Fei-Hsien Wang

Jun 7, 2021

Pirates and Publishers

A Social History of Copyright in Modern China

Princeton University Press 2019

Pirates and Publishers: A Social History of Copyright in Modern China (Princeton University Press, 2019) is a detailed historical look at how copyright was negotiated and protected by authors, publishers, and the state in late imperial and modern China. In Pirates and Publishers, Fei-Hsien Wang reveals the unknown social and cultural history of copyright in China from the 1890s through the 1950s, a time of profound sociopolitical changes. Wang draws on a vast range of previously underutilized archival sources to show how copyright was received, appropriated, and practiced in China, within and beyond the legal institutions of the state. Contrary to common belief, copyright was not a problematic doctrine simply imposed on China by foreign powers with little regard for Chinese cultural and social traditions. Shifting the focus from the state legislation of copyright to the daily, on-the-ground negotiations among Chinese authors, publishers, and state agents, Wang presents a more dynamic, nuanced picture of the encounter between Chinese and foreign ideas and customs. Developing multiple ways for articulating their understanding of copyright, Chinese authors, booksellers, and publishers played a crucial role in its growth and eventual institutionalization in China. These individuals enforced what they viewed as copyright to justify their profit, protect their books, and crack down on piracy in a changing knowledge economy. As China transitioned from a late imperial system to a modern state, booksellers and publishers created and maintained their own economic rules and regulations when faced with the absence of an effective legal framework. Exploring how copyright was transplanted, adopted, and practiced, Pirates and Publishers demonstrates the pivotal roles of those who produce and circulate knowledge.

Fei-Hsien Wang is associate professor at the Department of History, Indiana University Bloomington. She is a historian of modern China, with a particular interest in how information, ideas, and practices were produced, transmitted, and consumed across different societies in East Asia. Her research has revolved around the relations between knowledge, commerce, and political authority after 1800. She is Associate Editor of the American Historical Review.

Ghassan Moazzin is an Assistant Professor at the Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences and the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong. He works on the economic and business history of 19th and 20th century China, with a particular focus on the history of foreign banking, international finance and electricity in modern China. His first book, tentatively titled Banking on the Chinese Frontier: Foreign Banks, Global Finance and the Making of Modern China, 1870–1919, is forthcoming with Cambridge University Press.

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Ghassan Moazzin

Ghassan Moazzin is an Assistant Professor at the University of Hong Kong. He works on the economic and business history of 19th and 20th century China. You can find out more about his work on his website. He is also on twitter @ghassanmoazzin.

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