Creativity and Its Discontents: China's Creative Industries and Intellectual Property Rights Offenses


Creativity and Its Discontents is a sharp critique of the intellectual property rights (IPR)–based creative economy, particularly as it is embraced or ignored in China. Laikwan Pang argues that the creative economy—in which creativity is an individual asset to be commodified and protected as property—is an intensification of Western modernity and capitalism at odds with key aspects of Chinese culture. Nevertheless, globalization has compelled China to undertake endeavors involving intellectual property rights. ...
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Creativity and Its Discontents: China's Creative Industries and Intellectual Property Rights Offenses

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Creativity and Its Discontents is a sharp critique of the intellectual property rights (IPR)–based creative economy, particularly as it is embraced or ignored in China. Laikwan Pang argues that the creative economy—in which creativity is an individual asset to be commodified and protected as property—is an intensification of Western modernity and capitalism at odds with key aspects of Chinese culture. Nevertheless, globalization has compelled China to undertake endeavors involving intellectual property rights. Pang examines China's IPR-compliant industries, as well as its numerous copyright violations. She describes how China promotes intellectual property rights in projects such as the development of cultural tourism in the World Heritage city of Lijiang, the transformation of Hong Kong cinema, and the cultural branding of Beijing. Meanwhile, copyright infringement proliferates, angering international trade organizations. Pang argues that piracy and counterfeiting embody the intimate connection between creativity and copying. She points to the lack of copyright protections for Japanese anime as the motor of China's dynamic anime culture. Theorizing the relationship between knockoffs and appropriation art, Pang offers an incisive interpretation of China's flourishing art scene. Creativity and Its Discontents is a refreshing rejoinder to uncritical celebrations of the creative economy.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Laikwan Pang's thoroughly engaging study sets a new standard for analysis of the 'creative economy,' not just in China, but in every country where government officials have elevated the pursuit of creativity into industrial policy."—Andrew Ross, author of Fast Boat to China

"Making strategic use of the antagonistic role often played by China in the new global economy, Laikwan Pang raises fundamental questions about the hegemonic discourse of creativity as anchored in EuroAmerican traditions of rights, authorship, private property ownership, and reproduction. An admirably ambitious—and creative—book!"—Rey Chow, author of Sentimental Fabulations, Contemporary Chinese Films

<I>Times Higher Education</I> - Lucy Montgomery

“The book raises key questions for those interested in understanding the problematic relationship between intellectual property rights and the creative economy: the fetishisation of ‘creativity’ within discourses surrounding these rights, the contentious role of copying in artistic practice and cultural change, and tensions between cultural diversity and global intellectual property frameworks, to name but a few.... [T]his book contains a great deal that is valuable and interesting.”
CHOICE Magazine - S.J. Gabriel

“This volume is, to a significant extent, an attempt to recast the debate over intellectual property rights (IPR) in the context of a broadened definition of creativity and the creative acts of invention and innovation.... Readers interested in cultural analysis/critique of the "new economy" would find this text valuable.... Recommended.”
Journal of Asian Studies - Carlos Rojas

“Pang presents a nuanced and wide-ranging reflection on creativity.”
Journal of Cultural Policy - Rostam J. Neuwirth and Zhijie Chen

“Laikwan Pang offers readers valuable insights into the creative industries in the People’s Republic of China against the backdrop of its rise as a global actor…. [T]he discussion remains broad in scope and informative. It provides many interesting insights such as comparative references to policy choices in other countries, or the important concept of Shanzhai culture in China.”
China Journal - Ling-Yun Tang

“Pang provokes alternative readings of shanzhai culture as not mediated exclusively by market forces, and this provides a starting point for discussions about cultural creativity, production and circulation in the global creative economy. Specialists of Chinese contemporary art, tourism, cinema and popular culture will find Pang’s framing of the historical development of these various culture industries both interesting and informative.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822350828
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 12/31/2011
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Laikwan Pang is Professor of Cultural Studies and Religious Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She is the author of The Distorting Mirror: Visual Modernity in China and Cultural Control and Globalization in Asia: Copyright, Piracy, and Cinema.

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Read an Excerpt

Creativity and Its Discontents

China's Creative Industries and Intellectual Property Rights Offenses
By Laikwan Pang

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2012 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5065-1

Chapter One

Creativity as a Problem of Modernity

I devote chapters 1–3 to the theoretical explication of the meanings of creativity before analyzing the actual renditions and discontents of the creative economy in China. Our various understandings of creativity are characterized by the tensions and dynamics between freedom and control, art and design, textuality and industrialism. I believe the entangled relationships of these contradictions are rooted in the modernity project, adopted and reinforced by the creative economy as its latest manifestation. These three chapters provide an elaborate discussion of the ramifications of these dialectics in the operation of this creative economy, an economy as abstract as it is concrete. In chapters 2 and 3 I illustrate how creativity—largely through economic and legal mechanisms—is both mystified and made into a concrete property for today's global capitalism. In this chapter I go back to history a little bit to begin my analysis of creativity, along with a genealogical study of the concept in the context of Western modernity. Readers might find this chapter too distant from today's events in the world and in China, but I think it is important to lay a philosophical groundwork to understand the relationship between divine creativity and secular creativity in the West, which directly conditions how creativity is conceptualized and utilized globally today.

As it is widely studied, the modernity project is characterized by a particular Western epistemology, which, on the one hand, is driven by human desire for control over others and the world and, on the other hand, represents humanity's own insecurity about this sovereign position. There is a clear tendency among human beings in recent history to order and subdue the world through industrialization, colonialism, and capitalism, and this incessant desire also demonstrates the enormous amount of anxiety involved. The drastic leap we see in this current phase of global capitalism is not a departure from this modernity project, but is its extreme manifestation, to the point where creativity, which has been most resistant to instrumentalization, is made into a tool for its own alienation. Critics tend to describe the age of creative economy and the space of flows created by late capitalist societal networks as postmodern. I would argue instead that this economy is not a breakaway from modernity, but its most saturated manifestation, which therefore also contains the seeds of destruction.

To understand the relationship between creativity and modernity, we might need to go back to history. In the development of modern Western culture, the divine creative power has been secularized into two human capacities: artistic creativity and epistemological knowledge. But the two are not simply dichotomized: the latter has manifested into a strong tendency to control the former, whereas artistic creativity retains some of the mythic components of divine creation. The tensions and dynamics involved characterize, at least partly, the formation of modernity. I believe an investigation of the genealogy and various conceptualizations of creativity in Western modernity could bring to light the repressed links between creativity as a trans-socio-historical force of creation and creativity as an individual author's production of artistic works, which the creative economy utilizes selectively in part or in pairs. Establishing such links can help us to deconstruct the current modernity hegemony and to rediscover the indocile element of culture that is both germane and resistant to the logic of the creative economy.

In this chapter I analyze an array of understandings of creativity by prominent Western philosophers and thinkers. My purpose is neither to assert the supremacy of Western origin nor to conjure up a sense of continuous canonical thinking, but we must recognize that our global modernity is characterized by the hegemony of a particular Western thinking. With the global triumph of Western modernity, what grounds the development of China's and other developing countries' current socioeconomic development is not the culture's own philosophical history but that of the West. One way to tackle that dominion is to confront the core of Western tradition and its repressions. Therein we shall find complex dialectics of suppression and complicity, as well as possibilities of alternative thinking.

Modernity and the Creative Economy

In the West creativity was not understood as a form of personal aptitude until the advent of modernity. We can trace this development back to the Enlightenment, from which point creativity has been secularized with an eye to privileging anthropocentric epistemology over humans' ontological existence. In Keywords Raymond Williams defines the original meanings of creativity: "The word ["create"] was mainly used in the precise context of the original divine creation of the world: creation itself, and creature, have the same root stem. Moreover, with that system of belief, as Augustine insisted, 'creatura non potest creare'—the 'creature'—who has been created—cannot himself create." Williams then summarizes the secularizing process of creativity in the West, passing from the hands of God to man. The decisive development took place in the nineteenth century: in the beginning of the century the creative act was understood as conscious and powerful; by midcentury it had become conventional. Creativity, a general name for that faculty, followed in the twentieth century. Williams's brief account points out the close connection between modernity and the democratizing process of creativity: creativity had been owned solely by God; with the advent of modernity the power to create was first given to the artist through his or her spiritual communion with Nature, and by the twentieth century anyone could be creative. The development of capitalism supported by the Protestant ethic also plays a key role in fusing creativity and progress. As Max Weber showed us, in the West the productivity of work in the capitalist sense was infused with the Protestant ethic of striving for the kingdom of God. Creation is transformed into productivity, which gradually becomes an end itself, to be supported by all kinds of innovative measures. With the moderns' increasing desire for control and wealth, divine creativity materialized into an epistemological and economic endeavor through the forces of secularization and capitalism. The spiritual dimension of human creativity is therefore maintained in a contrived way: divine creativity must be secularized as human aptitude, but the secularized form becomes a manifestation of God's grace. The philosophical tensions and structural leaps involved in this secularization process are intense, which I believe also inherently manifests a modernity problem.

