Lack of orig­i­nal­ity

Piracy, poor prod­uct va­ri­ety threaten cre­ative fairs

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Liang Shuang con­trib­uted to the story.

Since their in­tro­duc­tion 10 years ago, cre­ative fairs have be­come a sta­ple of China’s arts and crafts re­tail scene by of­fer­ing unique, home-pro­duced goods, such as ob­jets d’art and ex­otic food­stuffs pro­duced by in­de­pen­dent crafts­peo­ple. Now, though, their suc­cess is be­ing threat­ened by the very thing they were set up to avoid — a lack of cre­ativ­ity — and poor le­gal aware­ness that has seen piracy of pop­u­lar items be­come rife.

Many de­sign­ers and or­ga­niz­ers are con­cerned that the lack of di­ver­sity will un­der­mine cre­ativ­ity and qual­ity, as they have in more-tra­di­tional craft mar­kets.

“There is a joke that says ev­ery Chi­nese city has a ‘cul­ture street’ where ‘cre­ative’ lo­cal sou­venirs are sold. In fact, it doesn’t mat­ter where tourists buy th­ese items, they all orig­i­nate in the same place — the whole­sale com­mod­ity mar­kets in Yiwu, Zhe­jiang prov­ince (a city fa­mous for cheap re­pro­duc­tions),” said Zhang Zheng, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor at the school of jour­nal­ism and com­mu­ni­ca­tion at Ts­inghua Univer­sity in Beijing.

Cre­ative fairs orig­i­nated in the United King­dom, and were in­tro­duced to China by Ci­tyZine, a mag­a­zine in Guangzhou, Guang­dong prov­ince, in 2006. The name of the mar­ket, which was de­vised as a side project for the mag­a­zine, is a pun on both “idea mart” and “I’m art” and is in­tended to em­pha­size cre­ativ­ity.

The idea caught on, re­sult­ing in sim­i­lar fairs be­ing es­tab­lished across the coun­try, but that ini­tial suc­cess is de­clin­ing as an in­creas­ing num­ber of repli­cas of a few pop­u­lar items ap­pear on mar­ket stalls na­tion­wide.

Wang Wen­tao, founder of cn-imart, a clas­si­fied ad web­site for cre­ative mar­kets, said the fairs have moved away from their orig­i­nal stance and are now a re­flec­tion of the in­fa­mous cul­ture streets, of­fer­ing the same lim­ited range of items, such as note­books, T-shirts and can­vas bags, re­gard­less of lo­ca­tion.

Lack of reg­u­la­tion

Ac­cord­ing to Wang, a lack of reg­u­la­tion and over­sight means it’s dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish whether a piece is an af­fec­tion­ate pas­tiche of an ex­ist­ing style or a straight copy that has been re­pro­duced for sale.

“Al­most ev­ery ma­jor city has fa­mous cre­ative fairs for lo­cals, al­though some are known across a wider area. It’s nat­u­ral that both in­ten­tional and un­con­scious copy­ing oc­curs — af­ter all, a cer­tain fa­mous writer never apol­o­gized for pla­gia­rism that was ap­par­ent to oth­ers — and is­sues are re­solved by sim­ply pay­ing a fine, which is usu­ally far less than the amount the coun­ter­feit­ers made,” he said.

The lack of orig­i­nal­ity and repli­ca­tion of pop­u­lar items have seen the num­ber of events or­ga­nized by iMart, the old­est player in the field, shrink toone per month from its hey­day, when it hosted about 10. In the past year, iMart’s page on Douban, a ma­jor on­line chan­nel for de­sign­ers ap­ply­ing to par­tic­i­pate in cre­ative mar­kets, has reg­is­tered just one new­post.

Mean­while, Big Fish Mar­ket, a renowned or­ga­nizer in Xi’an, the cap­i­tal of the north­west­ern prov­ince of Shaanxi, has an­nounced that it will hold its swan­song later this month. A post on the com­pany’s so­cial me­dia ac­count reads: “Be­cause we can’t stand the un­chang­ing na­ture of things, we don’t like be­ing the same as other peo­ple. Right? This is also why you love us. We will bid farewell on Oct 22-23”.

Piracy and pun­ish­ment

Wang, from cn-imart, said reg­u­la­tions and tougher pu­n­ish­ments for coun­ter­feit­ers are the only way to erad­i­cate piracy and safe­guard de­sign­ers’ rights, but a num­ber of or­ga­niz­ers say the de­sign­ers are part of the prob­lem.

“Many de­sign­ers lack aware­ness of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty pro­tec­tion,” said Zhang Lei, CEO of Nau­tilus Fair, one of China’s big­gest cre­ative fair or­ga­niz­ers. “Most of them only be­gin to look at the law once a prob­lem has sur­faced.”

