BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent) as a post-shanzhai phenomenonAn analysis from the perspective of antifragility and modularization

  1. Benítez-Eyzaguirre, Lucía 1
  2. Gordo, Angel 2
  1. 1 Universidad de Cádiz

    Universidad de Cádiz

    Cádiz, España


  2. 2 Universidad Complutense de Madrid/TRANSOC
Teknokultura: Revista de Cultura Digital y Movimientos Sociales

ISSN: 1549-2230

Year of publication: 2023

Issue Title: China & The Digital Turn

Volume: 20

Issue: 2023

Pages: 15-25

Type: Article

DOI: 10.5209/TEKN.87890 DIALNET GOOGLE SCHOLAR lock_openDialnet editor

More publications in: Teknokultura: Revista de Cultura Digital y Movimientos Sociales


Shanzhai refers to the production of mobile phones that imitate popular brands, a practice that became widespread in China around a decade ago. This form of production is characterized by modularity: the division of products into small independent components that make it easier to update and replace parts without affecting the whole. In this article, we analyze modularization as a post-shanzhai phenomenon in China’s largest technology companies – Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT) – in order to compare them to their Western equivalents: Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft (GAFAM). Instead of exoticizing Chinese technological development or undertaking another postcolonial reading, we use the concepts of ‘boundary objects’ and ‘antifragility’ to put the revolutionary values that endure in post-shanzhai China (and elsewhere) into perspective. In addition, we conclude that a fuller sociohistorical understanding of the ambivalences of shanzhai may encourage more self-critical understandings of Western technological and digital developments.

