Cultural element to intellectual property theft in China?

I don’t know if it’s a result of Confucianism, the legacy of communism or just a lot of people packed into a small space all trying to make a living, but there certainly is a different mentality in China as opposed to the West when it comes to issues of what is considered private versus public.

This difference was made clear to me many years ago on my first day as an exchange student back in the 1990’s at a Chinese university located in Harbin.  I returned to the dorm after lunch and found my Chinese roommate sitting at my desk with his feet on my bed, leaning back in the chair while filing through my personal belongings in the drawers and on the desk. I assumed that when he saw me come further into the room he would be embarrassed and stop messing around with my stuff.  The opposite happened.

Since the door was now open, he yelled to the other students in the hall to come in and take a look. At first I thought this was just people being curious about me as a foreigner, but after spending time in the dorm, I realized that this is how Chinese people deal with each other.  Dorm room size is similar to a dorm back home, but in China there are 4 to 8 people in the room! That means precious little space to keep things private.  It also means the students get used to sharing their belongings with the group and the group is used to accessing any and all available resources. For example, one student may have the radio, another brings a small TV, and the third student has a rice cooker and so on. Since everybody shares, it keeps costs down but at the same time the boundary between what is private and public is blurred.

The same mentality extends into the business world, yet is in dramatic conflict with the western mentality of public versus private domain. Just as the room mates in the dorm had no ethical objections to using my personal items like my computer, some suppliers may not even think twice, or feel embarrassed, about using for their personal gain, what you believe to be your IP.

I have hundreds of examples of compromised IP, and will talk about them in future posts. More importantly, I will also discuss via this blog and my book, affordable and effective tools we can use to protect our IP in China.

Wishing you successful China Sourcing!

Mike Bellamy

Author, “The Essential Reference Guide to China Sourcing” (


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