How many corrupted officials have got their Ph.D. from corrupted Universities in China?”, asks Sun Yifei, a professor of geography at Calstate Northridge, on the Google S&T and Innovation in China page. The answer seems to be, as one blogger noted, that: “China is considered a big “mountain stronghold” country, even master’s degrees for officials, and the title of Ph.D. are counterfeit and substandard” 中国号称山寨大国，连官场上的硕士、博士头衔也大都是伪劣假冒。
This particular episode of false credentials may even have an IP angle. It seems that a certain “DR. MA,… was just removed from the vice-governor position at Yunnan. Beijing Normal University, one of China’s 211” and “985” Universities, was the one that gave the degree to him. The executive vice president of the University, SHI Peijun, a geographer, was his adviser for his research on PU-ER Tea. The University got more than 10 million contract/grants from Yunnan” (where this tea is grown).
What is “mountain stronghold” (shanzhai) culture, and how is it implicated in counterfeiting, substandard products and fake degrees? Prof. Hennessey’s article “Deconstructing Shanzhai–China’s Copycat Counterculture: Catch Me If You Can” explains that “in popular slang in contemporary China, ‘to copy’ and ‘to parody’ as self-aware, casual, and public behavior by ordinary citizens is referred to as ‘shanzhai.’ The literal meaning of the word shanzhai is ‘mountain stronghold,’ which in traditional Chinese popular culture refers to the hideout of bandits and other outlaws”.
Puer tea is the subject of trademark and geographical indication protection in China and overseas. The tea is distinctive in taste and history. It has a peaty, fermented taste. It was carried on the backs of horses through Tibet, and is sold in brick form. As my brother, a tea connoisseur (picture below) notes, this tea is particularly well-suited to this Year of the Horse. Predictably the tea has also been the subject of counterfeiting and possibly abusive trademark registrations. For example, at the USPTO website, a Canadian Chinese tried to claim the name in 2007 as his own trademark, but abandoned the mark. The Yunnan Puer Tea Association now owns the mark in the United States, based on an application filed in 2011, which was granted in 2012 (see their trademark above).
Does counterfeiting hurt China? The answer seems obvious in the case of puer tea. Adequately defining what is the puer geographical region helps Chinese farmers and agricultural regions, as well as benefitting the IP system and consumers. Officials with knock-off diplomas, knock-off trademarks and knock off products for the same region help no one. Ultimately, the injury from “mountain stronghold” counterfeiting reaches deep into the Lancang mountain region where this delicious tea originates.