Bibliographic References

  • Abbas, Ackbar (2008). Faking globalization. In Andreas Huyssen (Ed.), Other cities, other worlds: Urban imaginaries in a globalizing age (pp. 243-266). Duke University Press.
  • Anderson, Chris (2012, June 22). How I accidentally kickstarted the domestic drone boom. Every industry has its garage-creation myth. Here’s mine, on the start of the personal-drone movement. Wired.
  • Arteaga, Félix (2019). Disrupción tecnológica y orden global. UNISCI Journal, 51, October, 109-128.
  • Banco de España (2019). Informe trimestral de la economía española. Boletín económico 4/2019.
  • Benítez-Eyzaguirre, Lucía (2019). Ética y transparencia para la detección de sesgos algorítmicos de género. Estudios sobre el mensaje periodístico, 25(3), 1307-1320.
  • Benítez-Eyzaguirre, Lucía (2021). La intermediación invisible: la política oculta del software. In García Orosa, B. (Coord.), Ciberciudadanía. Retos en la democracia digitalizada (pp. 137-172). Comunicación Social Ediciones y Publicaciones.
  • Carreño, Montse (2017). La potencialidad de lo falso y la cultura shanzhai. Inmaterial. Diseño, Arte y Sociedad, 2(4). 49–73.
  • Chen, Julie Yujie (2020). The mirage and politics of participation in China’s platform economy. Javnost—The Public, 27(2), 154–170.
  • Chen, Julie Yujie, Zhifei, Mao, Zhifwi & Qiu, Jack Linchuan (2018). Super-sticky WeChat and Chinese society. Emerald.
  • Chen, Shin-Horng (2013). China’s good-enough innovation: Shanzhai handsets and shanzhai economy. In Philip Cooke, Glen Searle and Kevin O’Connor (Eds.), The economic geography of the IT industry in the Asia Pacific Region (pp. 169-188). Routledge.
  • Chubb, Andrew (2015). China’s shanzhai culture: ‘Grabism’ and the politics of hybridity. Journal of Contemporary China, 24(92), 260–279.
  • Corral-Hernández, David (2020, Septembre 29). 5G, una carrera por la hegemonía y el futuro con muchos beneficios. Atalayar.
  • Creemers, Rogier (2018). Disrupting the Chinese state: New actors and new factors. Asiascape: Digital Asia, 5(3), 169-197.
  • Cui, Xi (2012). Discourse on shanzhai cultural production in Chinese newspapers: Authencity and legitimacy. Chinese Journal of Communication, 5(4), 399–416.
  • Davis, Mark & Xiao, Jian (2021). De-westernizing platform studies: History and logics of Chinese and US platforms. International Journal of Communication, 15, 103-122.
  • De-Rivera, Javier (2021). Crítica de la economía colaborativa. Análisis del modelo y sus alternativas desde una perspectiva sociológica. CSIC.
  • Dong, Ming (2015). Catch-down innovation, imitative entrepreneurship and shanzhai production in China. In Tony Fu-Lai Yu & Ho-Don Yan (Eds.), Handbook of East Asian entrepreneurship (pp. 45-57). Routledge.
  • Foucault, Michel (2005 [1970]). The order of things: An archaeology of the human sciences. Routledge.
  • Gordo, Angel (1996). The rhetorics of gender identity clinics: Transsexuals and other boundary objects. In Gill Aitken, Pam Alldred, Robin Allwood, Tom Billington, Erica Burman, Brenda Goldberg, Colleen Heenan, Angel Gordo, Debs Mark and Sam Warner, Psychology discourse practice: From regulation to resistance (pp. 177-200). Taylor & Francis.
  • Gordo, Angel (1995). Gendered psy-techno-complexes: The dynamics of boundary objects [Tesis Doctoral]. The University of Manchester (United Kingdom).
  • Gordo, Angel & De-Rivera, Javier (2021). La economía de plataforma: un ecosistema social y políticamente degenerativo del empleo / The platform economy: A socially and politically degenerative employment ecosystem. In S. M. Ruesga, J. Baquero Jorge and L. Delgado (Eds.), Diálogos sobre socieconomía: Informalidad en América Latina (pp. 269-286). Tirant Humanidades.
  • Han, Byung-Chul (2017). Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese. MIT Press.
  • Hennessey, William (2012). Deconstructing shanzhai-China’s copycat counterculture: Catch me if you can. Campbell Law Review, 34(3), 609-660.
  • Ho, Josephine (2019). Creative ‘shanzhai labour’? In Jeroen de Kloet, Chow Yiu Fai & Lena Scheen (Eds.) Boredom, shanzhai, and digitisation in the time of creative China (pp. 171-185) Amsterdam University Press.
  • Ho, Josephine (2010, June 18). Shanzhai: Economic/cultural production through the cracks of globalization. [Plenary Speech]. Crossroads: 2010 Cultural Studies Conference, Hong Kong.
  • Jiang, Min, & Fu, King-wa (2018). Chinese social media and big data: Big data, big brother, big profit? Policy & Internet, 10(4), 372-392.
  • Keane, Michael & Yu, Haiqin (2019). A digital empire in the making: China’s outbound digital platforms. International Journal of Communication, 13, 4624-4641.
  • Keane, Michael & Zhao, Elaine Jing (2012). Renegades on the frontier of innovation: The shanzhai grassroots communities of Shenzhen in China’s creative economy. Eurasian Geography and Economics 53(2), 217.
  • Keane, Michael (2013). China’s new creative clusters: Governance, human capital and investment. Routledge.
  • Kloet, Jeroen de, Chow Yiu Fai & Lena Scheen (Eds.) (2019). Boredom, shanzhai, and digitisation in the time of creative China. Amsterdam University Press.
  • Kuang, Wenbo (2018). Social media in China. Springer.
  • Lessig, Lawrence (2004). Por una cultura libre. Cómo los grandes medios están usando la tecnología y las leyes para clausurar la cultura y controlar la creatividad. Traficantes de sueños.
  • Li, Ling & Zhou, Honggeng (2013). Manufacturing practices in China. International Journal of Production Economics, 146(1), 1-3.
  • Liang, Lawrence (2009, July 20). Piracy, creativity and infraestructure: Rethinking access to culture. SSRN.
