Zhang Ling Accused of Using Other Authors’ Work

When Penguin Canada puts one of its planned 2011 blockbuster books on hold you know something is up.  At issue is ‘Gold Mountain Blues’, written by a Toronto resident that calls herself Zhang Ling.  Ling’s book has gathered major awards in China and is being translated into English for release into Canada and Britain.

Ling’s previous book, ‘Aftershock’ was made into a movie in 2010 and became the biggest box-office hit in Chinese history with box office receipts of over $100 million.

‘Gold Mountain Blues’, however has been a controversial subject on the internet where individuals claim that Ling has ‘appropriated’ some of the ideas, characters, plots and details of a number of Canadian Chinese writers.  Imagine that?…a Chinese person taking someone else’s ideas as their own and making money on them.  Hmmmm….why does that sound familiar?

With the Chinese government trying to move away from its history and reputation of being a nation of commercial thieves, this is yet another incident that doesn’t bode well for the international reputation of China or of Chinese immigrants.  Though there has been lots of stories in the business community about the unethical and often illegal actions of many Chinese business and political persons this time it reaches into actual creative works. 

Who doesn’t know of China’s reputation for taking product designs and then producing knock-offs, often even with the original designers label for their own, but at much inferior quality?  This time is a little different, if the accusation are correct then it would be an example of an author ‘borrowing’ from other’s works and claiming the creation for herself.

But what gives these accusations some credibility is that not only do the accusers include Chinese individuals, they also refer to specific works, “Disappearing Moon Cafe'” by Sky Lee and “The Concubine’s Children” by Denise Chong.  The allegations found on the internet are that, Gold Mountain Blues (written in Chineses) plagiarizes the works of well-known Chinese Canadian authors who write in English, including Denise Chong, Wayson Choy, Sky Lee and Paul Yee.

Ling denies the accusations.  The accusations have not yet been proved in a court of law and I’m not sure how you would measure how they would be proven in the court of public opinion.

Yet, “Changjiang” (identified as Robert Luo on his site) is the key blogger determined to bring this issue to light.  His allegation is that Zhang has been playing the margins: taking advantage of the fact that Canadian Chinese writers cannot read Chinese, and Chines readers and critics do not understand English.  A search for “Changjiang” on the internet displays a number of links, including http://www.microsofttranslator.com/bv.aspx?&lo=TB&from=zh-CHS&to=en&a=http%3A%2F%2Fblog.sina.com.cn%2Fs%2Fblog_6f1d3bbd0100ofu3.html%3Ftj%3D1

However, Jennifer Jay, a historian at the University of Alberta who is fluent in Chinese and who read an online version of ‘Gold Mountain Blues’ was careful in a recent interview to say that the book did make her feel “alarm.”  She was referring to the comparison to “Disappearing Moon Cafe’.”

If Zhang Ling is in fact a plagiarizer (another word for a thief) then harm will have been done to Penguin Canada in the form of the five figures they paid out, as well as to the talented and hard-working authors she took from.  However, the most damage would be to the reputation of the Chinese people at a time when they are supposedly trying to clean up their image.  As a Chinese Canadian I would not be happy with this situation, especially if the allegations are true.

What can and should be done to fix this?  How about a thorough investigation by a panel of 7 people able to read both English and Chinese.  If Ling is found guilty, then she should give all her proceeds to those she stole from.  As for the Chinese government doing anything about it…somehow I don’t see them doing anything about it.

Then again maybe this is all an orchestrated attempt at gaining publicity for Zhang’s book.  Some people do believe that all news is good news and that controversy would get her publicity she wouldn’t otherwise get.  Regardless of what is behind it, this is not a good thing for the Chinese reputation and something should be done to get to the bottom of it beyond Penguin putting the book on hold.  The question in my mind is if Penguin finds Zhang did plagiarize, will they just shelve the book, or ask for their money back, or will they sue Zhang for fraud and damages for claiming the work for herself?

Will Zhang Ling ever be fully and properly investigated and bywho, or is it ‘whom’?

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