Background: Fake and Sub-standard Goods Prevalent in China
While many westerners see the “Made in China” label on countless products that line their supermarket shelves, few of these westerners know that mainland China now rivals Thailand as one of the world’s top producers of fake goods. The fake Chanel and LV bags that many North Americans and Europeans knowingly buy in their home countries often originate in China.
In addition to bags and sunglasses, fake medicines, tainted food products (such as melamine-tainted milk which made international headlines), and shoddy construction materials (which likely contributed to the high number of collapsed buildings in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake) are commonplace for goods produced for domestic Chinese consumption.
Getting Rich Trumps All Else
Having woken from its isolated socialist slumber in 1979, a large portion of the mainland Chinese population is now driven not by communist ideology or Confucian values, but rather by the desire to become rich and obtain material wealth at all costs. Without a moral compass or religious guidance, China has become a frightening environment where individuals take actions to benefit themselves in the short-term without considering the long-term consequences of those actions on society as a whole.
One aspect of this “get rich at all costs” mentality drives many individuals to buy fake university degrees or official government documents to gain an advantage in an increasingly competitive, no-holds-barred society.
Fake Degrees and Certifications Are Prevalent
All else being equal, those with university degrees or official certifications have better chances to obtain employment, earn more money, and be promoted more quickly than those without degrees or certifications.
For those who can’t test in to a prestigious (or even a common) university, buying a fake but nearly identical degree from a counterfeiter (who likely has connections with the university) is an easy way to get ahead. Even more impressive than buying a domestic diploma is buying a fake degree that appears to be from an overseas school.
In addition to buying fake diplomas and certifications, there’s also the option to pay for something authentic and official without having attended the required class or training session. Willing buyers can use their connections (Mandarin: guanxi) to weave their way through China’s bureaucracy and pay in cash or in return with favors for the credentials that are sought.
For the right price, counterfeit official government documents are also available for purchase. Passports, resident identity cards, household registration booklets (Mandarin: hukou), marriage documents, and the like can be had by calling one of the myriad of mobile phone numbers written on walls and phone booths in nearly every Chinese city and village.
As with other issues confronting China, the Chinese central government acknowledges that a serious problem of counterfeiting official documents exists, and is trying to take corrective measures. The reality, however, is that a large percentage of Chinese citizens desires immediate wealth far more than he/she hopes for a stable, “harmonious” society where people can trust each other and rely on the documents they see as being genuine. Time will tell how this lack of trust will impact China’s short and long-term development.
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Sources: China Global Times, U.N. Refugee Agency