On Wednesday, a story appeared in The New York Times that would send almost anybody familiar with Chinese customs into a fit of guffaws and eye rolling. Officers from the New York Police Department arrested a Chinatown merchant for selling counterfeit merchandise -- the trouble was, the Luis Vuitton handbags and double-breasted suits were made of paper and designed not to be used. The replicas, known as joss, are meant to be burned as tribute to dead ancestors who will, it's believed, receive the items they resemble in the afterlife. New York's Chinatown has a whole street dedicated to them: A stretch of Mulberry Street known as Funeral Row. The Times report doesn't say whether the officer who arrested Wing Sun Mak, an employee of Fook On Sing Funeral Supplies, was legitimately fooled by the "handbags and loafers, obviously cardboard, that have print designs that vaguely resemble Louis Vuitton’s and Gucci’s." If he was, he probably wouldn't admit it.
But joss replicas can be very good. And even when they're obviously fake, they're frequently quite beautiful. The notion that joss can fool authorities has caused trouble before. In Vietnam, the government had to draw up regulations to ensure the replica cash didn't come too close to the real thing, Vietnamese news site Bao Moi reported. These days, iPads and iPhones also get the paper replica treatment, along with the more traditional cash, cars, houses, and clothes. But you really have to see the replica goods to get an idea of how silly it is to arrest people for selling them as knock-offs.