From replica White Houses to Chairman Mao impersonators, the “copycat” phenomenon is sweeping China. Is it an excuse for pirating or an inspiring challenge to authority?by Yu Hua / August 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
In China in Ten Words, the prize-winning novelist Yu Hua sets out “to compress the endless chatter of China today into ten simple words.” His book has been called a “much needed, and hugely subversive, dose of reality,” and invaluable for understanding modern China. The extract below deals with the copycat phenomenon, a sign of the moral confusion that threatens China’s future.
The story of contemporary China can be told from many different angles, but here I want to tell it in terms of the copycat, a national myth playing itself out on a popular level.
The word here rendered as “copycat” (shanzhai) originally denoted a mountain hamlet protected by a stockade or other fortifications; later it acquired an extended meaning as a hinterland area, home to the poor. It was also a name once given to the lairs of outlaws and bandits, and the word has continued to have connotations of freedom from official control.