USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Too much of fake thing

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” Hmm, I wonder what time in history this is meant to be from…

“This unique existence of the work of art determines the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence.” Is this “snuff bottle” supposed to be from the opium war?

“This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as various changes in its ownership.” Wow, look at those chipped edges. They’ve gotten really good at mastering that “worn” look.

That pretty much summed up my thoughts at Dongtai Lu, the open antique market on a small street near Xintiandi. Now don’t get me wrong, I know we’re in China and “fake copies” is the thing but there was something about Dongtai Lu that irked me. It is a great place to get to pick up that quick souvenir for friends back home but to find something intriguing and exciting, and dare I say it, “authentic” is pretty much non-existence. Within the goods at one stall, I would definitely see some or all at the next. Even the more “authentic” stores in the back are the same story; just instead of next door its five shops down. The funny part is the likelihood of being able to afford anything authentic would be very rare so Dongtai Lu was the perfect street for a college student, yet I did not buy anything. The rows of stalls and constant bombardment of goods made me de-synthesized within the first few minutes. The feeling reminded me of Paju Book City. While at Paju it was “too much of a good thing” here it was too much of a fake thing.

But then I began to wonder can this mass production of “fake” goods; not just exclusively antiques but name brand bags, watches, shoes, etc, be apart of some new tradition?  In Walter Benjamin’s Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, he states, “The uniqueness of a work of art is inseparable from its being imbedded in the fabric of tradition. This tradition itself is thoroughly alive and extremely changeable.” China has become so good at making “fake copies” that these copies are becoming “real” in this tradition of mass production. Here, they have mastered this art of copies so well stores like Prada get duped into thinking a fake is real. Unintentionally, China has created a brand for itself: Come buy that brand you have always wanted, for $100 or less!

Of course this brings up the question of authenticity and buying into something that has history and/or prestige. But if this idea of mass production is a new tradition then isn’t it authentic at some level? Maybe it’s too soon to say but I might go back to Dongtai Lu and buy some cricket cages, just in case.

– Precious

Filed under: antique, China, Dongtai Lu, Fake Copy, Real Copy, Shanghai

Reality Crisis

What is real?  What is fake?  What is a copy?  What is a real copy?  What is a fake copy? What does this all mean in terms of the space, nature, architecture, and the city?  So what?

The Material Object

Two days ago in Shenzhen, I purchased a Dunxilu International clutch at Huaqiangbei marketplace for the equivalent of $3.73 US dollars.  It was clearly a knock-off, or ‘fake copy’, of the real Dunxilu brand, but after bargaining with the vendor for so long, I could not resist the deal.  In this example, the question of real vs. fake is very straightforward.  The mediocre quality and cheap price are obvious signs that the item is a fake copy.  It was designed to appear and function like an expensive designer brand, but for all I know could fall apart or dye my hand pink in the rain tomorrow.

The electronic district of the market was swamped with iphone 4G vendors.  Enticed by the thought of a new phone, I had to find out if they were real or fake copies.  I discovered that they were in fact ‘real copies’, or iphones that were made in legitimate factories and sold on the black market.  In essence, they were real iphones sold illegally.

When it comes to material objects, the definition of real, real copy, and fake copy is an easy concept to understand.

Fake Copy: My Dunxilu clutch that is an imitation of a high quality brand

Real Copy: The iphone 4G that is sold under the table

Real: The iphone 4G that is sold at an Apple store

The Architecture

After the Golden Pavilion burnt down in 1950, it was restored and is said to be an exact replica.  However, while the original was built with pure gold leaf, the restored pavilion is coated with gold paint.  In 1987 it was recoated, and then in 2003 the roof was restored.  Is this not equivalent to the Dunxilu clutch that I purchased?  Like the purse, the pavilion was created to look like the original and was built with cheaper materials.  Is the Golden Pavilion a fake copy?

The Ise Shrine is a respected and honored Japanese monument that is reconstructed every twenty years.  This ensures that the method of construction and materiality is passed on from generation to generation, upholding the culture and wisdom of ancient times.  While this preserves the process, doesn’t this also mean that it is a copy?  The shrine that hundreds of tourists visit everyday is the 61st iteration of the original.  It is not real.  Is it?  Is it fake?  Like the real copy of the iphone, the Ise Shrine was built like the original.  When you see it, you are aware that you are not seeing the original shrine, just like you know that you are not buying a real iphone.

Fake Copy: The Golden Pavilion

Real Copy: The Ise Shrine

Real: The original Ise Shrine

The City

When it comes to analyzing cities in terms of real and fake, it is not as simple as looking for a knock-off brand imprint or judging the quality of building materials used.  This is because cities are not singular objects, like one could argue buildings or iphones are.  Cities not only consist of iphones, purses, and architecture, but are composed of layers and layers and layers of infrastructure, culture, politics, economics, and mental experiences.  As if this isn’t complicated enough, the city is also changing, growing, and morphing everyday.

I began this post with the intention to categorize cities like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Shenzhen as I did above.  At first glance, one might say that Shenzhen is fake.  While cities typically evolve and densify naturally over time, Shenzhen went through a forced evolution that literally transformed it from a fishing village to southern China’s financial center in thirty years.  It would be difficult to argue that this Special Economic Zone is not a success.  Does it matter that the city did not develop under natural evolutionary terms?  Does this make the city any less real?

Because I am used to the pace and city dynamic of Los Angeles, Shenzhen seemed so foreign to me that it was challenging to get my bearings for the first few days.  I had trouble attributing an identity to the city.  Perhaps this was why I was eager to label it ‘fake’.  After further investigation and immersion into Futian, Shenzhen, I began discovering little moments that gave the city character.  A free kickboxing match, haggling with the market vendors, watching hundreds of locals practicing tai chi next to an urban village.  These short glimpses formed my impression of Shenzhen, and is what I will carry with me after this program and long after I graduate.  It doesn’t matter how quickly or how naturally a city is created.  Experiences are what make cites real.

Real City: Las Vegas

Real City: Los Angeles

Real City: Shenzhen


Filed under: Architecture, China, Fake, Fake Copy, Futian, Ise Shrine, Japan, real, Real Copy, Shenzhen, The Golden Pavilion, Uncategorized, Urbanism


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu