Penguin Group Canada has released Ling Zhang’s novel Gold Mountain Blues in spite of lingering plagiarism allegations. Three Canadian authors are calling for an independent review of similarities between the novel and content in some of their books to settle the matter.
Penguin says it has already done the review and is satisfied that the allegations, first made by a blogger in China where the book was first published, are unfounded. ”We hired Nicky Harman, a highly respected Chinese-to-English translator with extensive experience translating Chinese literature (see, e.g., paper-republic.org/nickyharman/ )to read all of the materials and to provide a report of her findings. She reported back that the only similarities are certain plot elements and character types that are common to works about the Chinese immigrant community. Penguin promptly made these findings public.”
Penguin’s statement added that “in a further demonstration of transparency” in late August, the staff sent advance copies of the English translation of Gold Mountain Blues to the authors in question – Wayson Choy, Sky Lee and Paul Yee.
The authors hadn’t been able to comment before because they couldn’t read the Chinese version. May Cheng, the lawyer representing them, says they asked Penguin to delay release of the book pending the results of an independent review. But Penguin told PW the books have already been shipped to bookstores.
Another point of contention is that Harman was the translator of the book. What the other authors want is an independent, third-party review. “We want to be reasonable,” Yee told PW. “We want to clear the air. A lot of words have been exchanged, accusations, allegations, and we just want to have an independent expert to take an objective look and say yes it is or no it isn’t.”
Zhang, best known for her book Aftershock, which was made into a blockbuster Chinese movie in 2010, issued her own comments via Penguin.
"Gold Mountain Blues is the result of years of research and several field trips to China and Western Canada. The research data obtained over the years is voluminous enough to allow me to write another complete novel if I chose to. A hundred and fifty years of Chinese Canadian history is a 'common wealth' for all of us to share and discover. I have not read The Jade Peony, Disappearing Moon Cafe, The Bone Collector's Son or Tales from Gold Mountain. I have a great respect for the authors who have already explored this rich territory before me: Wayson Choy, Denise Chong, Paul Yee and Sky Lee. I welcome and encourage authors interested in Chinese Canadian history to do the same. When I started to write this book, I hoped it would serve to bring the Chinese Canadian community a little more closely together, by sharing such a long and meaningful history. I am deeply saddened to see that things do not seem to be going in that direction.”
But Cheng says, “The stories are quite unique, and some of the similarities defy a simple explanation.” For example, both Gold Mountain Blues and Sky Lee’s Disappearing Moon Café, published in 1990,both include a romance between a young Chinese man and a girl of mixed aboriginal and Chinese descent. The two fall in love after she rescues him. He lives with her and her father, learning native ways, and the two forage in the forest together and attend a native fishing camp where they harvest and smoke salmon. In both books, he leaves her and eventually marries a Chinese woman.
“When I read Sky’s book 20 years ago,” says Yee, “it was an astounding storyline at that time because up until that time no one had really written about Chinese and First Nations or aboriginal ties, relationships, confrontations, anything like that… It was very original, and so when this particular line reappeared in this new book, it was very striking. It just seemed to be too much of a coincidence.” All of the authors have found similarities with their work, he said.
Gold Mountain Blues has been sold in 11 other territories.