Those of us living in China might have been spared the tumultuous drama that our US counterparts have experienced in 2017, but like always, the Middle Kingdom has had its own fair share of attention-grabbing headlines. From the boom of shared bikes to a presidential visit from The Donald, our team has put together a list of 2017’s most unforgettable viral stories, recounting major events that defined the worlds of sports, tech, arts, fashion and food. Here’s to another year of eclectic, weird and wonderful life in China, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
For more, follow our full 2017 Year in Review coverage.
From fake Subways to knockoff Eiffel Towers, China is notorious for its shanzhai (counterfeit) products. We've counted down the worst Chinese ripoffs of 2017. Here's to more intellectual property infringement cases in 2018!
10. Fake QR codes
As QR code technology becomes more ingrained into our everday lives, they're also becoming the tool of choice for scammers to empty wallets or install malware on your device. In March, a Southern Metropolis Daily investigation revealed that Guangzhouers have been scammed out of RMB90 million via fradulent QR codes.
Other instances of QR code fraud include criminals infecting smartphones with viruses (which then allow them to steal money from mobile payment apps like Alipay) and crimes akin to "phishing scams" where unsuspecting users who believe they are paying for shops or services are instead fooled into transferring money into other accounts. The booming popularity of bike-share apps has also led to scams where fraudsters post fake QR codes on the bicycles in circulation so that unsuspecting consumers pay the deposit fee to criminals instead of Mobike or Ofo.
Our advice: think twice before you scan!
9. Fake taxis
Following a slew of taxi scams in South China this year, the Consulate General of the United States in Guangzhou in October issued a stark warning to American expats: beware of cab drivers in China. The fact the Consulate issued such a warning should come as no surprise: taxi drivers in the south have something of a negative reputation, commonly associated with scams, fare-hiking, rigged meters and illegal operations. Guangdong isn't the only place for taxi scams, either; in September, Shanghai traffic authorities warned Disneyland visitors of fake cabs lurking outside the Happiest Place in Pudong™.
Luckily some passengers of phony cabs have gotten justice. In October, a Shenzhen driver was punished by being disqualified from engaging in app-based cab services and getting 'blacklisted' by the authorities after trying to scam an Italian passenger with a RMB485 taxi fare.
8. Fake money
In May, a man entered a China Bank of Agriculture in Guangzhou and handed the teller 25 bank notes of assorted value – 23 of which were forgeries. Considering the amount of training bank staff receive and the sheer number of bank notes they see on a daily basis, it should come as no surprise that one teller immediately identified the fakes. However, the sheer amount of counterfeit notes even surprised him. “I have been working in the bank for over 20 years and this is the first time I’ve handled so many counterfeits," he told reporters.
In November, police confiscated 14,000 bottles of fake Australian wine during a raid on three warehouses in Shanghai and Xiamen, arresting six people in the process. The counterfeiters were caught reproducing and selling fake Penfolds wine, a famous Australian brand, online at a third of the actual Penfolds market price. While tests showed that the fake wine did not have detrimental heath effects, it was still said to be of inferior quality.
6. Fake water
In July, a man (surnamed Zhang) was accused of selling more than RMB150,000 worth of counterfeit water in Shanghai. Police caught him during a raid of his workshop in Songjiang district, where they seized more than 300 barrels of water.
Unfortunately this isn't the first instance of "fake water" in the 'Hai. Earlier this year, our sister site Urban Family reported that a family was dismayed to discover fake Nestle water being delivered to their home. The water was delivered by Galaxy Water Station (银河水站), run by a local couple who claimed to be distributing Nestle water and supposedly supplied to large complexes, including One Park Avenue in Jing'an.
It's not a rare occurrence to find cars of the same color, but what about cars of the same make and model that also share a license plate number? That's what happened in July after images circulating on social media showed two identical Mercedes cars bearing the exact same license plate number getting pulled over Shanghai. The driver of the suspicious car, Zhai Guangzhi, purchased the popular luxury vehicle from an agency for RMB350,000, which included the plate and license number. The deal was almost too good to be true — the G65 AMG model normally sells for a staggering RMB3.8 million in China — but he bought it anyway.
But he'd later come to regret his purchase. As soon as the long lost twin brother vehicles were reunited thanks to the help of the police, the driver of the original car recalled that he had lost his license plate in June after renting it out to a friend. He had to go to the police to get another copy, though he had no idea how exactly the identical plate ended up on the second car. (Hmmmmmm.)
Similar "twin car" incidents happened down in Guangdong earlier this year. In Shenzhen, a Maserati owner was shocked to find out she'd been cited for three traffic violations she wasn't responsible for; it later turned out that the violations came from another car owner with the exact same car model and plate number. And in Shantou, a woman was busted for buying a fake plate from Taobao.
4. Fake Ultraviolet in Shanghai
This fall, yet another shanzhai F&B establishment opened in Shanghai, this time ripping off one of the city's very own: Ultraviolet. Located in Jing'an district, Queen's 3D Restaurant boasts an experience that appears to be nearly identical to that of the famed establishment from Paul Pairet, one of just two retaurants in Shanghai to earn three stars in this year's Michelin Guide. Apparently not even those three stars can protect Chef Pairet's brainchild from the copycats, though, and nearly every idea has been borrowed, right down to the white tables and high-definition video projections. (It's not the first UV copycat, unfortunately).
Commenting on the knockoff restaurant, Pairet told That's Shanghai: "I hope they have the decency to indicate credit to Ultraviolet; and I hope the food would be good."
3. Fake Nando's in Beijing
Beijing has a fake Nando's. It's called Peri-Peri, and it is so convincingly Nando-like that we needed to check the company's website to confirm that it isn't a franchise. A franchise that doesn't follow any of the rules on cooking. Or spelling.
2. Fake Terracotta Warriors in Xi'an
Photos of sad-looking versions of China's most famous historical statues went viral in January after a Douban user posted images from his trip to Xi'an. Following the post's popularity, images from an undercover CCTV reporter's exposé on fake Terracotta Warriors resurfaced. The colorful and bizarre-looking ripoff warriors can be found at questionable locations along the "East Tourist Route" in Xi'an, including the Qinling Underground Palace (a 200-square foot exhibition) and the World's Eight Wonders Museum.
1. Fake London Tower Bridge in Suzhou
We've seen a fake Pentagon, Venice, Great Sphinx, Eiffel Tower, Titanic, British Sculpture,Terracotta Warriors site and BBC website. The latest victim of Chinese copycat culture: the Tower Bridge of London. The shanzhai Tower Bridge was unveiled in February in Suzhou's Xiangcheng district. The replica features four five-story, 40-meter-tall towers (twice as many as the original landmark's) and an elevator that can take tourists to the top.
Honorable Mention (Vietnam Edition): Hanoi's Fake Element Fresh, 'Fresh Element'
Earlier this year, a knockoff of the successful China-based restaurant chain Element Fresh was spotted in Hanoi, Vietnam. The copycat restaurant, located at 95 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, blatantly imitates an Element Fresh restaurant front, the only difference being the rearrangement of the name and the addition of the slogan “Fresh From Taiwan.” Even the colorful logo wasn’t safe from mimicry. But, aside from being a knockoff, customers are raving about Fresh Element, which appears to have another location in Ha Long.
READ MORE: China's Copy-Paste Architecture
For more 2017 Year in Review coverage, click here.