History of piracy in China

A few days ago I talked to an US friend Jeff about the history of piracy in China, so I wrote this article. I would like to show the era of piracy of video games and computer software that I saw, from about 1990 to the present.


China's folk computer technology originated around 1990. Before that era, the most pirated was NES (the American version of Famicom). I went through the Atari 2600 period but I was too young. Now it is speculated that the 2600s are original because the market is too small.

Piracy of the NES has continued to today. Yes, you can still buy various NES copycats and games in China today.

My parents bought me a pirated NES in the mall, made in Taiwan.
At the time, such a machine with a cartridge would require a monthly salary of 2 adults.

Compared with the massive pirated NES, Genesis as the main competitor of NES, there are fewer pirated cartridge. Because Genesis's market share in China is too small.

These early pirated NESes all came from Taiwan, and were later copied immensely by China. Chinese parents are very reluctant to buy game consoles for their children, so during this period, some "learning machines" with keyboards and simple learning functions appeared and have been sold in large quantities until now. This is a major characteristic culture of China. I also have one, but I really use it to learn BASIC.

A "learning machine", advertised by Jackie Chan


I touched the computer since 1996 when I was in high school. The software at the time (such as DOS, form processing programs, computer games, etc.) did not know whether it was original or pirated-- even the computer is a new thing.

In the next year or two, some arcade game centers bought a small number of computers for playing games. Of course, they also used pirated copies. At that time, I often saw maintenance staff copying games with huge hard disks (Quantum Bigfoot).

At the time, we played LAN games in a computer room like this.
The most popular games were Red Alert and Duke Nukem 3D.

Later, Windows 95 appeared. When I first saw the graphical interface, I was as shocked as when I saw the PSP in 2005 ten years later --That was simply not the product of the same era.

I have n't touched GBA after owning PSP,
just as I have n't touched Wii after owning Xbox360.

During the Win95 period, some families started to buy i486 computers, about 10,000 yuan (ordinary office workers earn about 300 yuan per month). For home computers, you cannot frequently plug in a hard disk to transfer data. At this time, 3.5-inch floppy disk is generally used. Piracy during this period were mainly floppy disks. It is interesting that although piracy is rampant in the market, people still willing to pay for original antivirus disks(about 200 yuan).

With this period, several game consoles were also popular in China in the form of parallel imports and hourly rental: PlayStation, Saturn, DreamCast, SNES. The first 3 using a optical disc drive will be weld a modchip inside to skip reading specific areas on the disc to bypass original verification. SNES is more interesting--there is a special floppy drive device instead of a cartridge into the SNES. The N64 that also uses a cartridge may be too expensive to piracy and cannot be seen here.

A floopy drive was plugged into SNES.
This makes it possible to use cheap pirated disks instead of cartridges.

I started to connect to the Internet in 1997 and bought a computer. In 2000 I entered a major university in China to study computer science. I often go to the computer room, what surprised me is that from application software to game software, everyone is used to pirated. If our software practitioners use pirated like this, who will make software in the future? Aren't we ending our way?

But that's the reality. A few of my friends whose are the representative of the early Chinese Internet, they have built pirated websites in the early days. At that time, my calling card expenses (which I used to dial up to the Internet) had taken up more than half of my living expenses. As a not-rich student, I used some pirated software with guilt at first, then I quickly turned my attention to open source software and free software. I couldn't use pirated software with an uneasy conscience.
I have been deeply grateful to the Internet. It gives me more than just information. It is more about thinking and vision.

In the concept of most people in China, only the hardware part of a computer is valuable (should pay for it).


During this period, the number of home computers in China increased significantly. Correspondingly, pirated CDs have also begun to increase in huge quantities, which can be easily purchased in every cyber store. There are also pop singers writing for this phenomenon.

Music video by pop singer Xue Cun,
depicting a mobile hawker selling pirated CDs.

In front of my university gate is the largest cyber store in the city. Every time I go there, a lot of sellers shout for solicit business, among them there are mobile hawkers secretly selling adult content CDs. --Of course, you may be excited to insert it to your CD-ROM and find that it is the Photoshop installer. Don't ask me how to know, I have never bought it. --These pirated CDs are piled into mountains, whether it is application or commercial software, games, etc., 5 yuan each. If you find that your CD-ROM can't read or the content is wrong, just return it back and get another one.
The pirated CDs business was booming, some pirates even made their own brand because of good reviews, and later started original agency business.

The typical pirated CDs in cyber store,
contents are printed on a paper package.

However, after China joined the WTO in 2001, the government must do something to protect intellectual property. So around 2003, all stores were not allowed to sell "simple packaging" CDs. Only when familiar customers come to buy, the seller will take out some pirated CDs from under the counter. Soon even these were not allowed to be sold.

But some advanced packaging CDs soon appeared, and the contents were all copyright-free such as historical books, landscape galleries, and texture materials... The seller will secretly give you a password when you buy it. After you get home, enter the password in order in the reading or image viewing application that comes with the CD, and the real content will be displayed...

I think this is the earliest Cyberpunk in China.


