To the New Market, Guided by Pirates: Market Information, Knowledge Production, and International Competition in China’s Textbook Business

Fei-Hsien Wang

By tracing the intriguing piracy dispute between the Commercial Press, the leading textbook provider in China, and its American counterpart Ginn & Co. in the 1910s and 20s, this paper examines how foreign publishing firms used lawsuits and outside-of-courtroom negotiations to gather information on Chinese textbook market and estimate their potential profits. It also explores how Chinese firms used the “insider” knowledge they possessed as their bargain chips when dealing with foreign accusations of piracy to exchange better business terms. Using the State Department Archives in NARA, the Foreign Affair Archives of the Qing Empire, publishers’ diary, correspondences, and personal papers, Trade Association’s Archives, and Shanghai newspapers, this paper reveals that international copyright infringement lawsuits in the early twentieth century Shanghai were not just the legal front of multinational competition over Chinese textbook market, but also a field for information exchange— eventually, the Commercial Press utilized their local knowledge on Chinese knowledge to exchange generous agency deals, as Ginn & Co. agreed to make the pirate their local partner to guide them into the Chinese textbook market.