Harry Potter with Chinese Characteristics

harry potter chinese book coverI’ll admit it. I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan. I preorder books, read them within the first 48 hours, and then again two months later when the magical withdrawal becomes unbearable. I frequent the various Harry Potter blog sites, and am even guilty of watching the ‘behind the scenes’ features on the DVDs. Yes, it might be pathetic, but at least I am not alone. There were millions of us who waited with bated breath on July 21st for the official English-language release of the seventh and final book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”. Within the first 24 hours, the book sold 8.3 million copies in the U.S. alone.

Having resurfaced from my 48 hours of Harry Potter isolation, I, like many, continue to search for J.K. Rowling interviews and other related commentaries in a sorry attempt to keep the magic alive. What I found was quite astonishing. The most fruitful attempts to maintain this magical momentum were not, in fact, attributable to the 8.3 million American fans, nor to the scores of English-language readers worldwide. Instead, the Chinese, who still await the official translated version of the final book, constitute the driving force behind the unofficial Harry Potter phenomenon.

Preempting the Harry Potter craze, Chinese publishing houses have printed unauthorized translations of real Harry Potter books as well as fake copies of the most recent English-language edition. Such book piracy is not surprising, as 30 to 40 percent of all books for sale in China might be illegal. What is surprising, however, is that the Chinese have evolved past counterfeiting as a means to capitalize on the success of the Harry Potter phenomenon. Myriads of budding Chinese writers have taken it upon themselves to recreate the magical epic, publishing unauthorized Harry Potter titles that may or may not parallel the original. Such titles include “Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Relative Prince,” “Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon,” “Harry Potter and the Chinese Empire,” “Harry Potter and the Young Heroes,” “Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon,” and “Harry Potter and the Big Funnel.” Dozens of these titles are hawked on street corners and even cataloged in school libraries. Some imitate the original text, while others weave in plots from other established authors like J.R.R. Tolkien. Still others swap protagonists with those from well-known kung-fu epics and Chinese literary classics.

The most notable such invention is entitled “Harry Potter and the Showdown,” a 250,000-word novel that replaces Book Seven. The novel was written by Li Jingsheng, a manager at a Shanghai textile factory, in order to allay his son’s fierce anticipation for the release of the final book. The finished manuscript was placed online and has received rave reviews from its 150,000 readers. One such comment of praise from Gu Guaiguai, an enthusiastic fan, reads, “I wonder if Rowling would bother to continue to write if she had read [‘Showdown’].” Despite receiving no interest from publishers, “Showdown” is nevertheless being sold in a bound version on the streets of China’s major cities. The source: the People’s Literature Publishing House (the official publisher of the Harry Potter series in China), which denies any association with the fraudulent novel. Seemingly innocent, the publishing house’s director of business development, Sun Shunlin, recently reminded the public that, “You are not supposed to use the name of Harry Potter anywhere else other than J.K. Rowling’s own books.” Thank you, Sun, for clearing that up.

Other publishers are not so quiet about their attempts to piggyback on the success of Harry Potter. “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,” explained Wang Lili, the editor of the China Braille Publishing House. Wang is referring to the knockoff book “Harry Potter and the Chinese Porcelain Doll,” published in 2002.

Wang’s attitude towards piracy is shared by many in China, despite recent government attempts to reverse the rampant violation of intellectual property rights. Such efforts have been slow to take effect, as one can still purchase knockoff prescriptions, DVDs, artwork, and even automobiles. With regards to book piracy, Wei Bin, editor of the Writers’ Publishing House, concludes that, “The focus of the government is not to fight against piracy. 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, and the Anti-Rightist Campaign.”

Perhaps Mr. Wei has a point. In the struggle to uphold IPR, the Chinese government might respond more fervently to products which seemingly threaten political and social stability than to any economic retaliation or sanction from the international community. While ‘Counterrevolutionary Viagra’ is an unlikely innovation, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Coal Mines” is not, especially given the rise of citizen journalism and public opinion in China. Until the release of “Deathly Coal Mines” and the subsequent crackdown on literary fraud, however, I will be enjoying my copy of “Showdown.”

Source: Only in China: Harry Potter and the Big Funnel

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