EnglishMassimo Canevaccin. 2 New Media e Culture Digitali

Fake in China

[translation by Enzo Pizzolo]

This text is the introduction to “Fake-in-China”, an ethnography-diary by Massimo Canevacci published in Brazil and gently placed at our disposal by the author for this edition of our magazine. Here it’s focused a “fake” perspective that overturns the concept of production “made in” and, somehow, it’s an answer to the diatribes that crossed art’s circuits, more recently also the disputes between Apple and Samsung, and, therefore, the relation in artistical artefacts and goods’ production between a copy and an original work.A fake is a true/false. From architectures to industrial production and digital technologies a “made in china” is a “Fake in China” neither “copy-right”, nor “copy-left”. (Anna Maria di Miscio)


“Fake-in-China” wants to be a try to narrate things’ surface I saw in a period of six months between the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010. The University of Communication of Nanjing (The Cucn) – where I taught for six months and I could make my trips – gave me this chance. This ethnographic fiction starts from here and moves on not linear routes, along different places of this Country, amid some big metropolises like Nanjing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macao, Chong Quing; along the river Yatze and its unexpected meetings; on the shores and the ethnotouristic resorts in Sanya, in widespread thematical parks and in a lot of local “Venice”; all of it soaked in my personal stories’ fragments, in pasts that emerge, crucial moments of my sentimental life, difficulties of eating; the mission to teach different students, chat exchanges, the unpredictable revealing of one of my Iago, The Honest Iago in Nanjing, a criticism to Sao Paulo, my second city that lost its polyphony, some short quotations or lyrics collected here and there, and a conclusion dedicated to a big statue of Buddha that – silent – observes and calms the river’s waves down.

“Fake-in-China”: a surface-trip in the country that is changing the world


Introduction: Techno-anthropophagy

Travels are travellers. Massimo Canevacci

In an article published on the “South China Morning Post” during my stay in China, was stated a consideration that struck me a lot: “China”, it was written, has become the world’s factory and “Made in china” is conquering global markets. This has to be considered the first step of a revolution that is changing the relations amid different areas of the world but that can’t carry on like this for the following reason: a huge quantity of products built here are the results of patents, or inventions in any case, coming from foreign countries, Europe, Japan, The U.S.A.

This phase to produce at home products invented somewhere else has to be got over: for this reason it’s necessary to concentrate resources, technologies and researches on the innovation’s field. Therefore, design has to become the heart of investments of the second phase:meaning by this design, ideation, planning, creation, patents. China will not be able to remain for a long time this ambigous zone where “made-in-China” is always accompanied by labels of this kind: “Designed by Apple in California Assembled in China”.China will have to be no more the place of assembly of technologies and designs created in other countries. So, – this is the article’s conclusion – the challenge of present future is “Design in China”. For this reason, in little towns as Wuxi are financed worldwide scale projects to attract some hundreds of designers also from foreign countries and to start a formative activity directed to local creativity.

A way of acting well understood by Robin Li, the search engine “Baidu”’s inventor and for this reason chosen by the magazine “Time” as one of the hundred most influential personalities in the world. Latitude and imagination: these two coordinates, the former spatial, the latter mental, define China’s new phase and, for this reason, they have been chosen as key-words for Shangai’s expo. In the meanwhile, the crowd of people buying chinese good exported everywhere in the world have a clear understanding that these products seem to be true, it’s as if they were true, maybe are even true.

Yet, even if they’re false, they are bought for this ambiguity. If you consider better what is going on, it seems that this distinction between true and false – that here I will define as “Fake”, according to the movie “F for Fake”, by Orson Welles, – is not able to get the deep surface of these things. In fact, they are often produced in China thanks to an head office’s licence – for example an italian one, as regards clothes, – . It’s enough only to change a letter (from “Armani” to “Amani”) in order to avoid improbable causes, even if the product is entirely equal or likely. It often comes from the same factories, or ghost-subfactories, twins or parallel, without any camouflage operation. In other words, copyright is in crisis not only for intellectual productions – as it’s always obsessively remarked in conventions and parliaments – but also for material products. To introduce better my opinion, this distinction between material and immaterial doesn’t work any more.

