Plagiarism allegations that have been swirling around Ling Zhang’s novel Gold Mountain Blues have now become a C$6 million lawsuit for copyright infringement.
After reading advance copies of Zhang’s novel, by Nicky Harman, Canadian authors Wayson Choy, Paul Yee and Sky Lee asked Zhang’s Canadian publisher Penguin Group Canada to have an independent third-party compare the content of Gold Mountain Blues with several of their books. The novel was first published in China, and that’s where a blogger first noted similarities in plot lines.
Penguin Canada addresses the allegations in a statement on its website, writing: “Although Penguin had no reason to believe these accusations, they have been examined in detail and proven false. Gold Mountain Blues does not infringe on any other work, and the accusations of “plagiarism” are baseless and unwarranted. Gold Mountain Blues shares only a few general plot similarities with the other works, and those similarities reflect common events and experiences in the Chinese immigrant community. A representative for Penguin Canada was not immediately available for further comment on the lawsuit.
May Cheng, the lawyer representing the authors who have launched the lawsuit against Penguin Canada, Zhang and Harmon, says, launching the suit was the authors’ only option because Penguin Canada and Zhang did not respond directly to their first request. “They’ve given us no alternative….Really, the only way to get the report that we’re asking for is through the discovery process, and we’re not satisfied with it anyhow because they’ve never produced it and it was done by a person who’s got a serious conflict of interest.” Harman was hired by Penguin to read all of the books and report back on the similarities.
Included in the statement of claim was a chart outlining some example of plot similarities: "In Sky Lee’s book Disappearing Moon Café: In grave danger, a young Chinese man is rescued and then cared for by a beautiful girl, Kelora, of rare Chinese/Native heritage.
In Gold Mountain Blues: In grave danger, a young Chinese man is rescued and then cared for by a beautiful girl, Sundance, of rare Chinese/Native heritage.
In Wayson Choy’s book The Jade Peony: Wong Suk is disfigured after working on the railway. He rescues a white foreman who becomes gratefully indebted as well as a good friend. When the foreman dies, his son passes along a precious piece of gold.
In Gold Mountain Blues: Ah-Fat is disfigured in a fight while working on the railway. He saves the life of his white foreman. They become good friends over the years. When the foreman's wife dies, her will leaves money to Ah-Fat's son.
In Paul Yee’sThe Bone Collector's Son, 14-year-old Bing works as a houseboy for a white couple in Vancouver. He becomes a target of white bullies but his employer Mrs. Bentley rescues him.
In Gold Mountain Blues:15-year-old Kam Ho works as a houseboy for a white couple in Vancouver. He becomes a target of white bullies but his employer Mrs. Henderson rescues him."
The authors’ statement of claim says they have identified at least 50 other examples of original elements substantially copied. “Due to the fact that many of the Collective Works are now slated to be published in Chinese and sold in China, the plaintiffs face significant potential losses, including to their reputations, as it will appear to Chinese readers in China that the plaintiffs have copied portions of GMB [Gold Mountain Blues] when, in fact, the Collective Works were first published long before GMB,” the claim adds.
Gold Mountain Blues, sold in 12 territories, will be published simultaneously by Penguin Canada and Atlantic Books in the UK. It has been translated by Nicky Harman, a lecturer in translation and Chinese-to-English translation at Imperial College London. Ms. Harman has been a translator for eleven years. Penguin Canada will support publication of the book with a three-city author tour."