Copycat or pirated?

中国日报网 2012-11-27 10:57



Copycat or pirated?

Reader question:

Are a copycat mobile phone and a pirated one the same thing?

My comments:

Broadly speaking, yes, as both refer to a counterfeit product.

Counterfeit? Yeah. In other words, a fake, something that looks like the real thing but is not the real thing.

When we talk about counterfeit goods – of which there is an abundance in our country, I’m not very proud to point out – we often hear the word “copycat” or “piracy”, and they point to the same thing, a copyright infringement of one kind of another.

However, those two words have different roots and therefore have some differences in detail.

First, copycat. Or copy cat, meaning the cat that copies another cat, an older cat, for example. Copycat obviously originates from observing how baby cats (kittens) learn the tricks of life by imitating their mother. As a matter of fact, all animals and humans do this as a young. That’s the way of nature, or nature’s way or The Way and quite frankly you can’t think of a better way. As adults, however, people (as well as animals) should think for and be themselves. They should better, I shall say, as they are mostly on their own and must be able to fend for themselves.

Well, in the case of humans, of course, adults who rely on their ma and pa for everything (money, advice, all sorts of decision making) abound, way too many in the big city. And they prove to be such a burden to their families. Just ask those tired or tireless, depending on your perspective, parents.

At any rate, we understand that copy cat is an exact copy of another. A copycat mobile phone, therefore, is an exact copy of the original – usually an inferior copy, of course. In China, we have a nifty term to describe this and that is “shan zhai” (山寨), literally a “mountain village” version of the original. A vivid expression this is, giving us a picture of people assembling fake goods in shoddy workshops in the remote countryside.

Pirated, on the other hand, inspire an image of pirates, those outlaws that work the seas, originally people who rob other ships and re-sell their loots onshore. Hence, some pirated goods may be real things. In China, we also have a good term for these, called “shui huo” (水货), meaning products via the waterway, or the high seas. They refer to good imports but without necessary customs approval. For example, if you sell an Apple gadget designated for the Hong Kong market here in the mainland, those gadgets will be called “water” versions.

Or “watered” versions if you don’t mind. Watered, as in watered down, as “water” in some local vernaculars in China does denote inferiority and poor quality and many “water” productions do often compare unfavorably with “hang huo” (行货), or standard versions, ones that are designated for a specific market and brought to sell in that particular market.

Well, no matter what, both copycat and pirated goods are infringements and illegal. Catch them if you can.

I mean, avoid them.

If you can.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


He said, she said

Cookie-cutter excuses?

Playing possum?

Back seat?

(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)

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