Beijing has been struck by a desperate shortage of pirated DVDs, clothes and handbags.
The city's popular DVD stores, usually stacked with US$1 copies of new release films including some that haven't been officially distributed in China, have been stripped bare - aside from a dusty assortment of old Audrey Hepburn movies.
Shopkeepers at Beijing's Silk Market, with 1500 stalls, have replaced walls of Polo shirts and Abercrombie & Fitch jumpers with ''I Love Beijing'' T-shirts, while the trade in fake international brands has been confined to the boots of cars outside.
Thankfully, from the point of view of store owners and illicit bargain hunters - and despite a banner above the market's entry that translates as ''attack IP violating behaviour; safeguard market economy order'' - the usual counterfeit stocks will be back on the shelves as soon as international delegates to a major intellectual property conference have safely returned home.
''Come back on the 30th,'' said one shop assistant at the Silk Market, who normally stocks fake Polo shirts.
The reason for the empty shelves and Potemkin displays is that Beijing has been hosting the World Intellectual Property Convention where delegates signed the Beijing Treaty on Protecting Audiovisual Performances. Liu Qi, Politburo member and Beijing Party boss, said it was the pride of Beijing.
''Respect for intellectual property is a must,'' he said after the convention closed yesterday. ''We will grasp this opportunity to further strengthen intellectual property and build Beijing as the first city of IP.''
True to his word, in the high-end designer section of the Zoo Markets, store owners were carefully picking the labels off what looked like designer dresses and storing them in bags.
Labels for Prada, Gucci, Hermes, Lanvin, Chloe, Givenchy and Diane von Furstenberg were bagged and stored against the counter, ready to be sewn back on after the convention delegates return home.
A customer returned to buy the same black Phillip Lim dress she bought two weeks earlier, for 360 yuan ($71) rather than the 4000 yuan price advertised on the Chinese online shopping site Taobao, and was sold the same dress for the same price but with the label removed.
International visitors have been kicking themselves for not checking the intellectual property conference calendar before planning their travel dates.
''I asked at the Silk Market why there was no Prada or Mulberry,'' said New Zealander Kristin Cook, after showing visitors around the city. ''They told me this is the week of the big meeting, and until the meeting was over they couldn't sell any international brands.''
Her guests were similarly disappointed at her favourite DVD stores and Hongqiao Market.
''At Hongqiao they said there's big trouble this week, come back next week,'' she said. ''So we went to the Great Wall instead.''
The pirating of fashion labels and cultural content upsets multinational companies but raises little concern among citizens in China. Mass outbreaks of fake food, counterfeit medicine and adulterated milk, on the other hand, cause outrage.
The minister in charge of the National Copyright Administration of China, Liu Minjie, praised conference delegates for their ''spirit of co-operation, flexibility and pragmatism''. Francis Gurry, director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, praised China for ''outstanding organisation''.
- Sydney Morning Herald