  • Liao, Sara (2017). Fashioning China: Precarious creativity of women designers in shanzhai culture, Communication, Culture and Critique, 10(3), 422–440,
  • Lindtner, Silvia (2015). Hacking with Chinese characteristics the promises of the maker movement against China’s manufacturing culture. Science, Technology & Human Values, 40, 854-879.
  • Lipton, Zachary C. (2018). The mythos of model interpretability. ACM Queue,16(3), 1-27.
  • Manovich, Lev (2013). El software toma el mando. Editorial UOC.
  • Meier, Leslie M. & Manzerolle, Vincent R. (2018). Rising tides? Data capture, platform accumulation, and new monopolies in the digital music economy. New Media & Society, 21(3).
  • Negro, Gianluigi (2017). Internet in China. Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Pang, Laikwan (2012). Creativity and its discontents: China’s creative industries and intellectual property rights offenses. Duke University Press.
  • Paradise, James F. (2013). The new intellectual property rights environment in China: Impact of two membership and China’s “innovation society” makeover. Asian Journal of Social Science, 41(3–4), 312–332.
  • Parker, Ian (2007). Revolution in psychology: Alienation to emancipation. Routledge.
  • Riad, Lukas Adel (2021). A systematic literature review of shanzhai: An alternative approach to western-centric conceptions of innovation and making? [Master’s thesis]. Programme Technology Governance and Digital Transformation. Tallinn University.
  • Rong, Ke, Liu, Zheng & Shi, Yongjiang (2011). Reshaping the business ecosystem in China: Case studies and implications. Journal of Science and Technology Policy in China, 2(2), 171-192.
  • Rouvroy, Antoinette & Berns, Thomas (2013). Gouvernementalité algorithmique et perspectives d’émancipation: Le disparate comme condition d’individuation par la relation? Politique des algorithmes. Les métriques du web. Reseaux, 31(177), 163-196.
  • Sennett, Richard (1996). Flesh and stone: The body and the city in Western civilization. W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Sennett, Richard (2006). The culture of the new capitalism. Yale.
  • Sennett, Richard (2008). The craftsman. Yale University Press.
  • Shay, Jason, Shieh, Peter, Tsai, Ming-Piao & Cheng, Hsiang-Jui (2020). The emergence and growth path of shanzhai firms. Proceedings of Engineering and Technology Innovation, 14, 29-38.
  • Spence, Jonathan D. (1990). The search for modern China (2nd ed.) New York: W.W. Norton Company.
  • Stallman, Richard. (1997) (2008). El derecho a la lectura. In Richard Stallman, Wu Ming, César Rendueles & Kembrew McLeod (Eds.) Contra el copyright (pp. 10-21). Tumbona Ediciones.
  • Star, Susan Leigh (1990). Power, technology and the phenomenology of conventions: On being allergic to onions. The Sociological Review, 38(1_suppl), 26–56.
  • Star, Susan Leigh & Griesemer, James R. (1989). Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of vertebrate zoology, 1907-39, Social Studies of Science, 19, 387-420.
  • Stuart, Toby & Anderson, Chris (2015). 3D Robotics: Disrupting the drone market. California Management Review, 57(2), 91-112.
  • Taleb, Nassim Nicholas (2012). Antifrágil. Las cosas que se benefician del desorden. Paidós Ibérica.
  • Van Dijck, José (2016). La cultura de la conectividad: Una historia crítica de las redes sociales. Siglo Veintiuno Editores
  • Wallis, Cara & Qiu, Jack Linchuan (2012). Shanzhaiji and the transformation of the local mediascape in Shenzhen. In Wanning Sun & Jenny Chio (Eds.), Mapping media in China (pp. 109-125). Routledge.
  • Wang, Bai-shi (2014). The rise of Mediatek: Disruptive innovation in mobile phone chipset industry. [Master of Science in Business Administration Strategy and Management in International Organizations]. Linköping University.
  • Wu Ming Collective (2005). Copyright y maremoto. In Richard Stallman, Wu Ming, César Rendueles & Kembrew McLeod (Eds.) (2008). Contra el copyright (pp. 23-34). Tumbona Ediciones.
  • Xu, Jian (2016). Shanzhai media culture: Failed intervention to the disingenuous neoliberal logic of Chinese media, Journal of Contemporary China, 26(104), 249-262.
  • Xu, Fangqi & Muneyoshi, Hideki (2017). A case study of DJI, the top drone maker in the World. Kindai Management Review, 5, 97-104.
  • Yang, Fan (2016). From bandit cell phones to branding the nation: Three moments of shanzhai in WTO-era China. positions, 24(3), 589–619.
  • Yang, Fan (2015). Faked in China: Nation branding, counterfeit culture, and globalization. Indiana University Press.
  • Yang, Fan (2009). The politics of exhibition. China’s ‘fake’ in the 2008 Beijing Olimpics. AntiTHESIS, 19, 56-70.
  • Yap, Chuin-Wei (2019, December 25). State support helped fuel Huawei’s global rise. The Wall Street Journal.
  • Ye, Lisha, & Yang, Huiqin (2020). From digital divide to social inclusion: A tale of mobile platform empowerment in rural areas. Sustainability, 12(6), 2424.
  • Ye, Lisha, Dai; Yishu & Dong, Xiaoying (2022). The enabling mechanism of shuren culture in ICT4D: A case study of rural China. Technology in Society, 68, 101842.
  • Yin, Yiyi & Fung, Anthony (2019). 2.1 new productive culture shanzhai or second degree of creation?
  • Yu, Haiqing (2015). After the ‘steamed bun’: E’gao and its postsocialist politics. Chinese Literature Today 5(1), 55–64.
  • Yuefan, Xiao (2019). Maoism and disruptive creativity. In Jeroen de Kloet, Chow Yiu Fai & Lena Scheen (Eds.), Boredom, shanzhai, and digitisation in the time of creative China (pp. 186-210).
  • Zhang, Lin & Fung, Anthony (2013). The myth of ‘shanzhai’ culture and the paradox of digital democracy in China. Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, 14(3), 401–416.