Here’s a fun Wall Street Journal piece on shanzai culture in China:
Shanzhai, which literally means “mountain fortress” and implies banditry and lack of state control, refers to China’s vast array of name-brand knockoffs. Shanzhai versions of Apple Inc.’s iPhone, for example, include the HiPhone, the SciPhone and the deliberately misspelled citrus-themed iOrgane.
Recently, the definition of shanzhai has expanded. On China’s Internet, blogs, bulletin boards and news sites carry photos of automobiles jerry-rigged to run on railroad tracks (“shanzhai trains”), fluffy dogs trimmed and dyed to look like the national mascot (“shanzhai pandas”) and models of the Beijing Olympic Games’ National Stadium made out of sticks (“shanzhai Bird’s Nest”).
And finally, a sort of storefront Las Vegas. Instead of faux Paris…
A property developer in Nanjing, hoping to lure business and buzz, set up storefront facades with logos such as “Haagon-Bozs,” “Pizza Huh,” “Bucksstar Coffee,” “KFG” and “McDnoald’s.” Images of what became known as “Shanzhai Street” spread rapidly online.
This reminds me of the semester I spent in Bangladesh with my classmate Dan. For weeks we’d heard legends of a Domino’s Pizza somewhere in Dhaka. Domino’s! So finally, we made the trek and discovered not Domino’s, but… Dominous. Same red-and-blue livery; crucial extra vowel. It clearly had nothing to do with the U.S. Domino’s—except for the suggestion that the owner of Dominous (who came to greet us at our table) may once have worked at one.
I love the shanzai vibe. There’s a certain Robin Hood spirit to it: the noble, resourceful, slightly wacky rogue.