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An Anycool V876 mobile phone featuring a rotatable screen. The name "Anycool" was meant to copy Anycall, Samsung's brand for phones in South Korea and Greater China. The addition of extra features not found in authentic products is indicative of shanzhai electronics, particularly in the 2000s.

Shanzhai (Chinese: 山寨; pinyin: shānzhài; Cantonese Jyutping: saan1 zaai6; Vietnamese: sơn trại) is a Chinese term literally meaning "mountain fortress" or "mountain camp", whose contemporary use usually encompasses counterfeit, imitation, or parody products and events and the subculture surrounding them.[1] Shanzhai products can include counterfeit consumer and electronic goods, which can involve the imitation and trademark infringement of brands and companies.[2] The term's modern usage grew around 2008 when shanzhai smartphones reached their greatest domestic use.[3][4][5] Today, some relate the term with grassroots innovation and creativity rather than with falsehood or imitation.[6][7]


The term shanzhai was first used for its literal meaning, which referred to defensible mountain forts and strongholds, usually in areas on the outer reaches of imperial government control. During the Song dynasty (960–1279), shanzhai came to describe groups of bandits who opposed and evaded the corrupt authorities to perform deeds they saw as justified. One of the most well known uses of shanzhai in this way is in the story Water Margin.[1]

Shanzhai goods are often regarded as rebelling against the established commercial market, adopting the spirit of opposition and individuality that the term was originally associated with during the Song dynasty.[7][8] Some shanzhai products are created with the intent to deceive buyers,[9] although others are created with features not included in their respective authentic counterparts,[7] or are created out of jest or parody (such as the CCSTV New Year's Gala).[10] Unlike counterfeiters, producers of shanzhai goods typically do not conceal the nature of their product and purchasers are generally aware of the true nature of the goods.[11]: 230 


Typical shanzhai products include imitators of high-end electronics and fashion products that imitate the visual appearance and function of leading brands.[11]: 34 

During the early-2000s, early instances of shanzhai production began, mostly with simple counterfeiting of electronic goods including DVD and MP3 players in cities such as those in the Pearl River Delta.[12][5]

In the mid-2000s, more advanced products such as smartphones were being created, with varying levels of skill and quality, leading to the term shanzhai being applied to counterfeit goods. By the end of 2006, it is estimated that shanzhai mobile phone manufacturers accounted for around 30 percent of the domestic phone market in China.[13]

In 2009, it was reported that shanzhai mobile phones could be sold for about $100 to $150 USD, while production costs were only about US$20.[14]

In 2010, the Financial Times estimated that shanzhai phones accounted for about 20 percent of the global 2G mobile phone market.[15] Demand for these 2G-era shanzhai mobile phones was not only in China, but particularly in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America as well.

The prevalence of shanzhai phones is usually attributed to their low price, multi-functional performance, and imitations of trendy mobile phone design. Although shanzhai companies do not use branding as a marketing strategy, they are known for their flexibility of design to meet specific market needs.[1]

However, shanzhai is not limited to mobile phones. As Yu Hua explains:[16]

Once copycat cell phones had taken China by storm, copycat digital cameras, copycat MP3 players, copycat game consoles and other pirated and knockoff products came pouring forth. Copycat brands have rapidly expanded to include instant noodles, sodas, milk, medications, laundry detergent and sports shoes, and so the word "copycat" has penetrated deep into every aspect of Chinese people's lives. Copycat stars, TV programs, advertisements, pop songs, Spring Festival galas, Shenzhou 7 space capsules and Bird's Nest national stadiums have all made a splash on the Internet, each revealing their own special flavor and gaining instant popularity.

Reflecting the interests of customers, some shanzhai companies reflect politics and culture through their products, often alongside parody. One of the most well-publicized examples of this was during Barack Obama's 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign, when some shanzhai mobile phone companies began to include Obama-based themes in their goods and advertisements.[6] Also in 2008, some shanzhai products were based on the Beijing National Stadium and Fuwa in light of the Beijing Olympic Games that year.


