I know this is a broad question but is there a reason there is so much copying of intellectual property in China and surrounding countries? It seems there's a stronger culture of copyright and patent infringement compared to European and North American countries. Especially in the 80's and 90's for video games.

Wikipedia states:

Despite the legitimate growth of the industry, China's video game market continues to be offset by illegal importing and intellectual copyright theft.

Why do so many pirated software apps and unlicensed copies of things come from China and the surrounding area?

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    I think this is a misnomer - every pirated video game or app I saw for the C64, Amiga or PC during the 1980s and 1990s was released by a warez group in either Europe or the US (see Fairlight for example).
    – user16741
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 2:03
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    It's where things are manufactured. Real or fake, they have to be made and no where else makes as much stuff.
    – Jontia
    Commented Jan 8, 2020 at 9:08
  • 1
    What is the relation of this question to politics?
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 15:08

3 Answers 3


“Intellectual Property” is a fairly new concept in China, with most of the laws dating only from the 1980's and 90's, so the idea of piracy=bad isn't as entrenched as it is in the West.

Also, China is still generally poorer than Western Europe or North America, making people less willing to spend the extra money for legitimately-licenced software.


It's a basic cultural difference of approach. The Chinese simply don't understand why they can't use and share things right in front of them, like retelling a good joke. If something is good, they want to share it with people; what's the point of discovery in secret?

This attitude stems from a collective culture, in stark contrast to the individualism of the western world. If you ask a Chinese citizen "who are you", they will likely reply with details of their family and hometown, whereas western people will tend to emphasize personal accomplishments like career and education.

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    they also have an attitude that anything they want is theirs for the taking as long as they don't get caught, especially if it doesn't belong to a fellow Chinese...
    – jwenting
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 4:43
  • 4
    @jwenting: that seems a bit derogatory and misguided. I think it's more that the collectiveness of their culture extends to all humanity, not just the Chinese, which suggests admiration more than hostility. Unlike a piece of bread, you're not really "taking" anything by sharing IP, so where's the harm seen in a society that doesn't pride itself on individual accomplishments and personal attainment?
    – dandavis
    Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 18:56
  • @jwenting As opposed to what, Europeans? Did you ever read world history? Did you notice that it's the Chinese Imperial treasures that were taken to the Britain, not the other way around?
    – Alice
    Commented Jan 12, 2020 at 4:34

The source of this cultural difference is, at least partly, in the Cultural Revolution. (I will refer to this as CR in the remainder.) But it is also much older than that in Chinese culture.

The concept is referred to as guan xi. (关系 in simplified Chinese.) This translates as "relationship." But it means a lot more than that.

In the book "Life and Death in Shanghai", the author Cheng Nien describes several incidents in the CR. One such event will serve to indicate the pattern.

She wished to build a small brick wall to separate two parts of a house. This was so that she could have privacy from the family that was occupying the other part of the house. Previous to the CR this would have been a simple matter. Buy some bricks. Find a bricklayer. Pay the brick layer to put in the wall. But now there were absolutely no legitimate sources of bricks. And no legitimate ways to obtain the services of a bricklayer.

However, there were numerous black market means. This was referred to as "The Back Door." She managed to find a friend-of-a-friend-etc. who would provide the bricks. She was required to come to a small landing dock on a river, with a laborer. The bricks were delivered and the laborer brought them to the house. Very soon after that the "Back Door" brick layer showed up and put the wall in. There was never any trouble about dealing in black market bricks, nor black market labor. And this process took only a little longer than a legit method would have, and cost only a little more.

Many requirements and necessities were in short supply. Officially in short supply. Anybody who didn't go through "The Back Door" would have found it hard to survive. Those with connections, and who used them, were able to survive, and to some extent thrive.

There was clearly unofficial approval of this process. Official means of getting things such as food, clothing, fuel to heat a house, etc., were essentially paralyzed. But black market means were growing and even becoming flush. You could nearly tell at a glance who had Back Door connections, because they were well fed and well dressed.

These conditions lasted a considerable time. Official means did not start to grow until 1980 (as a result of the changes brought in by Deng), and not quickly at first. The result is that an entire generation was conditioned quite thoroughly to expect to only be able to get what they needed by going to The Back Door. And the following generation only minimally got the idea there was any other way.

What is the result? The society still retains many of the top-heavy means of control that would otherwise stifle all commerce. Rules such as requiring passing exams, paying fees, filling in forms, etc. and etc. But the means to bypass all of this is unofficially ignored.

For the most part. Until a high ranking official comes to town and the local small-time officials want to make a big show of "cleaning things up." All the Back Door things, and all the seedier things are swept up and hidden until the Big Shot goes home.

From food quality and restaurant standards, to taking a test to enter university, to getting a promotion. It is still very strongly about Back Door relationships.

So, a junior executive businessman is being sent to an English speaking country to expand a Chinese business into that country. And he has learned some English, of course. But if he can pass a test he can get additional pay while abroad. Not a trivial amount either, it's about 30% of his base pay. The test is on-line. He can take it over the internet from home. And he is FURIOUS if his foreign native-English speaker friend refuses to help him take that test. Throwing furniture furious.

Furious because it means the friend isn't really as much of a friend as he thought.

So if a friend-of-a-friend has a hacked version of some software, they will not even see that there could be any objection to copying it. Because they have been trained for decades that the only way to get ahead is to use such methods. And that there are no penalties for it.

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