!

I still think it's two. You can either look at them as gods (ie good) or look at them as animals (bad).

You wouldn't say "there's only one way of looking at this issue - it's either good or bad"

Let's try and get this debate to 20+ posts.

Let's not, thanks.

With respect to Mr. Martinsen...

Well, you could argue it's similar to the adage a philo-semite is an anti-semite who loves Jews; both stances are just two faces of the same coin.

You could thus say that both approaches Lu Xun describes are symptomatic of a racist or naive approach towards foreigners, instead of evaluating each individual by his own traits, you impose the characteristics of his class. Statistical racism can be defended to some extent (we are going to act in a certain way towards a certain group because the group has statistical characteristics), but when you ignore individual characteristics you are showing weak logic and end up looking like a rube.

I think the popular economists and psychologists are pretty good at listing the irrational ways people in the West behave. Got any other interesting examples of logic failure in China?

*All* people react differently to criticism depending on whether the source is domestic or foreign.

Try getting an American to stomach a diatribe about their country from say, a European.

does an english version of the article by Wang Hongzhe exist?? i need it....

Sorry, Gaia, I don't think it's been translated.

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