China is the world’s largest country and its second largest economy, just behind the United States. The foundation of China’s economy is manufacturing. Put simply, they’re very good at making things. But they’re also good at making fake things that look like real things, a “little” process familiar to those in the know (i.e. everyone) as counterfeiting.
Just kidding, there’s nothing little about the counterfeiting market. In fact, it’s a $250 billion a year industry in China alone. Everything from shoes to DVDs to watches to designer handbags can be found on the counterfeit market. But that’s just the tip of the (probably counterfeited) iceberg. It’s a big problem, one the Chinese government has been eager to crack down on. Every big shot who gets busted, however, is quickly replaced by two more junior counterfeiters eager to get a slice of the very lucrative fake pie.
While the process was once limited to luxury fakes like Fauxlexes and Louise Vuitton bags, the demand for counterfeit goods now branches into frighteningly risky markets, such as technology, food and pharmaceuticals. The Chinese government and the regulatory agencies of all its trading partners are locked in a never-ending battle with counterfeiters to rid the world of Chinese fakes. But, as is too often the case, the criminals are ahead of the curve, constantly devising newer and more sophisticated schemes to fool the consumer. So, until there’s no longer a market willing to pay bottom dollar for the latest in fakery, counterfeits aren’t going anywhere.
15. Shoes & Apparel
Just because counterfeiting has now branched into new territories, don’t think for a minute that the counterfeiters have stopped faking the basics. Knockoff shoes and clothes are the bread and butter of the counterfeit industry, and you better believe China’s on the ball when it comes to rolling out that fresh new pair of Nibe shoes. Oh, that’s not your style? How about a comfy pair of utilitarian Corcs for your night shift at the hospital? Of course, you can always splurge for a new pair of Adadas, but then you’d just be showing off.
14. Apple Store
Forget GDP and GNP, the true measure of a country’s economic success is measured in Apple Stores. Generally speaking, Apple Stores tend to spring up in nice, affluent neighborhoods. Whether this is because the people who live there are more likely to buy Apple products or because Apple wants people to associate their products with general wealth is immaterial: The bottom line is Apple equals money in many peoples’ eyes.
So, perhaps it’s no surprise that in the land where counterfeit is king, there are no less than three fake Apple Stores (or, Apple “Stoers,” if you go by their own signs) in Kunming, China. Entire stores are completely faked. They look exactly like Apple Stores, mind you, complete with Genius Bars and employees in those iconic blue shirts. But the stores are in no way affiliated with Apple. Reports vary as to whether the products they sell are also fakes or if they’re authentic Apple products obtained in a less than legal manner.
13. Child Singers
Now, before you go running to Twitter lambasting the Chinese for cloning children, we should mention that this isn’t a counterfeit in the strictest sense of the word. Instead, during the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, authorities replaced a cute child singer with an even cuter kid who was only pretending to sing. Apparently, Chinese Olympic officials felt that the entire country would be unfairly judged due to the perceived unattractiveness of one child. Maybe we’re wrong, but when you start basing your actions on how good-looking you think kids are, you’ve got some serious issues.
12. 110 Million Condoms
While fake Apple Stores and lip-synching kids aren’t really hurting anyone (except that one poor kid), this one had the potential to be lethal millions of times over. In April 2013, the government of Ghana seized over 110 million Chinese condoms, claiming many had holes, were insufficiently lubricated, and were subject to breaking under pressure. Had the Ghanaian government not acted swiftly, there’s no telling how many unwanted pregnancies and potentially life-threatening STDs may have befallen the country.
And, for a little more insight into the shady world of Chinese condom manufacturing, the same company that tried to pass off the counterfeit condoms to Ghana also got busted for lubricating the prophylactics with vegetable oil (which degrades the rubber) and recycling used condoms into hairbands (which degrades our souls).
The Shandong Institute of Light Industry in Shandong Province is a real, honest to goodness university. But in June 2012, 68 students who thought they had been enrolled in the university found out on the eve of their graduation that they had been duped for the last four years. A man named Zhao Lianshan set up a scam wherein he forged acceptance letters to hundreds of local students who had underachieved on the college entrance exams. The letters told the students they had been accepted in a special pilot program at the university and would be allowed to enroll as full-time students.
Zhao Lianshan had it all planned out. He rented classrooms and offices from the university, hired fake professors and administrators, and doctored numerous university documents to make him and his “staff” look legit. All the while, he was collecting tuition money from all of students in the program. When the jig was finally up on the eve of graduation, 68 students had lost four years of their lives and Zhao Lianshan was in the wind.
Another instance of an entire store, really an entire retail concept, being faked. China boasts 9 authentic Ikea stores and at least one completely fake store. And guess where this fake Ikea (Fakea?) is located: if you said Kunming, right down the street from the fake Apple Stores, you’d be correct. The city of Kunming must really like Western brands because they’ve already got half a strip mall’s worth of fake stores.
The Fakea (real name: 11 Furniture) is modeled to look exactly like a real Ikea, from the way the displays are set up, to the blue and gold color scheme, right down to the serpentine path customers must walk to get through the store. But here’s the kicker; they sell genuine, if unauthorized, Ikea products. So it’s the style of the store being knocked off, and not the products they sell.