Since the 2010s, there has been a decrease in the prevalence of shanzhai products within China. Although some groups and individuals do still make replica or fake versions of popular products, the growth of well-established domestic companies producing low-cost and/or high-quality electronic goods has eclipsed much of the market for counterfeit goods. Groups that do counterfeit domestic companies are also often subject to legal repercussions for their actions, while the counterfeiting of foreign goods is much more difficult to prosecute.[9][13]

Another reason involved in the decline in shanzhai electronics may be related to the transition of MediaTek to producing chips for more established companies such as Xiaomi and Oppo, rather than just for the general consumer market. During the 2000s, many shanzhai mobile phones used MediaTek chips, since they were inexpensive and were widely available.[15] This transition has made it more difficult for small groups to produce smartphones and other popular electronic products to the same extent that was possible from 2003.[5]


Shanzhai manufacturers are often attuned to the local market and add features to their products consistent with local needs.[11]: 230  The addition of these grassroots features has helped shanzhai manufacturers increase the public's perception of their legitimacy.[11]: 231 

  • CECT is a company which offered unauthorized clones or replicas of the Apple iPhone and various Nokia cell phones sold at a fraction of the price of the originals during the 2G and 3G eras.[17] At least one reseller was subject to legal demands from Apple.[18]
  • One company that earned notoriety for producing shanzhai smartphones is Goophone, which in 2012 was reported to have filed a patent for the "Goophone i5", a MediaTek-powered clone marketed prior to the real iPhone 5's official release.[19]


Due to the growth of internet access in China, websites have been created that attempt to spoof real ones, some with the intent to scam. In 2019, the Ministry of Public Security reported that since 2016 more than 5,000 shanzhai websites had been shut down, alongside 16,000 online groups, and 20,000 accounts. Some of these were said to include deceptive wording in their names, with terms such as "Central" (中央; zhōngyāng) "China" (中国; Zhōngguó or 中华; Zhōnghuá) and "National" (全国; quánguó) used to imitate real government websites and users.[20]


The legality of shanzhai products vary.[11]: 230  Many products involve illegal forms of copying or design appropriation.[11]: 230  Others exist in a grey area where it is unclear whether they violate Chinese intellectual property law.[11]: 230  Part of this lack of clear legal status results from China's first-to-file trademark registration system.[11]: 230  Trademark registrants do not need to demonstrate their prior use of a trademark.[11]: 230  Many shanzhai manufacturers have registered their trademarks and until such marks are challenged in court by the more well-known brand, their legal status is arguable.[11]: 230  In some cases brought by foreign brand owners like New Balance, Air Jordan, Brooks, and Muji, the shanzhai manufacturers have prevailed because they registered their similar trademark first.[11]: 230 

In January 2011, the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the State Administration of Industry and Commerce announced a crackdown on shanzhai phone sellers and manufacturers. The administration blamed "money-stealing" services that used the cheap phones to steal services using customers' SIM cards. Industry commentator Liu Sheng said that it was more likely to be linked to the country's intellectual property rights protection campaigns.[21]

E-commerce platform Pinduoduo has been significantly criticised in domestic Chinese media for selling shanzhai products.[11]: 34  After it was listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange in 2018, China's State Administration for Market Regulation announced probes into the firm based on reports of counterfeit materials available on the platform.[11]: 34 

China's 2018 E-Commerce Law makes platform companies jointly liable for counterfeit goods sold through their platforms if they have prior knowledge of such sales.[11]: 231  These liability risks have caused platforms to be stricter in their view of shanzhai products.[11]: 231 


The subculture surrounding shanzhai both covers the subculture that developed among groups producing shanzhai goods, such as in the Pearl River Delta, as well as a more generally-supported subculture based on parodying popular franchises and trends.

