China in Photos

Let’s Play ‘Whose Trademark is it Anyways?’ : On Copying Versus Creating in China

How many funny trademark ripoffs do you see in the picture above?  I’ve got three so far.  I should also tell you that this ice cream stand is in the middle of a tourist site that the local government spent a lot of money to make things look and feel like “old China.”

It’s actually a really beautiful area.  It’s clean, peaceful, downright beautiful in some parts, and they’ve done a really great job with the whole thing.  Except when it comes to things like the above.

Yup, that whole stereotype about Chinese entrepreneurs copying and faking pretty much everything they can?  So far I’ve found it be unfortunately and uncannily accurate.

I don’t usually care too much about all of this rampant copyright infringement and fakery (though the fake (but edible?) eggs are REALLY creepy) but it does make me wonder from an academic-like perspective.

Why, in a country of over a billion people, over a billion funny, smart, talented and probably creative people, is there such a compulsion to copy rather than create in the marketplace?

This isn’t a judgement call, I don’t know what the “right” answer is but it’s just something I’m deeply curious about.  Is there some sort of creative paralysis at hand and what does it stem from?

Why do I see beautiful, creative, hand-made Chinese artwork on the wall of our favorite bar here but none on the streets or for sale in stores?  Why is there only one, just one, popular cartoon character for kids in Chengdu that is copied across the country on everything from backpacks, to candy, to shoes?

Why do restaurants and clothing stores pretend to be smaller versions of bigger, more popular, places rather than creating their own brand?

And why doesn’t an ice cream store, thousands and thousands of miles from the US come up with it’s own uniquely Chinese brand rather than mish-mashing iconic images from popular U.S. ones?

Sometimes I think I am just seeing it all from a too-American perspective: from a societal viewpoint that associates market opportunity with innovation and originality.

I do, after all, come from a place where late-night infomercial inventions can become mainstream must-have products.  Where entrepreneurs and innovators often become highly visible cultural icons.  Where I can buy almost anything I want in almost any color I want because marketers want to appeal to my individual desire to be unique (not that the red hue of my ipod should really be my definition of self to the rest of the world but that’s a debate for a different post).

Anyways, that emphasis on creation and individual preferences isn’t really mainstream here and that’s ok.  It’s a completely different society, different culture, different history.  I don’t want to overstep the bounds of my armchair by putting out my own hypothesis as to why this is the case but I do still wonder.  Why?

What do you think?  What are your guesses as for why copying rather than creating is the most attractive business option for the average entrepreneur?  Do you know people who run counter to this generalization?  Do you see things changing over time?

And, additionally, since I’m only really familiar with Sichuan province, which is sort of like the Kansas of China, is this a uniquely midwestern phenomenon?  Or if I was in Beijing or Shanghai would I see more originality?

I need answers friends!  Enlighten this curious China-neophyte.

Oh and did you find all 3 ice cream brands in the photo above?


2 thoughts on “Let’s Play ‘Whose Trademark is it Anyways?’ : On Copying Versus Creating in China

  1. Hey Estefania! Great to hear from you, how are things going?? Edy’s Ice cream is the last one that I found 🙂

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