Brnads (sic), Filth, and Ethnicity

A different take on a couple of news stories linked to the growing war of words between the US and China… and brief reflections on five weeks here.

Branding – or Brnaidng?

Walk through any city centre here, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the US brand Nike has a massive presence on the High street.

But look closer… alongside the Nike store, there’s the replica store “Erke” (complete with similar logo). Next door the un-named Li Ning store goes even further – like Nike, they just use a swoosh, distinguished from the Nike logo only by an upturn at one end. (See it here).

To a western eye, these copies are fairly obvious. As are the razors in the store with the logo “Gittelly” (despite the identical font and colour palette), the t-shirt bearing the word “Adaiads”, and the “Pearlfox” store that sits next to “Playboy“.

Imitation brands are so common nowadays that they’re hardly commented on, taking advantage of the lack of familiarity with Roman characters. (From the other side of the language barrier of course, I struggle to read anything in Chinese. Let alone notice if a couple of Chinese characters are swapped around in a word).

The issue’s been around for a while, but whether branding (or brnaiding) comes into play if the mooted “trade war” develops will be worth watching.

Filtering net “filth”

Internet cafes in cities over here are strange affairs.

Endless rows of computers stretch deep into distant murky corners. Hundreds of young Chinese (boys and girls) sit engrossed in high-graphics computer games, slouched in sofa-like leather chairs.

As I walked out of one in an anonymous Chinese city last week, I had to do a double take on one screen. I had not been mistaken – the game was ignored momentarily as a young guy flicked to his messaging screen, deftly downloaded some porn, and switched back without anyone noticing. Internet cafés are clearly providing escapism for young Chinese in more ways than one.

It put a bit of “flesh-tone” on the burgeoning story about the net-filtering software that China wants to put on all new computers here.

To recap, the software will not only filter on words, but will also pick up “flesh-tones”. (The fact that this could block any website with pink on it is considered superfluous to the argument). It’s now led to interruptions to the Google service, statements from the Pentagon, and accusations by Chinese officials that the monstrous Google is deliberately linking to “pornographic and vulgar” websites.

The issue is only set to grow in profile, as this society tries to unravel some tight controls and not others.

Reflecting China

The way you enter a country undoubtedly influences how you perceive it.

Coming in through the “autonomous regions” of Tibet and Xinjiang, for instance, has given me a sense of the genuine diversity of this huge country – but also sight of the difficult relations between the strong centre and it’s far Western outposts. This is most clear in the belaboured “celebration” of China’s ethnic peoples by a strong Central authority torn between managing diversity and promoting homogeneity.

Since Xinjiang, the last couple of weeks getting from one side of China to the other, via one overnight bus, three overnight trains, five cities of 3 million people – and a day with the Terracotta warriors.

In the cities, the sense of self-confidence, general orderliness and rapid growth is palpable. The contrast with the amiable chaos of India and Nepal is striking. Comparisons East-wards with the US are more realistic.

One brief example of the differences though. Yesterday I saw something that screamed “Only in China”. 8.30am outside the main China Postal service office in Xi’An, and 100 employees in 10-row formation are marshalled in stretching exercises to what sounds like a Chinese version of Eye of the Tiger. It was bizarre to watch. I tried in vain to transpose the picture to the GPO in Edinburgh, or the USPS central office in New York. Somehow that just doesn’t work.

And Finally…

I arrived in Beijing this morning. It took a few minutes to work out why I felt slightly discombobulated – this is the first properly global city that I have been in for eight months. (None of the Indian cities have this kind of super-organised rail station, controlled traffic and all the other accoutrements).

It’s all about the big cities for the next 2 weeks – Beijing, then Shanghai, the Hong Kong.

Big, brash, urban China here we come.


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Filed under 'mind the gap' journey 08-09, All posts, China '09

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