During this period, the Internet became widespread in Chinese families, and they could download the games they wanted from pirated websites. (But these pirated games usually contain spyware, and most people don't care. Computers are just a tool for them to watch TV and play games.)
People with more computer knowledge use bittorrent downloads. Cheap pirated CDs are almost impossible to find, and replaced with rough and cheap "original" CDs.

In fact, some of these "original" are continuing to sell after the agency agreement expires, and should be considered piracy.
But it can be publicly sold and even advertised on national television.

Later, because bittorrent consumed too much bandwidth, the ISPs limited the point-to-point transmission. But at this time, the optical fiber network has also spread to families, and people still have a big number of pirated websites that can be downloaded directly.
Since this period, people no longer pay for antivirus software --they have all become free. But in fact, most of these Chinese antivirus software have serious disability and privacy issues--just most people don't care about this.

The most popular pirated content in China is Windows XP installation CD, some of which are still in use today.
One-click installation with cracking of system and commonly software.

In 2008, a well-known pirate (spreading pirated Windows XP CDs and adding advertising) was sentenced. Since then, some of the largest pirates were closed. At the same time, Microsoft has also begun to set special preferential prices for the Chinese market. But most people still choose the pirated version that can be downloaded everywhere.

Some larger companies are beginning to be checked for copyright in the software they use. I worked for a local leading advertising company who has 100 employees, but only 3 copies of original software (Windows XP, Photoshop, Illustrator) were placed on the shelf for copyright checking, even these 3 copies were bought after being fined. This weird response to checking is a common phenomenon.

In terms of game consoles, a dedicated pirated device "Flash cartridge" has appeared for consoles that use cartridge such as GBA. That is, dump the contents from the original cartridge through the device, and then burn it into a blank cartridge.
PSP was unprecedentedly hot in China during this period, which is also related to its exclusive UMD discs being quickly cracked.
Sony did not successfully promote its UMD standard, but sold more memory sticks--parallel imports and piracy.
There are even rumors that Sony chairman Kazuo Hirai saw a seller skilled in cracking PSP in Beijing cyber mall...


China has once again vigorously striked on piracy. A large number of pirated websites were shut down, and some of them turned into original software agents. International software giants have also opened their own branches and sales channels in China. However, some companies have handed over the sales channels in China to the agents above, because they have been fancy for their localization experience.
However, some agents will change the original digital signature, and even add hijacked trojan, declare Chinese copyright, use their own serial number mechanism, and fake the Chinese version of the website. When the copyright owner discovers these bad behaviors and terminates the cooperation, these agents will threaten the copyright owner with the local share and announce that pirated and fake news will be released. Extremely bad.

There are no original or pirated in China anymore, only the difference between "Chinese version(Customized version for China)" and "Chinese language version(Original translation into Chinese language)". Very few users familiar with computers know which version should be used and how to get it, but most ordinary users do not have such ability. Their security and privacy are harmed by fake original software, which is no less harmful than piracy.
The software that caused such a scandal are Adobe Flash Player, Firefox, and later Opera, and even later Windows 10.

Chinese version FlashPlayer was found to violate user privacy and forced installation.

China's domestic software industry has long since almost collapsed. Only some small commercial software companies can survive, and the larger ones are outsourcing to Japan and Europe.

China's game industry is still stagnant under the influence of the game console ban. However, the introduction of PC online games from abroad is hot, because it is more difficult to pirate. Pirated media for console games from disc to hard drive, except that it took some time for the PS3 cracking, both the Xbox360 and Wii were quickly cracked.

Smartphones developed rapidly in this period. Finding and using piracy on these mobile operating systems is easy. Of course, many trojans are injected, security is not there.


Nowadays, it is not easy for common Chinese computer users to find a piracy on the Internet.
First of all, search is a problem --the vast majority of people can only use Chinese search engines, and the software found in the search results are Chinese trial versions.
Even if a magnet link or torrent is found, the bittorrent download is interrupted. The closed Chinese version of the bittorrent protocol has also been filtered for piracy (supposedly, I have never used it)

On the other side, users also have less incentive to piracy:
  • Open source software is booming. (Some giants such as Google and Amazon have established their own developer ecosystem.)
  • Many of the professional software have launched affordable subscription.
  • Non-professional users have many free software to choose that is not powerful but enough to use.
  • PC software distribution platforms such as GOG and Steam have opened up sales channels.
  • As for console gamers, they have habit of paying, and they also have the option of renting and membership subscription.

However, there are still a large number of pirated software with trojan in mobile operating systems. Maybe it doesn't matter --China's mobile operating system itself has become a trojan.

But even so, there are still many people who want to use piracy, and this is not difficult. --There are some websites in China that provide "repair" services, as long as you contact the seller and explain what you want, they will usually do it for you. Of course, there are security and privacy risks. I dare not do this anyway.

Today you can still find various piracy and piracy services.

I have been using open source software, non-China version of software and hardware, which has ensured security for years.
If there is risky software that I have to use, I will put it in an isolated area, even different hardware and networks, and use tools for tracking and analysis.

In any case, the use of piracy is wrong and dangerous.

This article has been written for a long time, and it has not been expanded in detail in many places. I did not mention the piracy of the film, either.
Maybe I can write another article about privacy protection in the future.


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