It’s a logical – and productive – dualism, in crisis, that tries to defend a clearly finished and surely changed past. However, neither any government tries to stop these technological innovations able to clone things pressing a button, nor these industries that produce these reproducibility’s technologies have moral crises or criminal accusations. On the contrary we are living in a period where each of us can both create things, stories, images and to clone them whithout asking any permission. And the publicities against the so called piracies seem to help the pirates and to make the gallery laughs. The “copy-left” is not a case of a slogan of an anarchical and pirate-like Left.

It’s the praxis that every people supplied with instruments – instruments within reach by now – practice in daily life. The only difference is that, in China, this reproductive activity involves both the goods’sides and the intellingence’s ones in a way extended in latitude and imagination. In this way the product’s authencity fails more and more and, with it, the ambiguous value that this concept has always meant: to be authentic is a truly restorative ideology or a nonsense model. Besides, in Anthropology,authenticity, together with purity and origin are discussed for some time because cultures and also individuals can’t declare themselves or, worse, to be declared pure and original any more: on the contrary they are an involved result of blendings, hybridizations and mutations.

When somebody – a fashion stylist or a software engineer – invents a product, this becomes a citadel surronded by eyes that will make everything possible – if it has got an appeal – to copy it. It’s a kind of techno-anthropophagy that starts. Things are selected, sectioned, swallowed, assembled and recycled as if they were an enemy body’s delicious parts, took prisoner and cooked still full of the virtues he/she used to bring and whose final goal will be to be devoured and absorbed by an hungry local iniziative. A techno-anthropophagy, devoring goods and technologies to assume theme in individual physiology, as if they were ours, it’s surely typical not only of China but also of the praxis of each of us. It’s only that China has succeeded, in a very short time, in giving an organized jump – almost a systemic one, I should say – to all this, unifying material and immaterial reproduction.

In addition to official stores, (an obsolete word, by now) little shops, benches, bookstalls, wheelbarrows, simple carpets, pedlars and so on spread in the most various territories: in other words a neverending and uncontrollable sale’s mycrophisics, whose costs of reproduction are near to zero and its purchase prices so cheap that similar products of other countries have no possibility of competition with them. So China, thanks to techno-digital, inteprets at best what the present glocalized phase offers in accelerated spatiotemporal modalities. The classical conflict between productive forces and production relations is retired.

The actual fight is between ideational and productive forces, reproduction’s technologies and digital communication. The motive power is always ideational innovation but it’s only that this shining lasts a nano-second because its exposition is offered to everybody’s replicating eyes. The shining becomes reproducible. The most apt example is a fashion parade: it’s an organized event to introduce models with new clothes because a stylist has to show every seasonal collection and a parade can’t help being global because its products are global: brand and communication. In the meanwhile a gear impossible to stop – impossible as it’s the same event that drives it – sets in motion: a techno-anthropophagous copy-left.

A just implemented software shares a not very different destiny: difences made to protect are constantly attacked by the same logics that reproduce it. This fake’s irresistible spread doesn’t happen only in goods and culture’s reproductive field but also in thinner and vintage consumption’s sphere. More clearly in this direction, fake becomes no more the opposite of true or authentic: fake is the wave that accelerates ways of life’s changes and diffuses a simple truth about the state of things. Fake is the true-false, an immanent mix that dissolves classical dualism’s distinctions based on certainty of truth.

