Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Sep 23, 2016

The case for copying: Whose idea is it anyway?

An ECD argues on behalf of imitation at Spikes Asia.

The case for copying: Whose idea is it anyway?

SPIKES ASIA - SapientNitro ECD Raymond Chin (钱程鹏) thinks copying is good, and made a (controversial) case for it Thursday afternoon at Spikes Asia. 

Imitation is rooted in the Chinese culture, he said, because the Chinese believe practice makes perfect. After all, even the greatest poets of all time recite all the best poems from role models before their time.

Chin brought a China-born artist and designer Zhenhan Hao (郝振瀚) on stage to illustrate his point further.

Hao introduced Zhang Daqian, a Chinese painter who was famous for imitating the work of others. For Zhang, imitation was a good way to understand how the masters use ink and brush strokes. Years later, he created a new 'splash' painting style which shocked everybody at that time.

Hao also pointed to his own education, which included imitating good calligraphy when he was a child.

Other examples Hao cited: "Master Ling", whose profession is actually an "imitation shoemaker" who created new "designer shoes" from a brief of three different styles Hao had briefed him to mix. 

And Zhao Xiao Yong from Shenzhen's DaFen artists' village, who has painted more paintings than Van Gogh himself, from mimicking his style for many years. Zhao apparently utilised his technical knowledge of Van Gogh’s bedroom series to draw a similar one of his own bedroom. 

But the modern Western world worships innovation and creativity. Chinese imitations, especially when it comes to luxury and tech brands, are labeled as low in technology, quality and craftsmanship.

Copying becomes strange, bad and ugly when you are faced with a 'Starfucks' coffee mug. The KFC colonel has got plenty of Chinese elderly-man clones; and Uncle Martian, set up by a bunch of local sneaker factory owners, is blatantly copying Under Armour.

However Chin argued that China, with its unique political and social environment, is embracing imitation and making it even better then the original.

Copying evolves towards incremental innovation, he said. 

WeChat was first known as the Chinese version of WhatsApp, but now it's grown to be much more than that—a mashup of WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Apple Pay, Uber, Google Maps.

"It's way ahead of the Western digital ecosystem," he said. "Copying is good. It's downright amazing. Copying actually makes things better. We should copy from China."

The type of copying that we all abhor is what Chin calls 'Copying 1.0'. However, according to him, it is necessary and is an integral process of getting to the next level.

"You may think that only people who lack creativity copy from others," he said. "Look at this fake egg. It is creative, even if it is weirdly creative. It's more efficient than a chicken!"

"Copiers develop skills through imitation," he added. "As you copy, you learn. As you learn, you improve. As you improve, you innovate."

A new type of copying where fake eggs don't cut it anymore is Copying 2.0, he said.

"Coming back to WeChat, we see its Western app equivalents now trying to appropriate the features of WeChat," Chin said. "The originator now becomes the copier!"

Copying and then adding your own enhancements is also part of Copying 2.0, he said. Xiaomi, frequently accused of copying Apple's and Muji's hardware, is transforming itself into a IoT electronics business, complete with mobile phones, rice cookers, air-conditioner remote controls and Segways rebranded into Ninebots.

"Copy first, apologise later," Chin (pictured below) said. "Because how silly is it to start from zero? Logically, it's the quicker way to rise by standing on the shoulders of giants."

He suggested copycats give credit where credit is due, by "inviting the originators into the copying mix early on".

For the copied, he advised to "take pride in the fact that you have been copied and that your copied work has been enhanced".






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