Let us examine this history with some details, however scanty. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, creativity originally belonged to God. A simple dichotomy, as Williams points out, is thus established between God as the creator and humanity as the created. Given the direct equation of God with creation, humanity can create when empowered as God's vehicle. In the Greek tradition, however, the notion of self-creation does not exist. The Platonic order is a manifestation of preexisting rules of Being, and Plato's great architect, Timaeus, is a mere executor; he does not possess the creative power of the Creator God in the biblical tradition. In other words, there are two main models of creativity that inform Western modernity: Plato's understanding of creativity as rational reproduction of the intelligible and logical Being, and the willful Creator God of the Hebraic tradition.

Simply stated, a major task and motivation of the Enlightenment was to come to terms with these two traditions and, not surprisingly, to subject the divine creative power of the Judeo- Christian tradition to Greek philosophy. It is mainly Platonic epistemology that has driven the ongoing development of Western modernity. The modern subject—specifically, that theorized by Descartes—does not aspire to be God, and he knows very well his limitations, in that he cannot grasp the infinite. But it is precisely this knowledge of both his finitude and the existence of the infinite that characterizes modern subjectivity. The unity of the modern subject is established less by his ability to create than by his ability to control a unified discursive field, or point of view, of the created world. The most important secularization project of Western modernity turned out to be not creating but understanding, since with knowledge humans can control what has already been created.

But the secularization of creativity continues its course, and is manifested in several different ways. The Judeo-Christian sense of divine creativity is passed down largely to become acts of art, and God's moral dimension is maintained in the realm of law and ethics. But generally speaking, when capitalism pairs up with the Protestant ethic to turn creativity into productivity, it is the domain of knowledge that is assigned the key role in advancing modernity. We thus have a split between aesthetics and knowledge—artists create, scientists discover—but artistic creation is not put on a par with scientific discovery, and the latter remains the normative drive of modernity. Scientific discoveries are placed in a protected realm, ideally to be free from economic and moral considerations. It is true that the notion of the creative genius applies not only to the master artist; the most celebrated scientists are also hailed as geniuses who rebel against the status quo and are able to see things we ordinary people cannot. But only a small number of very original scientists receive the renown of the artist or the poet (thus possessing the mysterious divine link); in general, the creativity manifested within the realm of epistemology is understood as innovation, as opposed to artistic creativity that cannot be understood and calculated rationally. The mythic power of creativity is largely contained and curbed within the realm of art in order to prevent its corruption of the order of rationality. After Kant we see the rise of positivism, according to which truth and value are understood as discoverable, and philosophers were interested in the process and method of uncovering them. On the other hand, from the romantic to the modernist movements, artists were increasingly encouraged to plunge deep into interiors; interiority is conceptualized as the effect of a complex relationship between psychological and formal aesthetic values. Such entanglement is probably most clearly observed in nineteenth-century music.

This marginalization of art and the complete separation of the discursive realms (epistemological, moral, and aesthetic) are central modernity issues examined by Jürgen Habermas. Weber believes that knowledge, justice, and taste, which can all be seen as aspects of the divine, were originally unified as a coherent worldview in premodern society, but they are increasingly differentiated in modern society into autonomous fields of reasoning, to the extent that they become mutually incompatible, excluding moral and aesthetic ideals from modern social and political life. Habermas follows up on and criticizes this triangular structure of modern reasoning. He promotes intercommunication among the realms, which he believes would bring about a "better" form of modern rationality that could prevent the irreparable splitting of society into competitive value spheres as posited by Weber. Habermas believes that modernity promises, instead of precludes, intercommunication among the three fields, so that the arts can speak to the social once again. The three spheres should be made relevant to each other, so that art can fulfill modernity's promise of critical self-reflexivity.