A process that art had practiced for a long time, in tight alliance with myth (against and beyond a logic translated as instrumental rationality or “ratio”) and that the already quoted movie by Orson Welles is able to express at best thanks to a sort of testament of a great artist of cinema. Art is never realist, so much the less it reproduces reality. Art expresses dissonances towards every form of realism and an artist, smoking Magritte’s pipe, creates a fake. Fake’s expansion in consumption and in urban communication stimulates a process similar to the reproductive one, where every subject becomes a “performer”, a concept that in its actvism is more precise than that of “prosumer”.This ambiguity true-false spreads in urban life’s different fields as I could meet during my trip.

What the “theme-parks” have been, are becoming experience not linked only, and not even so much, with specific places of loisir where you have to pay the ticket to enter: these are areas inserted in, part of daily life, where you can come in and get out without a formal or a symbolic threshold, a “limen” that could signal the end of a known passage and the beginning of another one still unknown: entertainment. From the boundless metropolis of Chong Qing (30 milion inhabitants) to Sanya’s limpid shores with its cyrillic writings, it seems that the surface of China is involved or wrapped up by this formative process, symmetric to the productive one, that is inserted in a random way, in a daily tissue, and redefines authentic mixed with scenograpies that make exotic many world’s corners in the lanes of the city.

An hotel in Sanya is as a thematic park as its shores:the historical fortress dominates its wide river with its scenografies like “Captain Hook”; the “Confucio Center” in Nanjing frames both a market and an homonymous museum; the emperor Ming’s huge head is becoming a multi-floor hotel that overhangs the “Ghost-city”. Fake-in-China is between “made” and “design”, to build other people’s products and to conceive a one’own drawing. My conceptual conclusion, arrived by surprise in the end of this writing’s review, is the following: Fake-in-China means a practice that interlaces, according to different modalities and textures, three concepts: falsification, enlightenment and illusion. Fake is a costant falsification enlightened by illusion.

What we still define as factories have partially become something else. As advanced establishments tend to make coicindent a target with a single person, symmetrically the one man show model imposes itself in production: in other words activities based on a single person have expanded from show business to goods’ reproduction and to their sale. The one man show is China’s winning secret, the most individualist Country of the world. And it’s tried to urge and to frame its excess of iniziative in a conception of the world determined by destiny where confucian phylosophycal tradition is melted and inserted in the State’s ideology. But how long? In some way fake practices total work of art extended to material and immaterial goods, to performative consumption, to digital communication.

Enlightened illusion of false. And so fake is becoming something else and altered. A vision of the world with its philosophy and many praxes. From the beginning I thought my task hadn’t to interfere with internal political matters, both to respect an invitation sent to me and for the huge diffuculties to articulate a position not determined by ethnocentric imprecisions about a so complex culture whose language I don’t know. And I have to add that my knowledge of its history is very scarce. I made this choice not so much for ethnography – that imposes a method that I couldn’t apply thanks to my ignorance – as for my desire to write in a narrative style, mixing different genres beginning with this point of view: a surface-trip.

And through this level, to try to squeeze every smallest detail’s juice. For this reason my trip is a declared “surface-trip” that tries to give this concept all the thickness I’m able to. A travel and to travel yourself is anthropology and travels are travellers; the ability to tell both levels is a narrative art, careful of trivials and visions, able to avoid the risk to reproduce a glance rigged by stereotypes. And just an astonished glance becomes art and smartness in subtle penetrations of details, absorbed as a sponge, then squeezed and interrogated about their possible meanings.

“Fake-in-China” doesn’t want to address an accusation to China for goods’ falsification; on the contrary, the title tries to present – in the activities launched by political power and by the force of things of this Country – that global process started by Euro-America where China became part of it impressing an as striking as unexpected acceleration. So China is all in the rules and, if you want, in the spirit of what we still call capitalism. And, in fact, we know that Monsieur le Capital, respected rules dictated by itself only when they were corresponding to its goals. What, according to somebody, should be irregularity here, is what has been and is again istitutional praxis of the so called Western Countries: you can think, only as an example, about that genius of financial crime, Bernie Madoff, that in Wall street’s heart made tremble not only world stock-exchanges.