Shanzhai, Sumptuary Law, and Intellectual Property Law in Contemporary China
47 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 849 (2014)
27 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2014
Date Written: March 12, 2014
“Shanzhai” denotes the wide array of copying and appropriationist practices pervasive in contemporary China. These practices often take the form of the for-profit production of knockoffs and counterfeits of all manner of consumer goods (and even services), sometimes otherwise take the form of deliberate antiauthoritarian culture jamming, and sometimes take the form of both. This brief symposium contribution focuses on shanzhai status goods and on efforts in China to use intellectual property law to suppress their production. Extending previous work on U.S. intellectual property law, the article observes that Chinese intellectual property law has come to take on, among its many functions, the function of sumptuary law; the law is being adapted to regulate and enforce China’s emerging system of consumption-based social distinction. The article is critical of this development and proposes two possible images of the future of shanzhai in China and elsewhere: a pessimistic and more likely image of the future in which intellectual property law succeeds in it is role as sumptuary law and effectively suppresses shanzhai practices, and an optimistic image of the future of shanzhai in which intellectual property law fails as sumptuary law and in which consumers continue to assert a “shanzhai attitude” inured to and dismissive of the imperatives of consumption-based social distinction.
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