The Shanzhai Phenomenon in China

Shanzhai (山寨) can be literally translated as “camp on a mountain”. It also carries overtones as an outlaws’ camp on the mountain. Anyone who have read one of the Four Classic novels — the Outlaws of the Marsh — will get an idea what an outlaw’s camp is like.

Because of the lawless and the underground meaning associated with Shanzhai, it is used to describe the China-made electronics with no brand names or fake trademarks.

The quality of these products is generally good, and the price fits the budget of the wage-earners — two factors that explain Shanzhai products’ ever-increasing popularity and competitive edge.

If you can’t afford to buy an Iphone, you can find a Shanzhai version Iphone, or Hiphone by another name, spending only a quarter of an real Iphone. There are also Shanzhai version for Nokia, Samsung and Sony-Ericsson cell phones. I personally own an Hiphone for a price about $150 dollars, and it does a decent job. Unlike Iphone, it doesn’t have WIFI and the system is not as snappy as Iphone, but it has good multimedia playback cababilities and it looks so close as an Iphone.

The word Shanzhai can also be used to describe anything that is non-official, underground, inexpensive with acceptable quality. For example, many Chinese dislike the extravagant, boisterous, cloying and politically correct Spring Festival Gala held annually by CCTV. In the meantime, the Shanzai version of the Spring Festival Gala, put together by a group of unknown performers with a low budget, becomes a great alternative.

So how to translate Shanzhai into English? I think the closest equivalent I can get in English is “poor man’s something”. You can have a poor man’s Ferrari, a poor man’s Iphone and a poor man’s tangy life.


How to replace virus-infected svchost.exe file

MS Windows is a patchy OS, and you have to constantly maintain it, both manually and automatically using its slow live update, to keep the system relatively secure. Here are the instructions on how to replace the infected svchost.exe under Windows XP and patch your system to close the loophole.

Find a copy from your Windows Installation CD, browse to the directory i386. In this directory you’ll find compressed version of svchost by the name SVCHOST.EX_. Copy this file to c:

Now run ‘expand’ in the command line interface and expand this compressed file, like this.

expand c:svchost.ex_ c:svchost.exe

Now you have a clean copy of svchost.exe, next step is use it to replace the infected one. Either boot into Linux or use some system rescue CDs, for example, Hiren’s BootCD and copy the clean file to C:WINDOWSsystem32 to replace the infected one.

To get rid of this issue once and for all, you need to immediately patch Windows using the fix KB958644 from Microsoft.

Before downloading the patch, check out this post to see if you have the same symptoms as I did.

China Featured

Is Chinese difficult to learn?

Some Oxford-educated English man claims in his blog that China should use an alphabetical writing system, and China’s failing to do so in history partly resulted in the high level of illiteracy. He goes like this

[China failed to invent stuff] Like an alphabet. Really, how hard is that? The Koreans managed to transform their character-based system into a very serviceable syllabic alphabet nearly 600 years ago. Amongst the reasons why China still hasn’t achieved a high level of literacy….

It is not the first time westerners point a finger at Chinese culture and claiming it backward, outdated or lacking creativity. Well, China has to ‘disappoint’ them for yet another time, because China will never use an alphabetical writing system. Koreans designed their square-shaped writing system, Vietnamese reverted from Chinese characters to French alphabets after being colonized and Japanese are using half-Chinese and half-syllables. But these examples do not mean that China, the inventor of its unique writing system, will follow suit just because an Oxford man can’t learn it.

The reason is very simple: Chinese writing system is part of Chinese culture, and it has been a very stable and mature writing system over the past 2,000 years. Its earliest appearances date back to 1,000 B.C. A remarkable treasure of cultural heritage has been preserved by this consistent writing system, and this is part of the reason that Chinese conquered the barbaric conquerors from the North. To claim that China should discard its unique writing system is tantamount to a cultural genocide, something western colonists excelled at. Just look at the whole American continent!

The writing system of Chinese, in all its uniqueness, perpetuated and preserved our culture. It is China itself in one sense.