In 2008, authorities in Los Angeles seized 70,000 tubes of chemically tainted toothpaste. This one has wrong-doers on both sides of the Pacific: the Chinese manufacturer who produced the poisonous mouth polish, and the American distributors who tried to sell it. The toothpaste was polluted with diethylene glycol (DEG), a chemical banned by the FDA for its detrimental effects on the liver and kidneys. If diethylene glycol doesn’t ring a bell on name alone, perhaps its most common application will: It’s one of the main ingredients in antifreeze. So, if you lived in the Greater Los Angeles area in the late 2000s, there’s a fairly decent chance you were brushing with antifreeze.
In late 2012, a businessman representing a Chinese company admitted to selling thousands of counterfeit airbags to various car dealerships throughout North America. The fake bags are identical to authentic ones in every way but one: they don’t work. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that at least 0.1% of cars in the United States are now equipped with counterfeit Chinese airbags. That doesn’t sound like much but it still amounts to thousands of vehicles. The fake bags can be found in models from many different manufacturers, including Honda, Toyota, Mercedes, BMW, and Chevrolet.
Right now, you’re probably thinking: how do you counterfeit eggs? The answer: very carefully. Counterfeiters first need a egg-shaped mold. Then, they add pre-measured amounts of resin, starch, and extract (usually from algae) to make the egg white. The yolk is made up of a separate mix of resin and different colored pigments. Finally, the shell is made from a combination of wax, gypsum powder, and calcium carbonate.
All in all, it sounds like an incredibly complicated process just to turn around and sell it for a few pennies less than a good old-fashioned chicken egg. But, there’s obviously a market for it. So, the next time you’re in China, ask around to make sure the egg you’re about to eat actually came from a bird and not a chemistry lab.
6. Baby Formula
In 2004, authorities in China arrested over 50 individuals involved in the production and distribution of fake infant formula, which was suspected in the deaths of dozens of children in the city of Fuyang. The formula was found to have little to no nutrients and infants that were being fed it were essentially starving to death. Many of the children who were drinking the formula were diagnosed with what Chinese doctors called “big head disease,” where their heads would swell while their bodies wasted away. Ultimately, all of those responsible were arrested and convicted by the Chinese government.
Similar to the entry on eggs above, the appropriate questions here (and for the next several entries) are How? followed closely by Why?
First, the how: Apparently, enterprising individuals in China have figured out a way to make imitation rice by mixing potatoes, sweet potatoes, and industrial resin and then extruding the mixture through a sieve. The result looks exactly like rice and tastes exactly like plastic.
And now, the why: Well, scientists have actually determined that measured amounts of resin intake can be beneficial to the human bo… Nah, just messing with you. It’s all about the money!
China has an abundance of many things: land, people, resources, and of course pigs. What they don’t have much of (at least comparatively speaking) is cows. As a result, beef tends to be much more expensive than pork in China. Dishonest restaurateurs, sensing an opportunity to make significantly more money, devised a methodology of turning pork into “beef” (and, yes, the quotation marks are absolutely necessary).
Apparently, by marinating everyday pork in equal parts high-quality beef extract (???) and a certain glazing agent, restaurants have created a pork product that looks and tastes reasonably like beef. Rest assured, it’s highly illegal in China to pass one meat off as another. But it’s also too easy a scam for many restaurants to pass up.
Walnut vendors in Zhengzhou, a city in Henan province, have come up with an ingenious way to get more money for the same amount of nuts. When patrons discard the shells of recently purchased walnuts, the vendors collect them. They then add rocks and chunks of concrete wrapped in paper inside and glue the shells together. The walrocks are then mixed in with the regular nuts and sold off to unsuspecting customers.
Luckily, no one cracks walnuts with their teeth, so very few people end up biting into bits of concrete. The just realize they’ve been duped and then go about the probably arduous task of finding another walnut vendor.
We don’t eat much mutton in North America. But in other parts of the world it’s a staple, a delicacy even. In China, however, it’s rat. OK, that’s not quite fair. The vast majority of mutton in China is normal mutton, fresh from… Whatever animal mutton comes from. It’s definitely not rat, though. But in several high-profile incidents from 2013, meat distributors in eastern China were suspected of, and subsequently convicted of, passing off rat, fox, and mink meat as mutton to innocent restaurants and customers. The rat-to-mutton conversion process is disquietingly similar to the pork-to-beef process we mentioned earlier.
So, the next time you’re in China, maybe just skip the meat altogether and opt for the vegetarian option. As long as it doesn’t have walnuts in it. Or eggs. Or rice.
1. White People
Who doesn’t love white people? Wait, don’t answer that. Suffice it to say, the Chinese apparently love white people. So much so, in fact, that they’ve begun counterfeiting a very specific breed of white person in China: the generic, middle-aged American businessman.
The so-called “White Guy in a Tie” has become a staple of Chinese companies looking to expand into foreign markets. Many Chinese executives feel, rightly or wrongly, that having a Western man (almost always a white American or Canadian) in a position of perceived power can do far more to legitimize the business in the eyes of foreign companies than anything else. Remember, the White Guy in a Tie does very little work and is often compensated handsomely. He’s just there because he’s white.
White men of the world rejoice: you finally caught a break in life!