Although Habermas criticizes the increasing marginalization of Western arts, in reality artistic creativity has always attracted philosophers' epistemological and moral investigation. Beginning with Kant's Critique of Judgment, Western aesthetic theory has been preoccupied with the pursuit and analysis of the meaning of art: to engage in its definitions; to explore the experience of reception in categories like pleasure, pain, or the sublime; or to examine art's sociopolitical functions. Although aesthetic judgments are probably the most radical kind of reflective judgments among those theorized by Kant, and are also the most difficult to understand, Kant's strong desire to understand artistic creativity clearly demonstrates an epistemological tendency in this aesthetics. Acknowledging the impossibility of circumventing the full meaning of art by some kind of empirical or transcendental framework, Kant still struggles to find ways to understand art in the form of knowledge, resulting in the extremely dense circular rhetorical movements in his third critique. A long and elaborate tradition of aesthetic philosophy follows. Even Alain Badiou, who is highly critical of the Western philosophical tradition of aesthetics and calls his theory of art "inaesthetics," finds "truths" in art. He condemns the avant-garde's false fusion of art and politics, as he believes that the truth claims of politics and the truth claims of art are entirely different. But through the mechanism of negation Badiou still wants to articulate how art and politics can be connected, particularly in critiquing late capitalism. Many critics with Marxist or feminist backgrounds are more willing to argue and establish the strong relationship between art and society. Such eminent social critics as Theodor Adorno and Georg Lukács regard authentic works of art and literature as being able to express conflicts within the larger sociohistorical process from which they arise and to which they belong, although Adorno emphasizes the autonomy of arts much more so than Lukács does. There is a long and prominent tradition of scholarship in the West that provides links among art, knowledge, and ethics. Whether these efforts are manifestations of Habermas's Enlightenment ideals I do not know, but it is important to emphasize that they are not in fact simply marginal to but are prominent in Western philosophical traditions. Although there is a long tradition of Western artists painstakingly constructing fields of autonomy from other realms of control in the name of aesthetic independence, the domain of art is never completely independent, but is alive with epistemological desire stemming from the domain of knowledge and ethical desire from the domain of justice.

This surely is too simple a recounting of Western aesthetics, and it is not aimed at reducing a complex philosophical tradition into a simple narrative, but I want to point out the entangled relationship among knowledge, politics, and art, and that art is both autonomous and not. Art, as the progeny of divine creativity, is assigned a separate realm of subjectivity irrelevant to social praxis, but the Western modernity project is also characterized by an epistemological drive to unearth, and therefore control, the "truth" of art. There is such a strong desire to tame artistic creativity precisely because of its preservation of the mythical components of divine creativity, which are very powerful and alluring.

In fact Habermas's advocacy of interrealm communication could also be understood accordingly, that the real danger is not the autonomy of artistic creativity, but the "wrong" usage of art. There have been strong criticisms of aestheticism, which, as Walter Benjamin demonstrates, could become a political tool for fascist purposes. Or, as Fredric Jameson proclaims, aesthetics is manipulated by the consumer culture to blind people and prevent their engagement with the social. While Benjamin and Jameson are vigilant against any domination of aesthetic identification that might dilute people's autonomous rational thinking, Habermas promotes the intercommunication between the cultural and other realms to also prevent cultural modernity from servicing conservative traditions. Accordingly Habermas is not a critic of Western modernity, but his thinking is located at the very heart of it. Art, whose roots can be traced back to the Judeo-Christian conception of divine creativity, is nonrational and potentially dangerous; in order to make it socially productive, aesthetics must be contained within proper epistemology and morality.


Excerpted from Creativity and Its Discontents by Laikwan Pang Copyright © 2012 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

Part I Understanding Creativity

1 Creativity as a Problem of Modernity 29

2 Creativity as a Product of Labor 47

3 Creativity as a Construct of Rights 67

Part II China's Creative Industries and IPR Offenses

4 Cultural Policy, Intellectual Property Rights, and Cultural Tourism 89

5 Cinema as a Creative Industry 113

6 Branding the Creative City with Fine Arts 133

7 Animation and Transcultural Signification 161

8 A Semiotics of the Counterfeit Product 183

9 Imitation or Appropriation Arts? 203

Notes 231

Bibliography 261

Index 289

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