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Li-Ning on Nike

Does this image look strangely familiar -- emphasis on the "strange"? 

In today's New York Times, columnist Joe Nocera notes that China has quickly mastered the intricacies of a market economy and cheap manufacturing, but its new-found enthusiam for brands hasn't yet translated into the ability to create them.  The Li-Ning sneaker is the eponymous brainchild of a famous Chinese gymnast, but its modified checkmark logo says "Nike."  Its English-language slogan, "Anything is Possible," sounds an awful lot like adidas' "Nothing is Impossible."  And while Li-Ning has snagged endorsements from Western sports figures including Shaquille O'Neal, the Shaq figure stamped on some styles apparently bears strong resemblance to the  Nike Air Jordan silhouette.

Du Bin for the New York Times

Like other domestic Chinese brands, Li-Ning would like to achieve a bit more respect (translation: higher price points) at home, and a share of the Western market as well.  But before Li-Ning secures shelf space in your local Foot Locker, Nocera argues, it will have to learn a bit more about the art of branding.  Not to mention trademark law.

How will China shed its image as a giant, nationwide factory for cheap, disposable goods and persuade foreign consumers to seek out the "Made in China" label?  Perhaps it's time to invoke the spirit of an individual who for a time was China's only house brand, Chairman Mao -- updated for the 21st century of course.

Chairman Mao