Posts Tagged ‘Huaqiangbei’

Virginia Cha speaks about “shanzhai”

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

The second of two presentations at the NUS-ISS seminar, “Did you shanzhai today?“, on Friday was on her research on the model of imitation-based innovation that has developed in China over recent years.

Dr. Virginia Cha, Chief Research, ISS-NUS

Dr. Virginia Cha, Chief Research, ISS-NUS

Dr. Virginia Cha is the Chief of Research at the Institute of Systems Science (ISS).

ISS is a specialist training institute of the National University of Singapore (NUS) offering professional information technology upgrading, conversion and continuing education and training programmes to managers and IT practitioners and technologists.

Cha has been following the shanzhai (山寨) phenomenon in China for the past few years, and shared the findings of her recent field trip to Shenzhen (深圳) in China in August and September this year, when she visited the hive of shanzhai community in Huaqiangbei (华强北).

Essentially, shanzhai describes the model of innovation where entrepreneurs in China start by copying a successful newly launched product The big question I had prior to her talk was “what is the difference between shanzhai and outright piracy?”– say a tablet computer or smartphone – add innovative features that enhance performance or localisation, and quickly bring it to market.

Some shanzhai products eventually became so successful that the original products they’d been based on ended up picking up features added by the shanzhai makers.

Cha made it clear with examples that many who merely imitated products usually failed eventually. The successful shanzhai practitioners were those who were able to exercise innovation by enhancing the product they started off imitating. The imitation was only a start – a quick level up.Some of these shanzhai makers became so successful they mature into large companies themselves and attracted other pirates and shanzhai imitators.

All in all, it was an informative lecture, enriched by plenty of actual shanzhai hardware that Virginia had procured for the purpose of research during her field trip. From her description, Huaqiangbei might just end up becoming the equivalent of the Sillicon Valley in the US.