Some of the most well-known events include the CCSTV New Year's Gala, Shanzhai Lecture Room (山寨百家讲坛), Shanzhai Olympic Torch Relay (山寨奥运火炬传递), and Shanzhai Nobel Prize (山寨诺贝尔奖). One thing these events have in common is that they all imitate high-end, popular yet authoritative events in which grass-roots power usually has no participating role.[22]

Shanzhai movies are another profit-driven shanzhai phenomenon. These movies usually have low budgets, yet achieve commercial success by parodying, making fun of or borrowing elements from high-end Hollywood blockbuster movies. One of the first shanzhai movies is Ning Hao's Crazy Stone. It imitates the multi-angle shooting, rapid cutting and stunts that are usually used in Hollywood action movies, yet it retains a grass-roots set up.[citation needed] With only a $3 million HKD budget, Crazy Stone achieved a box office revenue of $22 million HKD.[23]

Critical reception[edit]

A fake Adidas tennis shoe marketed under the name "Adibos" while using Adidas' logo

In the Western world in countries such as the United States, shanzhai products are often viewed as humorous fakes due to their common use of misspelled or comical names imitating those of real companies. Generally, shanzhai products are viewed in the West as low-quality, cheap, and fake.[4] The influence of this view of shanzhai goods has led to the perception among some that all Chinese-produced goods are low quality or are fakes of foreign goods.[6]

Shanzhai products are negatively perceived by many companies whose products have been counterfeited, both in China and abroad. Within China, companies such as Huawei and Lenovo have faced issues of smaller companies and groups counterfeiting of their goods. Although electronics companies are most prone to this kind of counterfeiting, other industries have faced competition from shanzhai companies as well.[24]

However, philosopher Byung-Chul Han describes shanzhai products as having their own value and benefits:[25]

[Shanzhai cellphones] are actually anything but crude forgeries. In terms of design and function they are hardly inferior to the original. Technological or aesthetic modifications give them their own identity. They are multifunctional and stylish. Shanzhai products are characterized in particular by a high degree of flexibility. For example, they can adapt very quickly to particular needs and situations, which is not possible for products made by large companies because of their long production cycles. The shanzhai fully exploits the situation's potential. For this reason alone it represents a genuinely Chinese phenomenon.

In 2019, the Jinhongye Paper Group successfully won a lawsuit against the Hangzhou Fuyang Paper Company for their shanzhai version of one of Jinhongye's products, which was regarded as an improvement in commercial protections. Jinhongye produces high quality paper marketed as Qingfeng (清风; qīngfēng), which Hangzhou Fuyang imitated in their sale of paper similarly marketed as Qingfeng (; qīngfèng). After a ruling by the Hangzhou Internet Court, Hangzhou Fuyang was forced to pay 1 million RMB to Jinhongye and to stop marketing their paper as Qingfeng.[26]

