Examining China’s Consumption of Counterfeit Culture

For ANT 265: Contemporary Chinese Society and Culture in the fall of 2012 (at Fudan University, Shanghai), the students in the class read Jessica Yi-Chieh Lin’s Fake Stuff: China and the Rise of Counterfeit Goods. I had picked this ethnography because I knew it would resonate with the experiences of the students in Shanghai, which would give them a good starting point for conducting fieldwork. As can be seen in the many posts on shopping and fashion, this ethnography was obviously a hit for the students. Here is a video made by Shanel Tage and Nicky Coutinho, which explores the role of counterfeit goods for both Chinese and foreign consumers.

Fabric Markets in South Bund

Saved stipends and three months in China has allowed me to explore the wide array of markets available to consumers in Shanghai. “Made to order” however has become a staple in my shopping endeavors. Customized goods have made the shopping aspect of my time abroad truly unique from any of my previous international experiences. One of my most memorable shopping experiences was at the South Bund Fabric Market in my journey to purchase my first suit.

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Arriving at the South Bund Fabric Market is a daunting experience. A sensory overload to the unprepared shopper, foreigners are constantly badgered and lured into pleading booths. I, however, was able to slide under the radar, mistaken for a local, and avoid the pressured atmosphere endured by other shoppers. I wandered the dozens of booths, peering into the storefronts. Clueless of what I was looking for, my search was aimless. Wandering through the maze of fabrics, I was shocked to find an escalator leading to three floors of tailors. To my untrained eye, the entire introduction to the fabric market was overwhelming. In search of a couple suits to be made, the market was beginning to stress me out, without the constant pestering from booths. My search led me across the street to a separate market that presented a much cleaner, relaxed atmosphere. Many of the booths were larger, better lit and organized, and most importantly, very few foreigners had crossed the street into this new paradise.

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I quickly learned why so few foreigners paced these hallways. The first store I went into, after multiple laps around the simply designed mall, approached me in Chinese and after hearing my first few sentences, clarified that they didn’t speak English at all. I decided to rely on my broken Chinese in favor of the laminate wood floors and undivided attention of my new friend. Before long, I was try on multiple jackets on hand, searching through online catalogs and fabric books, and finding excuses to buy more than I had set out for. The entire experience lasted nearly 3 hours and after a fitting the week later and a following week of alterations, I found myself on the subway with two garment bags filled with a couple brand new tailor-made suits. Made to order and a fraction of the price paid for a 3 for 1 Jos. A. Banks suit, I couldn’t have been more pleased to venture for the less frequented market and to put my clothing vocabulary to the test.

Shiliupu Fabric Market – an ethnographic film

For a class called “The Chinese Marketplace” taught by Prof. Pan Tianshu (School of Social Development and Public Policy, Fudan University), Chai Lu Bohannan combined her leisure with her study by filming a fabric market. Like many of her classmates in the Davidson-in-Shanghai program, one of the side benefits of living in Shanghai is the ability to get affordable custom-made clothing. The students (and some of the faculty, I must admit) enjoyed selecting fabrics (silk, cashmere, and wool, for example) and then choosing a style (traditional Chinese, modern business, or contemporary fashion). Chai Lu made this film along with other Fudan and international students – Daryl Ang, Yizhou Nie, and Jingwen Wang.

Shiliupu Fabric Market from thefieldworker on Vimeo.

While the Group was Away…

This past weekend I stayed behind while most of the group traveled to Meixian. You know exactly what happened. That’s right, a trip to Han City. This outing was long overdue.

Myself, Shanel, Nicky, and Chai Lu set out early Friday morning. I don’t think any of us had been up so early on a Friday since we arrived in Shanghai. Before we arrived at Han City we made a pit stop at the South Bund Fabric Market. I toyed with the idea of having a winter coat made, but I didn’t like the shop girl’s attitude or price, so I opted out.

The visit to Han City was quite interesting. Maybe I had high expectations for the quality of goods, but many  vendors’ goods failed to live up to my standards. Thankfully, I was able to find a few items I liked. Like always, I bargained until I got the price I wanted. I am especially proud of one item, but again, I can’t let you see it. 🙂

This shopping trip I realized the benefits in group shopping. Nicky and Shanel took us to their friend’s shop. Due to the friendship formed between Nicky, Shanel, and the store owner, Cindy, we made several purchases without much bargaining. I was able to purchase a very nice “something” from Cindy at a price I knew she would never sell to anyone else except maybe family or longtime friend.

