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Reporters on the Job: On the hunt for disappeared Chinese knockoffs

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Intrigued by reports from my sons that the Silk Street Market, an Aladdin’s cave of cheap counterfeit clothing that they frequent, had suddenly been stripped of everything bearing a false brand name, I went to have a look at the place last week.

Sure enough the stalls were almost bare, staffed by sales girls who did not want to talk about why they had nothing but unknown Chinese brands to offer.

On closer inspection, some of the shirts turned out to have Chinese labels hastily and inexpertly sewn over existing (fake) Ralph Lauren labels, which remained legible. I was questioning a stallholder about this when a man barreled up to me holding a camera phone in front of him and stuck it in my face as he video-recorded my interview.

He refused to identify himself, other than as “a passerby,” and continued to hold the camera close to my face. The stallholder said she did not know who he was, he ignored my requests to stop interfering, and eventually I ignored him.

Ending my interview, I made my way to the top floor, where I had arranged to meet the market’s general manager, Hu Wenli. The walls of her office corridor were covered with photos of local and foreign celebrities (including George Bush Sr.) in the company of … none else but the man who had just been harassing me.

He turned out to be Zhang Yongping, the owner and president of the company that has owned the Silk Street Market since it was moved off the streets and into its current premises seven years ago. He insisted on being interviewed himself (though he spent two hours simply evading my questions), but did not once apologize for his behavior downstairs.

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