Cloning or copycatting is nothing new in China, but it’s still interesting. For Westerners, especially Americans they loathe cloning. It hurts their pride and is an insult to their creativity and hard work. For Chinese, they love it! It comes as second nature and presents grand opportunity to seize a massive market potential.

For people outside China, they wonder why Chinese love to copy things. After being here a while, most people figure out, it’s the way they were taught to learn. Follow the teacher, recite books, don’t challenge. This mentality grows and sticks with people as they mature. Moreover, I’m sure many start-ups think, “Why shouldn’t I copy?” If the business model has been proven overseas and they know how to adapt it to China, then by not copying, it almost represents a missed opportunity. When I interviewed the co-founder of Match.com, Peng Ong (now a Partner at GSR Ventures) he said “Copying is a form of innovation. The best company’s never just copy, they copy and then localize. It’s like jazz, you have a basic rhythm and structure and you move around that. Is jazz copying? I don’t think there is any original idea. Google is a copy.”

I’ve realized that the term ‘Innovation’ can be interpreted in many ways. In China, I feel it means ‘to adapt and improve’, which is still a valid interpretation. To some degree everyone learns by copying, babies do it, adults do it. But where it becomes a touchy subject, is when Chinese clones don’t just copy the business model, they copy everything except the logo!

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Jason Lim

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.