Piracy and the State: The Politics of Intellectual Property Rights in China
By Martin K. Dimitrov
Cambridge University Press, 2009, 326 pp.
Revenge of the Forbidden City: The Suppression of the Falungong in China, 1999-2005
By James W. Tong
Oxford University Press, 2009, 288 pp.
These two books study state capacity in China by looking at the government's ability to enforce its will in two different domains: intellectual property rights and religion. On the surface, the stories could not be more dissimilar. The government has failed to protect intellectual property rights, causing U.S. copyright, patent, and trademark holders (and Chinese companies, too) to lose billions of dollars a year. China's courts, administrative agencies, and local governments are too weak, corrupt, and inconsistent to stop piracy and counterfeiting. These flaws arise from the Chinese model of government, which concentrates power in the hands of local authorities. Only when outside pressure is brought to bear on central authorities does the signal go down through the hierarchy, leading to real progress. Through an exhaustive study of the many overlapping enforcement agencies, Dimitrov characterizes China's enforcement of intellectual property rights as high in volume but low in quality, because it lacks transparency, consistency, and fairness.
By contrast, the regime has been totally effective in suppressing the Falun Gong, the martial-arts-cum-spiritual movement that angered the country's leaders in 1999, when it conducted a silent demonstration outside Zhongnanhai (the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party). Tong's book shows that the bureaucracy responded once the top leaders gave clear orders. Over six years, the police registered practitioners, confiscated materials, and imprisoned activists all over the country. Torture, Tong carefully concludes, was widespread. The goal was not merely to stop public activities but also to convert believers, and the book details how this was carried out in diverse ways across the country. Even though the regime does not always exercise its totalitarian capabilities, Tong's study shows that it still has them.