Copycat China?

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

Thomas P. Kelly (Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations)
­­Freshman Seminar 63K 4 credits (spring term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

In our age of deception, China is widely blamed for a failure to respect intellectual property. These attacks are not new: Chinese makers have long been condemned for flooding the market with cheap knockoffs, forgeries, and counterfeit brands. Challenging such stereotypes, this seminar explores ideas of copying in Chinese art and literature from ancient times to the present day. We will uncover a surprising history of forgeries, hoaxes, swindles, and scams, questioning what is meant by “originality.” In doing so, we will also investigate the role of forgeries in shaping Western misconceptions about Chinese culture. From the Terracotta Army and medieval Buddhist spells to Mao’s Golden Mangoes and “Shanzhai Harry Potter,” the seminar asks what makes something a “fake.” What is the relationship between forgery and invention? How have piracy and plagiarism influenced cultural innovation? What makes someone a skillful faker? Giving you hands-on experience in the Harvard Art Museums and the Harvard-Yenching Library, we will learn what it takes to authenticate works of art and spot forgeries. Readings and class discussions will question what we think we know about China, creativity, and the timeless art of “faking it.”

Note: No knowledge of Chinese required. All readings are in English.

See also: Spring 2021