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China's Shanzhai Culture: ‘Grabism’ and the politics of hybridity

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>2015
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Contemporary China
Issue number92
Number of pages20
Pages (from-to)260-279
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date1/09/14
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This article focuses on the broad spread of shanzhai culture in 2008, exploring the central question: what is it that brings such disparate phenomena together under one label? Shanzhai things have typically emerged from new spaces for participation in production beyond the control of formerly monopolistic authorities. But things are not necessarily shanzhai by birth, for it is also an identity affixed to things by consumers. The shanzhai identity's inherent ambiguity—almost the same but not quite—brings with it a dimension of disruption of authority (cf. Bhabha), but its political standpoints are elusive. Using insights from hybridity theory, this article characterizes shanzhai as a contemporary successor to what Lu Xun termed Grabism: the active reappropriation of economic and cultural authority for diverse local purposes, which have themselves been shaped and redefined by those same authorities.