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(China Unicom corporate advertisement)

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(pubblicità corporate di China Unicom)


The “Da Vinci case” and “Made in Italy” in China: how many mysteries still out there?

(The original version of this post was published on July 21, 2011, in Italian, at the following link: http://www.cineresie.info/il-“caso-da-vinci”-e-il-“made-in-italy”-in-cina-quanti-misteri-ancora-da-svelare/)

July 10, 2011, 12:25. The program Weekly Report on Quality (Meizhou zhiliang baogao 每周), broadcast by CCTV 13, dedicates a whole episode to a scandal that, in the blink of an eye, involves of the biggest retailer of luxury furniture in Asia: Da Vinci Furniture Ltd. Founded in 1978 by the Singaporean Doris and Tony Phua, throughout the years the company specialized in the distribution of “international furniture superbrands” (guoji chaoji jiaju pinpai 家居品牌) many of which, as proudly stated on the official website of Da Vinci China, are Italian: Armani Casa, Versace Home, Fendi Casa, Kenzo Maison, etc.
The episode – evocatively titled “The Da Vinci Code” (Dafenqi “jiema” 芬奇”) – described the story of Mrs. Tang who had spent 2.8 million yuan to buy a set of luxury furniture in the Da Vinci shop in Beijing, and later realized that the measures were not the same ones specified in the order, and that there was a strong smell of paint in her living room. Therefore, she went to the shop in order to receive some explainations, but she was told that the furniture she had bought, the majority of which was produced by the Italian company Cappelletti S.r.L., were entirely produced in Italy, with natural and high-quality materials, as guaranteed by the attached certification label 100% Made in Italy. This answer, though, didn’t satisfy Mrs. Tang who, thanks to her determination, gave birth to a real investigation.
The results of the researches carried out by CCTV for more than six months showed that Mrs. Tang had all the reasons to be doubtful. Da Vinci really commissioned the production of furniture similar to that of international companies to two Chinese companies: the Shenzhen Gold Phoenix Furniture International Group and the Dongguan Changfeng Furniture Co., Ltd., both based in Guangdong. The CCTV cameras showed double beds apparently identical to those exhibited in the Da Vinci showrooms, as well as other pieces of furniture very similar to those bought by Mrs. Tang branded Cappelletti. As observed by the journalist of CCTV, the difference from a Cappelletti double bed “Made in Italy” and one “Made in Italy Made in China” was hard to spot, but the price difference – once one had saw the production phases and the low quality materials used for the Chinese version – was easy to guess: 300 thousand yuan against 30 thousand yuan. The furniture produced by Changfeng resulted to be “out of norm” (bu hege 不合格) after the checks from the Chinese authorities.
The general manager of Changfeng, Peng Jie, confirmed that in 2006 his company started to produce furniture for Da Vinci, in particular models similar to those of the Cappelletti, Hollywood and Riva brands, reaching a value of more than 50 million yuan in 2010. This “high level” furniture were shipped from the Shenzhen harbour to Italy and then returned to China via Shanghai harbour. According the version provided by CCTV, Da Vinci was particularly careful in producing and handling the required documents, as – right in these years – it was getting ready to enter the stock exchange market. A milestone that today seems almost impossible to hit.
Right in Da Vinci’s face – “Monnalisa” Cry
July 13, 15:00. After three days of mediatic storm, Doris Phua, founder and CEO of Da Vinci, shows up at a press conference organized last minute and conducted by the vice general manager of the company, Huang Zhixin. Behind there, sitting in front of an array of journalists, there are the delegates of more or less twenty companies, the majority Italian and a few American, whose brands had been able to enter the Chinese market only thanks to Da Vinci’s mediation.
Once she reaffirmed that the luxury furniture she sells are 100% “Made in Italy”, Doris Phua passed the microphone to three Italian enterpreneurs, respectively: Antonio Munafò (CEO, Jumbo), Tino Cappelletti (CEO, Cappelletti S.r.L.) and Stefano Vagelli (general manager, Riva). As already revealed in an interview with Agi China 24, the Italian enterpreneurs first of all defended the italianicity of their “Made in Italy”,  but also showed their support to Da Vinci, and guaranteed that in many years they never had any problem and they trust their Chinese retailer; moreover, they expressed the opinion that the fraud as depicted by CCTV was really difficult, if not impossible, to committ.
Following, Doris Phua confirmed she had commercial contacts with Gold Phoenix and Changfeng, but avoided to give too many details. Then the press conference took the dimensions of a real tv show: a consumer on spot started to shout at the Da Vinci CEO, asking her to dismiss – or confirm – the truth of the facts as reported by the national television; an accident that lead Doris Phua to tell stories that had nothing to do with the press conference and, last but not least, made her burst into tears. In the middle of such a confusion, the poor journalists weren’t even allowed to have some time to ask questions, if not privately.
After the press conference, the “Da Vinci case” became a real media torment, capable of gaining some space not only on television, newspapers, magazines and online forums, but also on microblogs, whose authors deformed the most visual elements of the case in a very creative way, giving birth to many ironic “parodies” (egao ), like this one starring Doris Phua:

