“To Copy China”(2CC) is a newly created phrase, transformed from the well-known older phrase, “Copy To China” (C2C). Chinese Internet entrepreneurs foresee that the Chinese Internet industry will end its copycat history, and will come into a true innovation stage, which can give inspiration to the West, so that Westerners will want “to Copy China”. Although 2CC sounds awkward in English, it’s a statement of “good wishes” for China to transform its business model and global image.
The last 30 years of rapid economic development in China were based on the C2C business model. The culture of copying in China was not frowned upon, but encouraged. There are three reasons:
1. Copying is the result of a closed market.
The principal reason that C2C became the leading model for the Chinese Internet and mobile application development industries was that the Chinese government blocked all major Western websites. There is a surprisingly long black list, which continues to grow.
The closed market helps Chinese copycats grow quickly. So, Google’s copycat is Baidu; YouTube’s Chinese versions include Tudou, Youku and Qiyi; Twitter is a hit application for Sina.com in the form of Sina Weibo, which means mini-broadcast. For these copycats, the C2C model cuts the costs of innovation and R & D, reduces the risk of new product trial and failure, and even saves the cost of the brand cost positioning and promotion. So, we see a lot of Chinese companies with “China’s XXX” defining themselves with names such as “Chinese Apple” (Xiaomi); When the Renren website went public, it claimed its positioning as China’s “Facebook + Zynga + Groupon + Linkedin “.
2. Copying is a sign of respect.
Although the Chinese government always propagandizes the importance of consolidation of “people’s confidence in our path, theories and system and pooling our spiritual strength for the great ‘China Dream’”, it can’t prevent Chinese consumers and markets from imitating the West.
As a developing country, China has been behind the West in the post Industrial Revolution era. Thus, the West represents more advanced productive forces and aesthetic standards. Even in China’s real estate industry, copycat culture is prevalent. Across the nation, there are many “Thames Towns”, replica Eiffel Towers, and mock Tower Bridges. The White House is a commonly copied target for Chinese government buildings. In the plastic surgery industry, the definition of pretty, is not the standard Chinese face, but closer to a Caucasian face. People want to have big eyes, high profile and nicer noses. Even Western holidays, like Christmas and Thanksgiving, are celebrated with interest in Chinese big cities. Most Chinese people who celebrate those holidays see them as happy occasions for get-togethers of friends, relatives, and couples, without any religious attachment. Chinese merchants are also happy to ride on these holidays to stimulate more sales.
In an era of rapid economic development, Chinese worship success, and easily forget all the scandals which paved the road to the success. Tang Jun is an ex-executive from Microsoft who enjoyed celebrity fame for his career success. In 2010, it was revealed that he made fake certifications about his academic education. Facing strong evidence, he apologized to the public. However, not a year after the scandal, Tang started to tour again in all major Universities to mentor young people how to get successful careers. There were no empty seats.
Although, C2C still prevails, the attitudes toward C2C are changing. Recently, Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, calling China a nation of people who can “take a test” but who are “not terribly imaginative”, applying a broad-based insult to a population of over 1 billion. But these mean comments regarding China did not stir much anger. On the contrary, many Chinese feel that this comment is insightful, and that indeed the entire Chinese education sector should reflect on how to encourage innovation.
I believe that 2CC will come eventually. However, it would be a long way to go from C2C to 2CC. In the interim, we will see more and more Chinese companies start to transform from copycats to builders of their original business ideas, which will not quickly go global but will stand up in the domestic market first. With rapid economic development, Chinese are having more and more global experience, and increasingly broad views, so they have ever more demand for original ideas and real innovation. There is a strong return of Chinese culture and identity. Lots of local Chinese culture brands have started to make a strong impact in the design industry. Meanwhile, Chinese users have their own preferences and consumption habits, to which foreign companies failed to cater. For example, Ebay failed in China since it didn’t adapt to the China market, but Alibaba won out by adding critical Chinese characteristics onto Ebay’s original business model. Now Alibaba is one of the 10 most valuable companies in the World. Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, which used to copy Apple, now has captured the hearts and minds of Asian consumers while building top-notch smartphones that cost a fraction of the iPhone’s price.
China’s economy had grown from basically zero 30 years ago to become the second-biggest economy in the world. To grow further, China has to and will transform from a copycat model to becoming a “create in China” model. And it’s time for Western markets to take inspiration from China, that is, “to copy China”.