Industry claims that fake goods cost manufacturing $650 billion dollars each year, feeds organised crimes, employs embryonic children and closes more real companies than a country investing all its gold into Barings Bank or Iceland. Whilst I agree that a lot of the proceeds go to people who are organised at creating, distributing and controlling the fake products market, I am sure Osama would have been easier to catch if he was peddling Rollex watches at a local ale house (as long as that ale house wasn’t in Pakistan of course). I guess a bit like prostitution, porn and the drugs industry it is the need that creates and fuels the market, rather than someone waking up one day and thinking that they will produce a million copies of ‘The American’ DVD as a ‘good idea’, and in the hope that a similar number of people had just returned from the moon and missed the reviews.
Where there is a need, where something sells, and where there is money to be made, copies won’t be far behind.
China takes this to a whole new level, the forgery market here probably employs more people than those making, marketing and moving the real products. Copying has lost its illegality, Counterfeiting, Copying, Plagiarism, Stealing, Pilfering, forging call it what you like, its reached levels that are now getting scary. If anyone has ever visited Asia you will have undoubtedly visited one of the many fake markets that are scattered around the major cities? It’s a tourist ‘must see’, ‘must do’, the airports here are filled with people returning back to the West with the obligatory Louis Vuiton Handbag, Omega Watch and Burberry Scarf all brought for $11.50 at the local ‘Pearl Market’.
For those of you who haven’t visited, imagine a 4/5 or 6 story shopping mall, fill it with 100,000 ten meter square booths, cram them with enough product to keep Amazon going for a millennium, and finish it off with a 1000 screaming pigmy girls - who could sell Eskimos their own snow, and still make them think they were getting a bargain. Raise the volume to jet aircraft level and the temperature to around the same, and you will get the picture. These places sell every brand you have ever heard off, and lots that you haven’t. The screams of “Watch, DVD, Bag, you want watch? Bag for the wife? Bag for the girlfriend, bag for both? Manchester United, You from America? You want watch, bag, I give you best price, best quality, you my friend, I do you good deal” will haunt me until the day I die. I avoid these places like I avoid getting into conversations about the legality of murdering an untried man on foreign sovereign soil.
Don’t get me wrong, I have previously sinned. I gave into sparkly watches, shiny belts and Abercrombie sweaters right up until the moment they started going backwards, snapped and discoloured in the wash. I still buy fake DVD’s, but before American Seals burst through my windows and ‘double tap’ me. What else I am I to do? During my many years of travelling to China, and the last 5 years of living here, I have only once seen one original DVD on sale. It was at Toys-R-Us, they had an enormous display and special area set up for the launch of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets DVD, and alongside the full size cardboard cut-outs of Dumbledoor and Hagrid, plastic figures of Harry and Hermione, Quidditch lego sets, magic kits, wands, and invisibility cloaks was what looked like an original DVD on sale for 200 RMB ($30), amazed, I stood starring at it, at one point I even leant forward to inspect a copy – the security guard standing next to it checked me up and down as if he was protecting Justin Biebers virginity, before nodding approval. It was a small shelf with only about 10 copies, but they looked real enough, watermarks, holograms the lot. Just below this shelf was a much larger one that contained around 1000 copies of the same DVD, only this time they were being sold for 20RMB ($3), copies the store manager probably ‘ripped’ the previous evening and seemed to be selling far more copies than the original thing – surprisingly!
That was the last time I saw a real DVD in China, and I don’t suppose I will see another one for a while either. When a nation has been so used to paying 10 RMB (The ones in Toys-R-Us were over priced!), how will they ever get into the swing of paying 10X or 20X street prices, or god forbid waiting for the official copy to come out?
Whilst this is all deplorable, and taking the food off Brangelina's table is not something that should be condoned, its nothing compared to the latest trend is China. Over the past 3 months I have heard of 4 fake products that have made me seriously question my reasons for staying. Recent press reports have cited the forgery of Meat, Fruit, Vegetables and Drink (Not sure what is left?), this you must remember has been reported in newspapers that have a reputation for hiding anything that may insult, unnerve, worry or slightly question China’s dominance in everything. So when it tells you ten people died, you think 10 thousand, a government building project cost 10million, read 10 billion, and so on.
The next question I guess is why and how the hell do you fake meat? Well the forgery in question is turning cheaper pork into profitable beef (instructions here), dyeing old peppers in carcinogenic paint to make it look fresh, injecting under ripe melons with coloured sweetened water, and of course the horrific lethal babies milk products that have so far murdered 6 babies and hospitalised 300,000.
The one story I did smile at simply because the biggest drinkers of this product are the government, and the police force who should be controlling it, was the forgery involved in the drink of choice Bei Ju, and one brand in particular, Mao Tai. I have written about the properties of Bei Ju before, like most spirits/liquors it has a multitude of uses, namely, as an alternative to paint stripper, petrol or arsenic. The most expensive brand is Mao Tai which enters the market at around 1000 RMB ($150) and can cost 10 times that for a more select year. The price is governed by its brand, but theoretically by its controlled production volumes. Its exclusivity means that it is not only the drink to win you business and show off with, but it is also being copied in vast quantities. So much so, that you can sell empty bottles for 700 RMB! The factory where it is made, only produces 20 million tonnes per year, however over 200 million tonnes are thought to be consumed on an average year. So the chances of actually drinking a real, authentic Mao Tai are pretty slim, you wont tell by its price either as its sold as the real thing, and you cant tell by the taste as your sensory organs are destroyed on opening the bottle. The only time you will realise it wasn’t the real thing will be when your eyes bleed and your liver finally explodes.
So back to my first questions, “When is a fake a fake? When is it acceptable to create, buy or ‘consume’ fake products?” Well in my book, copy what ever you like as long as the person buying it knows it’s a fake. The ‘Pearl markets’ in China are perfect in that from the moment you step in, you know everything on sale is fake and will probably disintegrate before you step back outside, and if they don’t then well done you.
When its not acceptable is when you think your eating beef, munching on some crispy vegetables or fruit and washing it all down with a glass of alcohol only to find out that you glow in the dark, possess x-ray vision and have the ability to lose weight quicker than a Victoria Secrets model who just gave birth. The pinnacle of this deplorable practice is the poisoning of babies milk products, which has led to an outcry and a number of high profile arrests and convictions,, however in a country where people are willing to spend time and energy in turning pork into beef I am sure this is only the tip of the iceberg.