The shanzai of China are a tech trend to keep an eye on. Typically dismissed by popular press as simply the â€œcopycat barons from Chinaâ€, I think they may have something in common with Hewlett and Packard or Jobs and Wozniak back when they were working out of garages. Iâ€™ve heard quite a few stories about the shanzai while on my most recent trip to China, some of which I will share here.
First, letâ€™s try to understand the cultural context of the word shanzai. Shanzai (å±±å¯¨) comes from the Chinese words â€œmountain fortressâ€. The literal translation is a bit misleading. The English term â€œfortressâ€ connotes a fortified structure or stronghold that is large, perhaps conjuring imagery of castle turrets and moats. On the other hand, the denotation simply states that it is simply a fortified place. This latter denotation is closer to the original meaning from Chinese; in fact, the fortress they are referring to is closer to a cave or guerrilla-style hideout. In its contemporary context, shanzai is a historical allusion to the legends that dwelled within. One such legend is the 12th-century story of the 108 bandits of Song Jiang. It is still a popular tale today; my father recognized it instantly when I asked him about it. A friend of mine described Song Jiang as a sort of Robin Hood meets Che Guevara; Song Jiang was a rebel and a soldier of fortune, yet selfless and kind to those in need.