Yan Shengxue, a pro­fes­sor from the School of Fine Arts at Cen­tral China Nor­mal Univer­sity in Wuhan, cap­i­tal of Hubei prov­ince, said the long pro­duc­tion and pro­mo­tion pro­cesses are ex­ac­er­bat­ing the prob­lem be­cause they al­low coun­ter­feit­ers time to pro­duce their copies.

To tackle the prob­lem, some or­ga­niz­ers have adopted a proac­tive ap­proach. “We eval­u­ate the items be­fore they go on sale. Most of us are ex­perts, and we are usu­ally able to de­ter­mine whether an ar­ti­fact has been pi­rated, based on the maker’s style and qual­i­fi­ca­tions,” said Xiao Xu, or­ga­nizer of iMart Pingyao An­cient City, a fair held in the UNESCO her­itage site of Pingyao An­cient City in Shanxi prov­ince.

“We hold de­sign com­pe­ti­tions and in­vite ex­perts to select the best items, the ones that show true orig­i­nal­ity,” he added.

Stricter se­lec­tion pro­to­cols have been in­tro­duced at many fairs, and or­ga­niz­ers care­fully as­sess the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of po­ten­tial par­tic­i­pants be­fore is­su­ing en­try passes. More­over, so-called hitch­hik­ers— de­sign­ers who fail to make the cut, but il­lic­itly share booths with friends who have passed the se­lec­tion cri­te­ria — have been banned be­cause they of­ten sell unau­tho­rized mer­chan­dise.

“We can’t con­done this type of be­hav­ior, sowe fine the reg­is­tered de­signer they hitch­hiked with,” Zhang Lei said.

Le­gal sup­port to com­bat piracy has also been up­dated. “We are ne­go­ti­at­ing with le­gal firms about co­op­er­a­tion to bet­ter pro­tect in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights,” he added. “De­sign­ers need to raise aware­ness, too.”

Fur­ther devel­op­ment

To counter the lack of prod­uct di­ver­sity, fair or­ga­niz­ers and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments are de­vis­ing ways of fur­ther de­vel­op­ing the in­dus­try, rather than the mar­ket it­self. In some cases, set­tling down, in­stead of or­ga­niz­ing reg­u­lar gath­er­ings, has proved a pop­u­lar so­lu­tion.

“We have been try­ing to es­tab­lish per­ma­nent brick and­stores and even zones for dis­tin­guished de­sign­ers,” Zhang Lei said. “In this way, we are look­ing at things over the long term, so de­sign­ers can de­vote them­selves to their trade and not be dis­tracted by other is­sues.”

Yu Jian­guo, deputy di­rec­tor of the Hangzhou Cul­tural and Cre­ative As­so­ci­a­tion in Zhe­jiang, said the gov­ern­ment has helped to pro­mote cre­ative fairs and up­grade the sec­tor. “Many or­ga­niz­ers have re­ceived sub­si­dies for hold­ing events, es­pe­cially in ma­jor cities. With this help, we have been able to send some of our best de­sign­ers over­seas tomeet with their for­eign peers.”

Since 2014, the gov­ern­ment has pro­moted a cam­paign of mass in­no­va­tion, re­sult­ing in the cre­ative in­dus­tries en­joy­ing fa­vor­able poli­cies, such as gen­er­ous sub­si­dies, to aid devel­op­ment.

Ex­perts have also sug­gested new ways to help de­sign­ers,

Many de­sign­ers lack aware­ness of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty pro­tec­tion.”

Zhang Lei, CEO of Nau­tilus Fair, one of China’s big­gest cre­ative fair or­ga­niz­ers

es­pe­cially fi­nan­cially.

“One plau­si­ble way would be through gov­ern­ment pur­chases of goods from cre­ative mar­kets,” Zhang Zheng said, re­fer­ring to a pro­posed pol­icy that would see gov­ern­ment de­part­ments buy­ing items for dis­play or prac­ti­cal use, thus pro­vid­ing de­sign­ers with some sort of in­come.

In the end, it all comes back cre­ativ­ity, ac­cord­ing to Wang: “De­spite thep­rob­lems, the­most sig­nif­i­cant thing for de­sign­ers is the orig­i­nal pur­pose of cre­ativ­ity and the con­sis­tency of staying true to that ideal.”


Vis­i­tors stroll around a court­yard where the White Bazaar, a cre­ative fair, was held last month dur­ing the an­nual Beijing De­sign Week, cospon­sored by the Min­istry of Cul­ture and Beijing Mu­nic­i­pal Gov­ern­ment.


A seller dis­plays his pot­ted plants at a stall dur­ing a cre­ative fair in Changchun, Jilin prov­ince.

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