#2. U.S. Military Hardware
As we mentioned with the NEC situation earlier, counterfeit Chinese electronics have become very sophisticated. Nowadays, most people probably couldn't tell the difference between a fake iPod and a real one because the former no longer features mangled-up English phrases on the box like "General Turtleneck's Happiness Music Mini Pod." If you think that's a concern, consider this problem on a more internal scale. Take this microchip, for instance:
It's for a time machine. Go on, prove us wrong.
Can you tell if it's real or a Chinese fake? If you can't, congratulations, you now qualify for a spot in the U.S. Department of Defense, which helped supply American armed forces with tons of counterfeit electronics that went right into crucial weapon systems.
In 2011, the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by John "Rambo II" McCain, discovered that, among electronics ordered from Asia by the DOD, some were in fact Chinese counterfeits, produced without oversight or quality control. And by "some" we mean "over one flippity-fracking-hell million" parts, such as thermal weapon sights, missile computer components and electronics for military planes. And no one has any idea how many they might have missed.
"We've replaced one of the soldier's weapons with a Chinese fake. Let's see if he survives."
But it's not just simply a problem of inferior parts malfunctioning or giving out too early. In 2010, the U.S. military unknowingly purchased 59,000 counterfeit Chinese microchips that could have been hacked and used to shut down the country's missile defense system.
The good news is that the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA) is working on a way to quickly scan electronics and detect whether they are genuine or not. Not that they need to hurry -- what are the odds that the U.S. will ever get into a war again?
Only slightly lower than the odds that this "scanner" will also end up being made from counterfeit Chinese parts.
If you smoke, there's a decent chance that you've smoked a fake Chinese cigarette at some point.
You see, China smokes like a chimney. They smoke around 2.2 trillion cigarettes a year. Trillion. That's a one and 12 zeroes ... and then 2.2 times that. The state-owned Chinese tobacco industry actually brings in about 8 percent of the country's annual budget (the second largest economy in the world, mind you). Naturally, all that money was bound to attract counterfeiters sooner or later -- supplying knockoff Marlboros and every other brand to the largest population of smokers in the world.
This must be the Chinese warning for "You will get adorable heart cancer and die."
You can see how that would be a problem, since even if counterfeited smokes were a tiny fraction of the cigarette market in China, the scale of the country's smoking phenomenon alone would make them one colossal operation. Counterfeited smokes are not a tiny fraction of the cigarette market in China.
Currently, there are about 400 billion fake cigarettes being produced in China, enough to supply each U.S. smoker with 460 packs of fake Marlboros, Newports or Benson & Hedges. Surprisingly, about half of those all come from one place -- Yunxiao, a county in the south of China roughly twice the size of New York City and home to 200-plus counterfeit cigarette operations hidden underground. And we meant that last part literally. Yunxiao's illegal cigarette factories are actually hidden below the surface of the city, in neighboring mountain caves and under streets, temples and once even a lake.
Living in a cave, being a tech genius and making things look cool. This Chinese guy is Batman.
In one case, some Yunxiao counterfeiters even tried to divert attention from the underground factory by disguising their compound as a military base, complete with 20 guys parading around in military uniforms and doing daily drills.
The scope of these operations ranges from rusty rolling machines hidden in old bunkers to multimillion-dollar enterprises. The return is amazing (up to 20 times their original investment), and the worst Chinese law can do is gently slap them on the wrist with a couple of years in jail or a small fine. What's not to love?
Other than the cancer?
Well, how about the fact that the fake Chinese cigarettes often contain 80 percent more nicotine and 130 percent more carbon monoxide than the genuine article, plus occasional insect eggs and human feces?
Oh, and then there's what we said earlier -- there's actually a chance you yourself have taken a nice, long drag of counterfeit Chinese poop-sticks. Cigarette factories from Yunxiao export their products to over 60 countries around the globe because it's impossible to spot the fakes unless you're an industry specialist. So 99 percent of all fake cigarettes in the U.S. come from China. In the U.K., one in every three packs is believed to be a Chinese counterfeit.
On the plus side, if we put "May contain human feces" on every pack, we can probably lower smoking rates by, like, 2 to 3 percent.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a freelance English-Japanese-Polish translator, tour guide and writer. Contact him here.
For more ridiculous ripoffs, check out The 6 Most Psychotic Rip-Offs of Famous Animated Films and 6 Baffling Attempts to Ride Harry Potter's Coattails.