With the support of a Rhode Island School of Design Graduate Studies Grant, I traveled to Shanghai to document the individual stories of on-the-ground shanzhai (counterfeit product) sellers and purchase the most charming, eccentric and “authentic” fakes I could get my hands on. The Chinese term, shanzhai, literally equates to “mountain” (山 shan) “fortress” (寨 zhai), referencing the rural stockades of regional warlords housed far from government control, much like the tale of Robin Hood. Whereas English words, like “counterfeit,” “fake,” and “bootleg,” imbue negative associations, shanzhai connotes an opposite understanding. Quite literally, it embodies a sense of democratic distribution—a taking/borrowing from the rich and giving to the masses. By speaking with fake market sellers and bargaining for knock-off goods, I aimed to document the shifting conditions of Shanghai’s shanzhai markets as well as the daily lives of the sellers with whom I spoke. More broadly, I want to share a positive perspective on China’s copycat culture and international, bootleg economy.

Initially I proposed designing a book with heavy emphasis on storytelling through writing and transcribed interviews. However, given the absence of transparency in a blackmarket environment, my project became more about the products themselves, as well as the different personalities and shopping atmospheres of the four markets I visited. Though I was still able to collect insightful and unique stories while speaking and bargaining with the sellers, the accounts are no longer the main focus of my grant project. Rather than designing a printed publication, I have created this fake online store due to the platform’s ability to more quickly and broadly reach the public, evolve over time as future collections develop, and most importantly, bring the focus back to the irony, playfulness and commercial nature inherent to the world of shanzhai.

—Amanda Pickens

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