Real fake

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In "Keepin' it real fake, part CCXVII: Not even Obama can sell us on BlockBerry", most of the folks at endgadget seem to think that the following ad is some sort of joke or an invitation to political demagoguery:

Unfortunately, this is an ad for an actual product that is being sold in China. It is a wireless handheld device made by HA1FO2 TONG1XIN4 哈佛通信. No, that is not "Laughing Buddha Communications." They call themselves HAFF-COMM in English, but in Chinese they are capitalizing on the fact that HA1FO2 is the standard transcription for Harvard. All Chinese who see that ad will think they are "Harvard Communications." Just as the pirates realized that they would have been infringing on BlackBerry's trademark if they used it outright, and so cleverly changed it to BlockBerry (quite an irony in the land of the Great Firewall!), they ingeniously avoided using the name Harvard in their English name. They also brilliantly played the mirror image trick — remember "Massachusetts is red(-faced)" — with the BlackBerry logo. And, by the way, the pirates creatively called their device the XUAN4FENG1 旋風 ("Whirlwind") 9500.

This type of few-holds-barred entrepreneur is called a SHAN1ZHAI4 山寨, which more literally may be translated as "mountain fastness / stronghold / stockade."

[A tip of the hat to Michael Carr.]


  1. dr pepper said,

    June 20, 2009 @ 6:36 pm

    And CNN still calls that place "communist" China. Yeah, they're communist the way John D Rockefeller was communist.

  2. Fluxor said,

    June 20, 2009 @ 7:36 pm

    This is all par for the course. There's a brand that has operated for quite a while now under Panaosonic. You can see this brand in China, HK, and in Chinatowns around the world.

  3. Jonathan Badger said,

    June 20, 2009 @ 7:44 pm

    Oh, the engadget folks *know* that it's a real product. Their common postings entitled "Keeping It Real Fake" are all about fake iPods, fake iPhones, etc. They aren't doubting the existence of such products; the "fake" part is that presumably the manufacturers of these products are intending to mimic more established products.

  4. coqdorysme said,

    June 20, 2009 @ 9:57 pm

    I believe 山寨 comes closer to something like mountain bandit.

  5. Jason Cullen said,

    June 21, 2009 @ 12:23 am

    I don't believe CNN calls them that, but Lou Dobbs certainly talks about 'Red China'. (I often said while I lived in China that the only thing red was the flag…)

    I never say 'Hafo' ("Harvard") written, and only now 'get' it. Harvard the laughing Buddha? HA!

  6. peter said,

    June 21, 2009 @ 3:42 am

    The pirated versions of running shoes one can buy in East Asia are often made in the same factories by the same employees on the same production lines as the real shoes, such are the wonders of global outsourcing. I wonder if that is also the case for these "fake" electronic devices.

    The same phenomena happens in reverse in western supermarket chains, where retailer own-label brands (eg, Tesco baked beans) are usually made by the original manufacturer brands themselves (eg, Heinz), working under out-sourcing contracts to the supermarkets.

  7. ambrosen said,

    June 21, 2009 @ 7:03 am

    Surprisingly, given that you'd expect the number in a title of this style: "Such and such, part %R" to be completely made up, it appears from a brief look at Engadget's site that this actually is the 217th keeping it real fake article.

    "Keeping it real fake" is also a pretty neat phrase: with "real" getting to work as a noun and an adjective.

  8. Stuart said,

    June 21, 2009 @ 7:53 am

    "There's a brand that has operated for quite a while now under Panaosonic."

    Here in Aotearoa a budget chain used to stock electronics from Panasony, which I'm sure were sourced from China.

  9. Zubon said,

    June 22, 2009 @ 8:31 am

    I am struck more by the pun with the picture of President Obama. "Barack (Barry) Obama," pronounced with the appropriate r/l ambiguity, is perhaps too obvious not to have been mentioned at Engadget (sorry, I'm not pursuing the link just now).

    And now I am driven to check the proper spelling of his name in katakana.

  10. Faldone said,

    June 22, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

    I note that the BlackBerry logo is flipped top to bottom, not left to right. The picture of Obama is, however flipped left to right. Note the flag pin.

  11. Jerome Chiu said,

    June 22, 2009 @ 2:05 pm

    One of the most hilarious must be Suny Ericcsom.

    Many Hong Kong brands are "used" this way as well: Giardono (pirating Giordano); Bossino (pirating Bossini); G3000 (pirating G2000); and, last in this very incomplete list but certainly not least, Zhou Liufu 周六福 (a convenient combination of two different jewellers, viz. Chow Tai Fook 周大福 and Luk Fook 六福).

  12. Kragen Javier Sitaker said,

    June 25, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

    There are innumerable examples of confusingly similar brands. I purchased SQMY batteries in Ecuador, for example (much to my sorrow, because not only did they not last long, they leaked and screwed up my flashlight.) And I'm pretty sure that most of the brands of Brick Game are made by different manufacturers; they have too many useless differences.

  13. Lareina said,

    October 12, 2009 @ 12:24 pm

    LOL……..blockberry for blackberry……….Haff for Harvard………………..OMG you made my day prof……..this is so funny…….
    "Shan1 Zhai4" in a brlliant word means something fake – like replica of famous brands (i.e. Blockberry for blcakberry)
    and when i was in china for summer I found SO many ppl using iPhone which surprised me becuz I only get my iPhone 3G in Aug back in L.A. soon i found they are not iPhones the are LPhones or MPhones or whaev….that's hilarious….
    and i used to saw a women on the street with a handbag that says HEMERS instead of Hermes…..
    srsly hilarious…………
    and they have handbag looks exactly like Louis Vuitton except the tag on there was "lu4 yi4 wei1 deng1" – the chnese translating of the french word "Louis Vuitton"…
    Chinese is so much fun=)

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