Shanzai Culture

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Marie Lechner:

"Liang claims that piracy makes cultural products otherwise inaccessible to most of the population available to the greatest number of users, but also offers the possibility of an “infrastructure for cultural production.” The case of the parallel film industry based in Malegaon is literally a textbook case. The Indian researcher Ishita Tiwary tackles the case study of this small backwater of central India that has arisen thanks to an infrastructure created by media piracy and the proliferation of video rentals. Using the same mode of operation as Nollywood in Nigeria, people seize the opportunities provided by cheap technology in order to make “remakes of Bollywood successes” by adapting the content to the realities of the target audience’s lives. Servile replication, one of the objections often levelled at piracy, then gives way to “creative transformation” according to Lawrence Liang’s own terms. Another noteworthy example is the Chinese village of Dafen that is notorious for its painters who specialize in producing copies of well-known paintings. Dafen has now become home to a market for Chinese artists selling original works, which just goes to show how “A quasi-industrial process of copying masters has led to the emergence of a local scene.” This same process is aptly described by Clément Renaud, a researcher and artist, who took an interest in Shanzhai culture (literally meaning “mountain stronghold”), the flourishing counterfeiting economy of China, a country whose non-observance of copyright law is decried worldwide. “When you have no resources, no proper education system and no mentors at your disposal, then you just learn from your surroundings: you copy, you paste, you reproduce, you modify, you struggle – and you eventually improve,” resumes Clément Renaud by noting the rapid versatility and resourcefulness of these small-scale Chinese companies when faced with the demands of the global market. These “pirates [work] secretly (…) in remote factories, they have built a vast system for cooperation and competition. They shared plans, news, retro-engineering results and blueprints on instant messaging groups,” observes the researcher for whom this form of collaboration is reminiscent of open-source systems." (