China and Inner Asia

Organized Panel Session

4 - Owning Books or Owning Ideas: The Changing Notions of Intellectual Property in Modern East Asia

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Washington Room 6, Exhibit Level

This paper explores the trans-lingual and cross-cultural transplantation and appropriation of the very concept of “copyright” in modern East Asia. By tracing how copyright became hanken in Japanese and later banquan in Chinese (both literarily mean “the right to printing blocks”) in the second half of the nineteenth century, it examines how the early promoters and practitioners of copyright in China and Japan negotiated between these two understandings of ownership of the book. It looks not only at the use of words and discourses these early promoters associated with the notion of copyright, but also the practices they and their contemporaries took in the name of “the right to printing blocks.” Although the early promoters of copyright in East Asia portrayed copyright as a progressive universal doctrine completely alien to the local culture and one that, for the sake of national survival, needed to be transplanted artificially, this paper suggests that actual practices of “copyright” tell a different story. Through analyzing the physical appearances of books, and the seals they stamped on them to declare their ownership, it argues that the “new” means they used to declare “copyright” was deeply intertwined with conventional norms and customs in early modern East Asian print cultures. They were derived from the Ming-Qing and Tokugawa practices of securing profits from printed books that in turn had its origins in owning tangible printing blocks, rather than abstract intellectual creations.

Fei-Hsien Wang

Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana

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4 - Owning Books or Owning Ideas: The Changing Notions of Intellectual Property in Modern East Asia



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