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REVIEWS William P. Alford. To Steal a Book Is an Elegant Offense: Intellectual Property Law in Chinese Civilization. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995. 220 pp. Hardcover, isbn 0-8047-2270-6. William Alford offers in this short (123 pages oftext) but densely written book an overview of intellectual property law and practice in China (including Taiwan) from the Qin dynasty to the present. The outcome is a very readable, informative, and yet surprisingly nuanced account ofintellectual property law in Chinese civilization that is likely to appeal to academicians as well as legal practitioners seeking to situate the existing blackletter law within the broad sweep of Chinese history . That Alford is able to traverse the two-millennia course ofintellectual property law in China in a mere 123 pages is due not only to his concise writing style. The fact that "imperial China did not develop a sustained indigenous counterpart to intellectual property law" also makes the task somewhat more manageable (p. 2). The book is organized chronologically. After an introductory chapter, chapter 2 covers the period from the Qin to the Qing, chapter 3 the period from the late Qing to the victory ofthe communists, and chapter 4 the socialist period. Chapter 5 is devoted to the struggle to develop intellectual property law in Taiwan . Chapter 6 concludes with an analysis of and comments on U.S. intellectual property policy in China. The opening chapter provides an introduction to each of the following chapters and a summary offour main theses. First, imperial China did not develop a sustained counterpart to Western intellectual property law due in large part to "the character ofChinese political culture" (p. 2). Second, Europeans and Americans failed in their initial attempts to introduce Western intellectual property law to China because they did not consider the relevance ofsuch laws to China and mistakenly assumed that political pressure alone would suffice to compel adoption ofand compliance with such laws. Third, current attempts to establish intellectual property law, particularly on the mainland, similarly fail "to address the difficulties ofreconciling legal values, institutions, and forms generated in the West with the legacy of China's past and the constraints imposed by its present© 1997 by University circumstances" (p. 2). Finally, U.S. policyregardingintellectualpropertylawin ofHawai'iPressthe PRC and Taiwan is "based on fundamental misconceptions about the nature oflegal development and is therefore in need of major reformulation" (p. 2). 56 China Review International: Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 1997 Alford is aware that these are large and controversial claims. Accordingly, he tacks on to the end of the introduction an extended list of the difficulties encountered in writing on intellectual property rights in China and a series of qualifications with respect to the nature, methodology, and data ofthe study. Two qualifications are particularly noteworthy. First, differences in political culture lie at the heart ofAlford's analysis ofthe divergent paths of intellectual property law in the West and China. Yet Alford is keenly aware that cultural explanations do not readily lend themselves to hard proof. He also notes that caution must be exercised when relying on cultural explanations given that China, over the course of the more than two thousand years in question, was far from culturally monolithic . Second, care must be taken to avoid the assumption that contemporary Western intellectual property law and practice represents the norm or some normatively and culturally neutral standard for all countries to aspire to. Before we Americans jump on our soapboxes, we would do well to remember that although the scope ofprotection afforded by intellectual property law in the U.S. has broadened over time, it remains subject to certain limitations (such as the seventeen -year limit on patents and the public's right offair use ofcopyright materials ). Furthermore, compliance with such laws is far from perfect. Even wealthy Americans (relatively speaking) have been known to make copies of cassette tapes or CDs or, heaven forbid, to buy pirated CDs sold on the streets of Beijing. In the second chapter, Alford argues that while the state in premodern China sought to control the unauthorized reproduction of texts, the purpose was to sustain imperial power by controlling the dissemination ofideas. In short, the state was acting as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 55-61
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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