Yu Hua: “Only Proper That My Books Be Pirated”

While he’s “opposed to counterfeiting in all forms,” author Yu Hua claims that he can live with the piracy of his books if it means they end up in the hands of China’s poor. From his guest column in Wednesday’s New York Times:

The West constantly, and often justly, criticizes the Chinese government for sitting on its hands as movies, songs, books and luxury goods are counterfeited and sold. But a more apt metaphor might be to say that its hands are tied. In the West, piracy is a matter of intellectual property — copyright, patents and trademarks — but in China, the issue is not just legal, but social.

Why are fake goods everywhere? The administrator suggested part of the reason: businesses producing pirated and knockoff goods have intricate connections to local governments and officials. These enterprises are, plainly, major sources of tax revenue; less visibly, some officials have an economic stake in them.

But the most basic reason, in my view, is the huge demand for pirated and knockoff products. After more than 30 years of rapid economic development that made China the world’s second largest economy, there are still more than 100 million Chinese, mostly peasants, who make less than $1 a day. Food and housing prices have been rising, creating an enormous market for counterfeit items among those without money. They can’t afford genuine, guaranteed-quality products and can buy only cheap, counterfeit goods. They live surrounded by contaminated rice, adulterated milk powder, tainted vegetables, spoiled ham, unsafe toys, even fake eggs. Day after day, year after year, they consume substandard food and rely on defective supplies. Reading offers a means to improve their condition, and low-cost, pirated books are the only ones they can afford.

 

Also on Wednesday, police in the Gansu city of Lanzhou seized 20,000 pirated books in its largest such raid this year, according to the People’s Daily.