While Nicky made his purchases, Chai Lu bought iPhone cases. After she returned and we finalized our purchases, Chai Lu took me to the iPhone booth. With a little reminder to the shop keeper of the price she paid, Chai Lu was able to get me the same price. I found exactly what I wanted for only $3. And of course, I couldn’t leave with just one.

Later on I purchased Converse tennis shoes for 50¥. When Ben decided he wanted a pair, I took him to the same shop. Even though the seller tried to say I paid 55¥, Ben left with 50¥ Converses. I knew exactly how much I paid. Don’t let them play games with you.

I found a few parallels between Han City and Qipu. Bargaining goes without saying. At both places I have my preferred booths or stores, and I don’t feel the need to look elsewhere. Yes, my preferred stores are the ones with the best quality, but don’t worry, that just means more aggressive bargaining.

If I have to choose between the two, I enjoy Qipu more than Han City. Han City is for tourists, and I don’t enjoy bargaining with a tourist price. Qipu caters to the Chinese consumer. You can find a few westerners sprinkled here and there, but for the most part, Qipu serves as a cheaper alternative to H&M, Zara, and UniQlo. I thoroughly enjoy taking advantage of that.

Recently, my mom asked me about the quality of my new clothes and “fake” goods. I told her that if you know where to go, then it’s quite simple to find good quality at a decent price. Always remember to bargain, no matter the store. It doesn’t matter how many times you have purchased items from your favorite store, the sellers will always give you an initial rip-off price.

Believe it or not, this past weekend was not my last visit to Han City. In order to haul all my new clothes and such home, I need a new suitcase. Shocker! Let’s see if I can get the one I want for 150¥.

A Peculiar Piece of Shanghai

Three weeks exactly until we depart, and Justin and I decide to finally explore the infamous Hongqiao “Pearl City” Market. It wasn’t until hours later, after already thoroughly exploring the establishment, did we fully grasp how bizarre it was. Upon entry, you are not greeted with shouts and cries for attention, quite a contrast from Han City. Rather, it appeared to be a calm environment, where vendors waited inside their shop quietly, paying little mind to potential customers. Furthermore, it was (relatively) clean, un-crowded area. There was no sense of urgency or hustle and bustle. In fact it didn’t seem like a “fake” market at all.

Shortly after a quick run-through of the establishment, any notion of serenity was demolished. Never have I witnessed such discourteous behavior at any marketplace.

With over three months of serious (bargain) shopping experience, Justin and I came equipped with enough information in our knowledge-bank to get the biggest bang for our buck…or Yuan. Yet, even as the ultimate shopper duo, we were confronted with several unanticipated problems. Many times we had to walk away empty-handed. Frustrated by the complete stubbornness of the vendors, we failed to make potential good purchases…(for us) that is beyond abnormal, that is unheard of!

How was it that as seasoned shoppers who abide by the law of bargain struggled to make a deal?

For those of you whom are unfamiliar, the rule of thumb is to internally assess the value of the desired item, determine a maximum purchase price, and stick to it. If the vendor is uncooperative, walk away. Even so, this is all apart of the negation process and usually a counter bid is offered. Not a Hongqiao though. Not only was their merchandise lower quality, but the vendors were excessively rude! Charging ridiculously high prices and would actually stick to them. Multiple times, Justin or I would offer a more reasonable price, of which they would completely dismiss. Insolently a fake shoe vendor yelled “Bye!” in attempt to get us out their shop.

To top off the experience, we had absolutely no luck catching a cab. Even though the top light was on, indicating vacancy, three times consecutively, we were rejected when attempting to get a taxi. In the second attempt, the man incomprehensibly shouted at us in Chinese. Unable to get a ride home, we grabbed bite to eat and brushed our shoulders off. We tried to bargain some more with street vendors, one of which FOLLOWED us for three blocks and STILL would not concede to my asking price. This affair further reinforced the peculiarity of Hongqiao.

Even after Justin and I’s adventure, I am still at a loss for words. I don’t know what part of Shanghai we were in, but clearly their clearly conducting bizarre business. In the end, I’ll just have to chalk it up as 很奇怪 (hen qiguai=very strange)experience!

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