Copyright The New York Times
By Howard W. French
SHANGHAI: China could not wait for the official release date of the seventh book in the worldwide Harry Potter publishing franchise, a little more than a week ago. It came out here with an identical title a full 10 days before the official worldwide English language release – in a wholly unauthorized version.
Chinese writers and their fans are not having it with the idea that the seventh installment is the last word in the best-selling series, either. No one can say with any certainty what the full tally is, but there are easily a dozen fake Harry Potters on the market here already, and that is counting only bound versions of the mystery/adventure stories that are sold on street corners and can even be found in school libraries. Still more versions exist online.
Although they may bear her name, the proliferation of Harry Potter books here has nothing in common with the originator of the series, the British author J.K. Rowling, save for the appropriation of her famous characters’ names. Here, the global Harry Potter phenomenon has mutated into something altogether Chinese: a combination of remarkable imagination and startling industriousness, all placed in the service of counterfeiting, literary fraud and copyright violation.
Wang Lili, editor of the China Braille Publishing House, which published “Harry Potter and the Chinese Porcelain Doll” in 2002, one of the numerous knockoffs here, said: “We published the book out of a very common incentive. Harry Potter was so popular that we wanted to enjoy the fruits of its widely accepted publicity in China.”
The attitude reflected in Wang’s comment goes a long way toward explaining not only the explosion of unauthorized Harry Potter literature in China, but also the much larger problem of rampant piracy in China, where travelers can find six different knockoffs of Viagra – without prescription – on display at airport drugstores, and where fake DVDs, fake Picassos, fake bottled water, fake cellphones and even near-identical copies of automobile models are widely available.
China has recently stepped up efforts to rein in the production, and especially the export, of fraudulent, dangerous and substandard goods, in the face of strong criticism from the United States and the European Union. Authors and editors say, however, that the sphere of literature and publishing is, at best, an afterthought.
Wei Bin, editor of the Writers’ Publishing House, which investigates book piracy, said that his group’s last survey, in 2001, showed that as many as 30 to 40 percent of the books on sale in China may be pirated.
“The focus of the government is not to fight against piracy,” Wei said. “It seems they fight harder for banned publications, like pornography, political books, such as things written about the leadership, the government, and historical matters like the Cultural Revolution, the Anti-Rightist Campaign.
“They maintain tight control over such things, but as literary books, such as the ones we identify as being pirated, when we report the matter to the relevant authorities, they settle matters by leaving them unsettled.”
An Boshun, editor of one of the biggest-selling works of Chinese fiction in recent years, “Wolf Totem,” whose author has maintained his anonymity, said there were at least 15 million fake copies of the book in circulation here, compared with two million legal ones.
“I once even got a call from someone who said that he represented two pirate book businessmen and they wanted him to say thanks to me for my work,” An said. “They wanted me to know that ‘Wolf Totem’ had brought many job opportunities to country folks working in printing shops in Hebei and Shandong Provinces.”
The zest with which the Potter series has been copied can be seen in the titles available for sale in China.
These include “Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Relative Prince,” whose name in Chinese closely resembles a genuine title in the series, as well as many others that are pure inventions, blending everything from story lines lifted from J.R.R. Tolkien, to plots and snippets taken from famous kung fu epics and characters from Chinese literary classics, like “Journey to the West.”
Although not exhaustive, the list includes “Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon,” “Harry Potter and the Chinese Empire,” “Harry Potter and the Young Heroes,” “Rich Dad, Poor Dad and Harry Potter,” “Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-up-to-Dragon,” “Harry Potter and the Big Funnel,” “Harry Potter and the Golden Armor,” “Harry Potter and the Crystal Vase,” and on and on.
In a story heard from one publisher after another, Wang said she was introduced to an aspiring author by a third party.
“I did not believe it at first, since it only took the person 20 days to write 200,000 words,” she added. “But after reading it, I found that it was not bad. The author did not plagiarize Rowling’s novels because the story was full of his own imagination. There was creativity and even magic in some of the plotting.”
The iterations of Potter fraud and imitation are so copious they must be peeled back by the layer.
As in some other countries, there are unauthorized translations of real Harry Potter books and sometimes more than one version of a particular title may be available here.
There are books masquerading as works written by Rowling. There are copies of the genuine items – both English and Chinese – scanned, reprinted, bound and sold for a fraction of the authorized texts.
There are Harry Potter books published under names, real or assumed, of Chinese authors. There are books published under the imprint of major, established Chinese publishing houses, which the publishers themselves claim no knowledge of. And there are books by budding Chinese writers hoping to piggyback the series’ fame and make it as authors, sometimes only to have their fake Potters copied and distributed by underground publishers who, naturally, pay them no royalties.
“I bought Harry Potter 1-6 for my son a couple of years ago, and when he finished reading them he kept asking me to tell him what happens next,” said Li Jingsheng, one such author, a manager at a Shanghai textile factory. “We couldn’t wait, so I began making up my own story and in May last year I typed it up on my computer. I had to get up early and go to bed late to write this novel, usually spending one hour, from 6 to 7 in the morning and 10 to 11 in the evening to write it, averaging about 3,000 words a day.”
The result was “Harry Potter and the Showdown,” a 250,000-word novel, the final version of which he placed recently on Web sites, followed by a notice saying he was looking for publishers. The book quickly logged 150,000 readers on a popular Chinese site, Baidu.com’s Harry Potter fan Web page.
“This is fantastic,” Gu Guaiguai, an admiring reader, wrote online about “Showdown.” “I wonder if Rowling would bother to continue to write if she had read it.”
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Copyright The New York Times