The value of Chinese writing system aside, I am going to explain in simple words why Chinese are actually easier to learn than English and other major European languages:

  • Chinese grammar is an ideational grammar. It is very straightforward with an intense focus on ideas rather than grammatical forms which are commonplace in European languages. Translated literally, Chinese goes like this: I EAT-le THREE APPLE. No conjugation and no plural form. To express a past tense just add the universal “le” at the end of the verb. The plural form of APPLES is semantically redundant because the word THREE said it all. The economy of grammatical forms and the focus on ideas make Chinese simple to learn yet powerfully expressive, a hallmark best exemplified by Chinese poems.
  • Chinese uses symbols very efficiently, and knowing about 3,000 Chinese characters is more than enough to read extensively in modern China. Ideas rarely exhaust the combination of a few thousand everyday Chinese characters, and a learned person in China is not judged by how many characters he knows. To read extensively in English, one would learn about 20,000 words to say the least. A simple example is suffice to show the difference : In English you say January, February, March etc, but in Chinese you simply say Month 1, Month 2 … I have been learning English for over ten years and I still come across new words more often than not. While Americans have to take the GRE test to enter graduate schools, Chinese students are poring over English glossaries in order to pass the qualifying English test for a master’s program in Chinese Literature. What an irony.
  • Contrary to the widespread superstition that Chinese characters are difficult to write, writing a Chinese character is not difficult at all. Even a Gecko caveman can do it. Sounds too good to be true? Just install Microsoft Pinyin on your computer, change into Chinese language input method, and type “woaizhongwen” without the quotation marks. Do you see it? You have just written 我爱中文 which means I love Chinese language. Admittedly, it takes some training to write Chinese characters by hand, but it is not difficult for Chinese kids at all. It is in their blood, remember? Besides, fewer and fewer Chinese write by hand today because typing characters into a computer screen is so easy and fast.

Ignorance of a foreign culture is always pardonable, but passing judgment about a country’s writing system with quarter-knowledge passes for stupidity.


Interpreting the Grass-mud Horse

The sudden popularity of the phrase Cao Ni Ma (草泥马) or Grass-mud Horse in the Chinese cyberspace perplexed many non-Chinese speakers. If you can understand it, you will gain such penetrating insights into the cyber culture in China.

Here is the interpretation of this phrase. The Chinese characters for the three words “grass-mud horse” is used to describe an imagined breed of horse, and Chinese netizens conveniently map it to lamas.

What makes this non-existent creature — grass-mud horse — so hilarious is these words are homophones of the household Chinese F word, the so-called national curse word of China. The disguised F word are cleverly woven into ordinary-looking video clips and stories. These seemingly innocent programs about the “grass-mud horse”, with the repetition of the cloaked F word for effect, became an act of netizen disobedience and a droll case of the cyber culture.


Will China’s economy pick up in 2009?


Yes, everybody’s confidence seems to be boosted up by the sheer amount of 4 trillion yuan to be injected into China’s economy. Plus the investment from the local governments, the total boost package would probably amounts to 10 trillion yuan, some say.

Well, there has been no detailed and specific plans as to where the huge investment goes. Besides, massive construction projects, into which the money seem to flow, will not help too much with China’s economy.

Over the past decades, the whole China has become a construction site, and no other resources had been so sucked into an industry before. It certainly helped the GDP growth and fattened the wallet of bankers, real estate sharks and tax collectors. However, the whole economy was hijacked by the malignant, overwhelming expansion of the construction boom. Other industries are so dependent on the cement and steel industry or simply withered on the vine. Not even 4 trillion investment today will restore the ‘glory’ of the distorted economic development before the recession.

The right course for China is to transit from an exported oriented economy into a domestic consumer society. But the majority now has less savings and shrunk properties. In simple words: they have no money, and I do not see how the current investment arrangement would benefit them.

Singapore experienced similar recession in 1985, and they even reduced the telephone fees to lubricate the economy.

Here is a simple cure for China’s economy:

  • Invest in the areas that directly benefit the mass majority: more hospitals, more schools and more economic housing
  • Taxing the rich and cut taxes for the wage earners
  • Break the monopolies such as CCTV, China Telecom, national Power grids and suppliers
  • Reduce the administrative fees, license fees and surcharges. Many of the services for the public good are even more expensive than those in America — just drive on the highway in these two countries

I don’t see the staggering investment is heading in that direction, so I am pessimistic about the economy in this year.