Another cherished Beijing institution is in danger of being eliminated. This time, it's a tradition enjoyed by Chinese and foreign visitors alike.
The Chaoyang district court has ordered managers of the famous Silk Street Market to "eradicate" sales of knockoff designer goods in its myriad stalls. If the court succeeds in enforcing this, shoppers will have to go elsewhere to buy their fake Fendi and cheap Chanel.
This will only inconvenience shoppers, who can easily find the coveted goods elsewhere. But it will be a disaster for the Silk Street Market. The lure of affordable imitations provides much of the market's irresistible drawing power. Many foreigners go to the market precisely to get these knockoff fripperies so they can flaunt them back home in front of those unfortunates who paid full price.
Nothing feels quite as satisfying as informing someone who has just admired your "luxury" watch that you only paid a pittance for it.
The only thing more enjoyable is the look of shock on the faces of those who paid thousands of dollars for one of these trophies and now sees undeniable evidence that nobody can tell the difference between the real one and the fake.
That's a souvenir that keeps on giving! Perhaps authorities worry that knockoffs damage China's reputation. If so, they worry needlessly.
For one thing, this trade isn't limited to China. New York City is famous for its street peddlers hawking phony designer items. Coming home with one and displaying it to your friends is part of the fun of going there.
Shopping constitutes one of the biggest tourist draws Beijing has, and the Silk Street Market proudly occupies a special niche in the business. Nobody with half a brain is fooled by the "genuine designer goods" claims. A big part of the fun is haggling for a great price on what both vendor and customer know, but neither acknowledges, is a designer knockoff.
Representatives of Louis Vuitton and Gucci urged the court to stop the market's vendors from peddling cheap imitations of their precious goods. They probably claimed that the fakes damage the reputation of the real by sullying famous brand names with poor quality merchandise.
Oh, the horror! The very thought of the great unwashed rabble flourishing these once exclusive symbols of success must send shudders of distaste through those in the moneyed class.
I'd bet a genuine Rolex that what really worries designer houses is that there's not enough of a visible difference to justify the enormous prices charged for the real designer goods.
If one's cleaning lady shows up carrying a 100-yuan purse that looks just like the $1,000 version Madame carries, disturbing doubts and troublesome questions are likely to arise in Madame's mind.
She might question whether it's wise to spend so much money on an "exclusive" item that doesn't distinguish her, after all.
If designer houses, with all their money and talent, can't come up with products that are luxurious enough, and of such high quality that they can't be easily duplicated, they're not trying hard enough. Let them work harder to justify the obscene waste of paying so much money for basically utilitarian items such as clothes and bags.
Especially in a poor country, with so many people struggling to obtain life's necessities, spending an unnecessarily large amount of money to flaunt a status symbol is terribly vulgar. And denying vendors the chance to sell inexpensive fakes to customers who want them is silly.