China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
During the Qing period, the state continuously encountered legal challenges imposed by non-official publishers’ reprinting of official publications. Since the eighteenth century, the state compromised with these publishers’ practices to meet the growing demand for printed texts caused by the population boom. These unauthorized (re)prints, in return, undermined the state’s monopoly in producing core texts, as well as its supreme authority in the practice of law, due to its ambiguous stand on the intellectual property, information control, and knowledge dissemination. This panel explores this entangled legal tension between the Qing state and non-official publishers through three major case studies on the imperial code, imperial calendar, and new textbooks. Ting Zhang’s paper reveals how commercial publishers replaced official publishers as the main providers of the Great Qing Code and other law books to officials and commoners. This trend led to changes to the judicial system and legal practice and undermined the government control over the interpretation and practice of the law. Yuanchong Wang’s paper discusses the prevalence of illegal printing of the imperial calendar. The piratical calendar publishers became an indispensable agent for Beijing-modulated time to reach the ordinary Chinese households at the cost of the strict practice of the law. Fei-Hsien Wang’s paper examines the disputes and the public discussions on government piracy in the last decade of the Qing. It shows how the late Qing state’s legal and intellectual authority was profoundly challenged and injured when it violated its copyright regulation and failed to deliver high-quality “New Learning” texts.