What Plagiarism Was Not: Some Preliminary Observations on Classical Chinese Attitudes toward What the West Calls Intellectual Property
33 Pages Posted: 9 Jan 2009
Date Written: January 6, 2009
China has never viewed intellectual property the way we do in the West. Chinese culture and its educational system long placed great emphasis on borrowing passages from its rich heritage of classical texts. In imperial China, no man's education was complete until he could quote vast tracts of the Confucian classics verbatim and weave appropriate selections into his written work and daily conversation. When traditional Chinese authors borrowed words and phrases from a classic, they rarely identified the quoted material because all educated readers already recognized the source. It was superfluous. Yet it was also sometimes necessary for the reader to identify precisely where the quoted material was borrowed from before it was possible to determine what it meant in its new context. The assertion that China did not develop intellectual property rights for the written word because the Confucian tradition did not consider the provenance of borrowed material important is therefore not persuasive. Furthermore, other schools of thought, and Buddhism in particular, also affected early attitudes toward the lack of property rights in printed works. Buddhism was extensively involved in all aspects of early book production in China; because the motive was the acquisition of religious merit, and because Buddhism was inherently suspicious of the concept of property, it is not a surprise that several hundred years elapsed between the first mass printing of Buddhist works and the first claims that an author might possess some kind of property right to his printed work. This is an aspect of the development of intellectual property in China that has not received the attention it deserves.
Keywords: China, intellectual property, plagiarism
JEL Classification: K11, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation