Sunday, February 08, 2015


I have a friend here who has world culture at his fingertips. Mention a movie or book or piece of music and he'll say "should I get it for you?" Everything can be found on the Chinese internet (except, well, things like blogger!). It all seems quite open, too. Chinese internet platforms like QQ give their members terabites (!) of free memory, which can hardly just be for content people themselves create. As for everything else here, the scale is staggering. My friend never gets a film, it's always a bundle of ten or more, never a recording but a collection of 100 or 200. Public-spirited "netizens" here and abroad are busily scanning and sharing everything they can find. Someone in Russia seems to be the source of thousands of academic books circulating in pdf. One Chinese person goes to old record stores in New York and gets every old classical LP s/he can find, then shares high-quality recordings.

The scale is staggering. What would you do if you laid hands on the world's best 270 best jazz albums, or 100 best Japanese films, a 100-disk series celebrating the centenary of a famous European orchestra, RSC actors' readings of the complete plays of Shakespeare, or the 50 best books of last year? My friend has 8 terabites of stuff. What I don't understand is what one can do with material in such quantity. He tells me he's working his way through it methodically, but he seems to be adding at a hundred times the rate at which he could be listening. (Reading seems another issue: people here are expert skimmers.)

Did I mention all of it is "free"? My friend is shocked every time I tell him I paid for a piece of music on my computer or a Kindle book. He has no sense that payment's the norm, indeed the norm on which the whole system depends. Speaking of, the picture above is of a first bootleg of our book. I'm responsible for it: I had one copy of the original here and I wanted to give it to someone, and he said he could make a me a copy. I had no idea it would be bound like a book. There are places which create book copies like this in abundance near every university; it cost about ¥20. If Chinese books weren't so cheap I can't imagine anyone actually buying them. Pricy foreign books, well, they have lives here in bootleg and pdf undreamt of by their writers or publishers. I know I'll be less amused if/when my friend turns up one day with the Job book in pirated pdf - what am I saying, with the whole series...!

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