Pirates and Publishers: A Social History of Copyright in Modern China maps the everyday life of copyright and piracy in China from the 1890s through the 1950s. Fei-Hsien Wang, associate professor of history at Indiana University, Bloomington, has received the Peter Gonville Stein Book Award from the American Society for Legal History, given for the best book in non-US legal history written in English. The citation praised Pirates and Publishers “for understanding the interplay among law, society, culture, and politics, not only in modern China, but also in many places with similarly complicated experiences with modernity.”
Prof. Wang explains for CCC why she choose copyright as the lens for understanding China, and particularly Chinese book culture.
“I describe this work as a social history of copyright instead of a legal history of copyright for two main reasons. First of all, coming from a book historian’s perspective, I think there is much more about copyright and piracy than legal court cases or the making of copyright law or treaties. This captures the heart of knowledge production and the book industry in a very intriguing way.
“But this is not just about the nature of books. What constitutes a book? Who can be the legitimate owner of a book or of a work? That involves the production process, including how are you going to pirate a book, and how do you get access of the content? How did the readers or the customers know this is an authentic copy or this is a knockoff?
“It’s also about the negotiation or the interaction between the content producer – the authors, the translators, etc. who provide the content – and the publishers and printers who make the manuscript into actual copies of books,” she explains. “I figured this would be a good entry point for me to get a better sense of how this knowledge economy and book industry functions in a more multidimensional way”