Like many things in America today, the concept of shanzhai (山寨) is imported from China. Literally, shanzhai means “mountain stronghold,” where feudal bandits and outlaws lived and did as they pleased outside the control and reach of a corrupt central government. From that context, shanzhai has evolved to describe everything from knockoff products and fly-by-night enterprises to jury-rigged devices and Chairman Mao impersonators. Novelist Yu Hua, writing of shanzhai in his 2011 book China in Ten Words, says:
“…the word (shanzhai) has given the word ‘imitation’ a new meaning…allowing it to acquire additional shades of meaning: counterfeiting, infringement, deviations from the standard, mischief, and caricature.”
Shanzhai straddles the line between innovative design and shameless thievery, clever parody and outright mockery, between freedom from authority and the social threat that freedom represents. Every time we examine our lives and the things in it to determine what is authentic, and what is cheap imitation, we implicitly acknowledge that shanzhai is real, and that it matters. There’s something threatening in the thought that much of what we construct ourselves of (and as) could be fake somehow, a rip-off of what we really want, some manufacturer’s idea of what we should be. We feel duped, tricked, lessened; we were promised some articulation of self and instead got an artikulatun. There’s also something liberating in the thought that perhaps the materials we’ve made ourselves of are unsanctioned, wildly inventive in the way they suit our particular needs, and slyly subversive. We feel vindicated, emboldened, alive; we assembled, from the detritus of the world, a self that is unique and ungovernable. PACIFICA LITERARY REVIEW seeks writing, art, and photography that engages with shanzhai, that which examines what’s real and what’s counterfeit, what’s reimagining and what’s theft, what’s art and what’s artifice, and how much of each is in everything we do.
Check out our submissions page for full guidelines.