What hap­pened to all of Hong Kong’s coun­ter­feit goods?

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The city’s faan baan (pi­rated soft­ware, lit­er­ally “mul­ti­plied edi­tion”) in­dus­try has been di­min­ished by no less pow­er­ful a force than the pres­sure of progress. It wasn’t so long ago that you would head to Sham Shui Po’s Golden Com­puter Ar­cade for your pi­rated soft­ware. The shops would sim­ply com­prise CD racks run­ning the length of the wall, stacked with plas­tic pack­ets with inkjet-print­outs of soft­ware boxes. In­side the packet was a burned CD, per­haps with a se­rial num­ber scrawled on in per­ma­nent marker.

These were mo­bile op­er­a­tions. You might go one day and the whole place would have been cleared out. Or you might be brows­ing and you’d be told to get lost: The shut­ters would come down and five min­utes later the cops would wan­der past. Five min­utes af­ter that, it was back in busi­ness.

Much of the faan baan trade has moved on with the ad­vent of con­ve­nient in­ter­net piracy: Why trek to Sham Shui Po for your pi­rated movies when you can down­load a tor­rent in half the time? Hell, you might even pay for Net­flix.

So the knock-off in­dus­try in Hong Kong is not quite the pow­er­house that it once was. But, as any white per­son walk­ing down Nathan Road will tell you, it’s not dead just yet. The cries of “Copy watch? Copy watch?” live on still.

There’s ac­tu­ally a whole in­te­rior ecol­ogy to the coun­ter­feit goods in­dus­try. Knock­offs fall into a large va­ri­ety of grades. In de­scend­ing or­der of qual­ity, the fakes avail­able on a sliding scale will range be­tween A For, B For and C For: For ( ) means “goods” or “cargo.” – Fake Freak

This term seems to come from jade grad­ing stan­dards: “A” grade jade is the top qual­ity stuff, whereas “B” and “C” grades have been chem­i­cally treated to im­prove their color and lus­ter. Sim­i­larly, B and C For knock­offs aren’t very good im­i­ta­tions, whereas A For or Chiu A (su­per A) For coun­ter­feits can be very high qual­ity, per­haps even made on the sly in the same fac­tory as the orig­i­nal prod­uct. The phrase A For has even come to mean “lookalike.”

Still, even Hong Kong’s coun­ter­feit goods in­dus­try isn’t boom­ing. Wealthy Chi­nese tourists come to Hong Kong to buy the real thing, not their A For ver­sions. Mean­while global shop­pers can now go straight to the source: China.

Fakes are now known as saan tsai ( ), which means “moun­tain fortress”—re­call­ing the law­less war­lords of old, holed up in their for­ti­fi­ca­tions and cut off from the govern­ment. To buy a fake as an anti-govern­ment ges­ture? Sounds like the per­fect Hong Kong protest.

Cus­toms of­fi­cers clean up a faan baan store in Sham Shui Po in 2004

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