Publishing

China's unfavorable copyright imbalance

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GAPP just released a report on the state of China's publishing industries in 2006. The report concluded that, while China's copyright-related trade has made strides, the "unfavorable copyright trade imbalance" hasn't fundamentally reversed.

In support of this conclusion, the report cited figures showing that 12,386 copyrighted publication titles "from elsewhere" were sold in China in 2006, while China exported only 2,057 copyrighted publication titles. The report includes comments from industry experts saying that the competitive power of China's "book products" is still relatively weak. Chinese books that "walk out" into the international arena will have to "carry a heavy load over a long distance."

To anyone with passing familiarity with the quality of media published in China, the fact that China imports vastly more publications than it exports should be no surprise. Years of censorship, restrictions on market access, rampant copying and ingrained corruption have taken their toll on product quality. As a result, reporting and non-fiction writing in China tends to be simplistic (or simply propaganda) and include inaccuracies; comprehensiveness and analysis is rare. Fiction writing often lacks the drama and plot developments that characterize storytelling that captures a global audience.

The "unfavorable copyright trade imbalance" — or, put another way, the absence of international demand for Chinese publications — reflects the global market's assessment of the quality of Chinese publications. China would be well-advised to accept this lack of demand as a function of market forces, rather than crying unfairness or discrimination. Pushing Chinese publications into an unwilling market will only leave international audiences with a sour impression of Chinese media. If China thinks the copyright trade imbalance is unfavorable now, think how much worse it will be after global readers have slogged through "The Selected Works of Jiang Zemin" and sworn, "Never again."

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There are currently 10 Comments for China's unfavorable copyright imbalance.

Comments on China's unfavorable copyright imbalance

Does anyone if that figure includes Hong Kong and Taiwan published material? (I note the Chinese just says 全国)Also anyone know what those exported publications are and where they go? I can only think of a dozen or so films, Chinese language textbooks and a small number of novels.

Odadrek, as you point out, the Chinese (全国) leaves room for ambiguity, but this news article was about a GAPP report, and my understanding is that GAPP figures pertain to the Mainland. Regarding the specific publications that are exported, the article contained no details. Indeed, the Chinese text (出版物) is ambiguous even as to what types of publications — newspapers, magazines, books, online media — are included in the numbers.

Hmm, perhaps its the paper quality, the content etc. that make their books so unappealing to the rest of the world? Most Chinese best-sellers are asinine. Often they are nationalistic junk (China Can Say No!), their history books are chock full of more lies than the ones published by Japanese right wingers. Or maybe it's plagiarized and if it's exported someone will call them on it and they'll get angry and deny it. What are they going to sell? Besides, it's not a bad thing at all that China actually has a trade imbalance NOT in its favor in at least one market.

Chung Yao novels and movies about doomed loves between beautiful,poor girls (not another Lin Qing-xia movie, please!) and rich boys with horrid mothers don't sell well in the West, and neither do most of the other pathetic tear-jerkers of disease-stricken persons who take up three-quarters of the story to die, that appeal to East Asian readers. Neither does the average "wu xia xiao shuo." And recent stories by adolescent girls about making love to a different man each night are boring, if not posed against settings that allow Western readers to understand the full background of the culture and individual. Although these themes could be made more attractive to Westerners, vitality is missing from the current formulae. But some do make the cross-over by tugging at the heartstrings in a universalist way. Chinese authors know this: it's not what they write, it's how they write it. The same for the movies. I may be dating myself, but Taiwan's Ou Wei was just such an actor ("Execution In Autumn", "The Family That Raises Ducks"), kind of a Chinese Marlon Brando but sadly he died way too soon. Toshiro Mifune and Takakura Ken likewise transmit universally. Gong Li? Sure.

Thinking more, these statistics are quite dubious. Do they mean that 2,057 mainland(?) titles were published for the first time in other countries, or just that there were 2,057 in print in other countries? Or just that 2,057 titles were published in China and then exported. (I don't find the Chinese 输出 very helpful, although maybe others do.)
Focusing on the number of titles is also misleading as in every country this statistic will be skewed by university and national library collections that buy everything considered to be reasonably important within the country of its publication. My university library had loads of Chinese titles that almost nobody ever read -including political works by the likes of Jiang Zemin. Because of this most countries almost certainly 'import' more titles than they 'export'. If one was to examine sales volumes, my guess is that Chinese people buy and read a far higher ratio of local : foreign books than people from most other countries. In New Zealand sales volumes of imported titles and local titles are about equal, but my guess is that in Chinese bookshops local titles far outsell imported ones (mostly because they're cheaper.)

"In New Zealand sales volumes of imported titles and local titles are about equal, but my guess is that in Chinese bookshops local titles far outsell imported ones (mostly because they're cheaper."

NO...like everything else under the Sun...in China foreign titles are pirated...the "official" ones are censored and so the locals would pay extra for the real thing or will give up the authentic for the cheap knockoff...but the main reason why there exists an inbalance between local and foreign sales is because those incharge manipulate the market so that the domestic marketplace benefits there own ends...this is a total violation of WTO rules...since when does China follow rules?

Todd L. Platek: Geez, Brigitte Lin hasn't been in a movie for over a decade. And it was probably several decades before that that she last was in a Qiong Yao film. Heck, even Vicki Zhao doesn't do Auntie's shows anymore.

Get with the 21st Century, man!

Joel, Anyone who calls Lin Qingxia "Brigette" needs to talk to about 1 billion Chinese who never heard of "Brigitte." Kind of like "Theresa" Deng. 21st Century? And hey, if they've got better stuff to parade now, it sure still hasn't made a big hit en masse in the Western world. That's the point.

I also strongly believe that the copyright issue is first a cultural issue, possibly coming from censorship and market restriction, since major part of Chinese population do not understand what is a patent or copyright and where is the avantage to pay a real Nike shoe 1000 RMB when an indentical one is available for 100 RMB on the black market. In the same way, where is the value to rewrite a title or get creative ideas when those ideas are already described well on somebody else's papers? History events did not let Chinese people think by themselves: We cannot ask someone to be creative since anyone has never teach them how to act independently.

I think the article already named the main reason: you only sell books abroad if they are written in a way that appeal to an international audience. You don't necessarily learn to write that way in China, as the there has been limited exposure to international media products of any kind, and a limited market (see the Chinese domestic reading figures...). Writing certain best-selling genres (such as "Crime", "Thriller") requires a great understanding of how this genre's mechanisms are - and from people like Qiu Xiaolong you can see that this can be learned and that is absolutely compatible with having a specific Chinese perspective and tone to it. I have no doubt there will be more of this, but it is not surprising it shows up from exile Chinese first.

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