Some netizens, both Chinese and foreigner, also asked themselves whether those foreigners (amorously called laowai 老外 or yangren 洋人) who attended the press conference were really Italian enterpreneurs or actors who had been paid to provide the self-defence process of the Da Vinci CEO with a minimum amount of credibility.

The Show Must Go On – The Da Vinci “Code” Da Vinci (2)

July 17, 12:25. Exactly one week after the “Da Vinci case” began, another episode of the program Weekly Report on Quality is broadcast: The Da Vinci “Code” 2. This new episode concentrates on the control activities carried out by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) of Shanghai, that started right after the broadcast of the previous episode. The most revelant features are the discovering of Da Vinci’s “three capital sins” (san zongzui 三宗罪), that is to say: 1. misleading promotion; 2. lack of  quality standards of some products; 3. lack of indicating the country of origin and materials of some products.
From the results of the spot checks, it emerged that eleven stocks of furniture were produced in China and all went through the so-called “one-day journey” (yiri you 一日游): they were shipped from the Chinese cities of Haining and Ningbo and, very quickly, entered China via the free trade zone of Shanghai, acquiring – without any merit – the status of “original imported goods” (yuanzhuang jinkou 原装).
During the episode, the name of another famous Italian furniture company was pronounced: Poltrona Frau. The journalist from CCTV tells how, during the press conference held on July 13, a spokeperson of the Italian company stood up and announced that his company never dealt with Da Vinci. His position was later confirmed thanks to a live telephone call with the flagship store general manager in Asia (his name, though, was not revealed). Actually, Da Vinci presents itself as the ufficial retailer of Poltrona Frau brand, as testified by some previous articles online, the two companies in October 2010 actually signed an agreement, welcomed with drums and trumpets by the Italian media. The mystery becomes more hard to solve.
According to the famous lawyer Qiu Baochang, Da Vinci went against the “Law on Protection of Rights and Interests of Consumers”, the “Product Quality Law” and the “Advertising Law” of the People’s Republic of China, but could even be sanctionable according to the Penal Code, through reclusion, detention, pecuniary sanction and/or expropriation of goods. This is no joke.
The “Da Vinci case” and some reflections on “Made in Italy” in China…

Today, the “Da Vinci Case” has not been solved, on the contrary: who knows how many mysteries are still out there. While in Italy someone referred to a “furniture war between Italy and China” and someone else expressed a sense of victimism towards this “Chinese-style fraud”, here in China a strong debate is going on on how the country can get rid, once for all, of the stereotype  “Made in China” = “low price, low quality” (lianjia dizhi 廉价低), the tendency of “adoring the foreign goods” (chongyang meiwai 崇洋媚外) and the bad habit of producing “fake foreign brands” (jia yanghuo 假洋), fuelling a possible imminent wave of nationalist consumerism.

Nonetheless, the “Da Vinci code” can offer a precious opportunity to reflect about the status of “Made in Italy” in China also to us. As I already highlighted in a interview with Agi China 24, Italy is a country that has a privileged position in the Chinese imaginary, and this is why it is important to use in a clever and efficient way the values that make China curious, interested and near to us: first of all, our cultural heritage and “Made in Italy”. Paradoxically, Da Vinci – that before this scandal was considered a winning example – was able to do it, exploiting a fake Italian identity that, to our eyes, of course looks unfounded and stereotyped. The founders of the company chose the name “Da Vinci” just because it is easily associated with positive ideas, strictly connected to Italian culture, art, creativity and style, and surely contributed to provide the brand with an added value...after all, if the Da Vinci logo, with its curves and floreal patterns, is realized in a perfect Art Nouveau style, who cares?


  1. great blog pot giovanna! would love to read more!

  2. thank you, Tricia!your comment means a lot to me :-)