Business analyst Michael Zakkour believes the phenomena of shanzhai reduces foreign investment in China, discourages foreign companies from marketing copyable products there, and deters them from using Chinese services and technologies that might result in their intellectual property being copied.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Landsberger, Stefan (2019), de Kloet, Jeroen; Fai, Chow Yiu; Scheen, Lena (eds.), "Shanzhai = Creativity, Creativity = Shanzhai", Boredom, Shanzhai, and Digitisation in the Time of Creative China, Amsterdam University Press, pp. 217–224, doi:10.2307/j.ctvqr1bnw.17, hdl:1887/80088, JSTOR j.ctvqr1bnw.17, S2CID 241979497
  2. ^ Schmidle, Nicholas (2010-08-19). "Inside the Knockoff-Tennis-Shoe Factory". New York Times. Archived from the original on 3 November 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2010.
  3. ^ Gamsa, Mark (2011). "Translation and Alleged Plagiarism of Russian Literature in Republican China". Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews. 33: 151–171. ISSN 0161-9705. JSTOR 41412924.
  4. ^ a b Raustiala, Kal; Sprigman, Christopher (2013). "Fake It Till You Make It: The Good News About China's Knockoff Economy". Foreign Affairs. 92 (4): 25–30. ISSN 0015-7120. JSTOR 23526905.
  5. ^ a b c Liao, Zhimin; Chen, Xiaofang (2011). "Why the Entry Regulation of Mobile Phone Manufacturing in China Collapsed: The Impact of Technological Innovation". The Journal of Law & Economics. 54 (4): S207–S228. doi:10.1086/662991. ISSN 0022-2186. JSTOR 10.1086/662991. S2CID 154965373.
  6. ^ a b c Scheen, Lena (2019). "'Isn't that funny?'". In Scheen, Lena; de Kloet, Jeroen; Fai, Chow Yiu (eds.). 'Isn't that funny?': The Unsettling Effect of Shanzhai Products. Amsterdam University Press. pp. 211–216. doi:10.2307/j.ctvqr1bnw.16. JSTOR j.ctvqr1bnw.16. S2CID 230432647. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  7. ^ a b c Liao, Sara (2020). Fashioning China: Precarious Creativity and Women Designers in Shanzhai Culture. Pluto Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctvx077vn. ISBN 978-0-7453-4070-8. JSTOR j.ctvx077vn. S2CID 240683065.
  8. ^ Sky Canaves and Juliet Ye (2009-01-22). "Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Rebellion in China". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 2015-03-02. Retrieved 2009-07-10.
  9. ^ a b "如何看待"山寨现象"" [How to Treat the "Shanzhai Phenomenon"] (in Chinese). Developments in Thinking Principle Trends. 6 August 2018. Retrieved 2020-05-13 – via Baidu Wenku.
  10. ^ Humour in Chinese Life and Culture: Resistance and Control in Modern Times. Hong Kong University Press. 2013. ISBN 978-988-8139-23-1. JSTOR j.ctt46n38n.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Zhang, Angela Huyue (2024). High Wire: How China Regulates Big Tech and Governs Its Economy. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780197682258.
  12. ^ "Mountain village handsets storm market". China Economic Net. 19 July 2008. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  13. ^ a b "中国山寨手机消亡史" [History of the Demise of Chinese Shanzhai Smartphones]. QQ Xinwen (in Chinese).
  14. ^ Barboza, David (2009-04-27). "In China, Knockoff Cellphones Are a Hit". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 September 2017. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  15. ^ a b "Bandit phone king has the last laugh". The Financial Times. 17 October 2010. Archived from the original on 20 October 2010. Retrieved 21 October 2010.
  16. ^ Yu, Hua; 余华 (2011). China in ten words (1st ed.). New York: Pantheon Books. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-307-37935-1. OCLC 701810348.
  17. ^ "Hi-phone anyone? Fake mobiles threaten China brands". Reuters UK. 23 June 2008. Archived from the original on 24 September 2008. Retrieved 22 July 2008.
  18. ^ "Apple threatens European iPhone knockoff reseller". MacNN. Archived from the original on 19 September 2008. Retrieved 22 July 2008.
  19. ^ Hodgkins, Kelly (16 July 2014). "Wico and Goophone Beat Apple to Market with Android-Based iPhone 6 Clones". MacRumors. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  20. ^ "公安机关严打假冒中央机构实施违法犯罪 关闭5千余"山寨"网站" [Public Security Organs Crack Down on the Impersonation of Central institutions to Commit Crimes and Shut Down More Than 5,000 "Shanzhai" Websites.]. State Council of the People's Republic of China (in Chinese). 15 Nov 2019. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  21. ^ Xu Chi (14 January 2011). "Number's up for fake cell phones". Shanghai Daily. Archived from the original on 2 February 2013. Retrieved 19 January 2011.
  22. ^ Lee, Venus (12 Dec 2008). "Robin-hood Chinese New Year's Gala challenges CCTV". Beijing Today. Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  23. ^ "Crazy Stone makes audiences laugh, Hollywood cry". www.chinadaily.com.cn. Archived from the original on 2019-11-02. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  24. ^ "China's copycat manufacturers are now pushing the boundaries of innovation". South China Morning Post. 2015-05-20. Archived from the original on 2019-07-08. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  25. ^ Han, Byung-Chul (2017). Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese. Translated by Hurd, Philippa. MIT Press. p. 72. ISBN 9780262343589.
  26. ^ "恶意侵权!纸企山寨商标"清凤""洁风"被判赔100万" [Malicious Infringement! Paper Company's Infringement of "Qingfeng" and "Jiefeng" Trademarks Pays 1 Million in Compensation]. CCTV (in Chinese). 19 July 2019. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  27. ^ Zakkour, Michael (2014-04-30). "Copycat China Still A Problem For Brands & China's Future: Just Ask Apple, Hyatt & Starbucks". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-10-19.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]