Authors Wayson Choy, SKY Lee, and Paul Yee sue Ling Zhang over her novel Gold Mountain Blues
A group of acclaimed Chinese Canadian authors have filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against fellow author Ling Zhang. It claims that Zhang’s prize-winning new novel, Gold Mountain Blues, contains characters, settings, and scenes copied from their own well-known works.
In a statement of claim filed on October 25 in the Federal Court of Canada, authors SKY Lee, Paul Yee, and Wayson Choy allege that Zhang’s novel “contains substantial elements” from Lee’s Disappearing Moon Café, Choy’s The Jade Peony, and three works by Yee: The Curses of Third Uncle, The Bone Collector’s Son, and Dead Man’s Gold and Other Stories.
According to the statement, the alleged infringements mean that Gold Mountain Blues, which won the Chinese Media Literature Award in its initial Chinese edition, is “not an original literary work deserving of independent copyright protection”.
None of the allegations have yet been proven in court. Zhang, who was born in China and moved to Canada in 1986, has strongly denied them.
A statement on the website of Penguin Canada, the book’s publisher, calls the accusations of plagiarism “baseless and unwarranted”.
“Gold Mountain Blues shares only a few general plot similarities with the other works,” it reads in part, “and those similarities reflect common events and experiences in the Chinese immigrant community.”
The lawsuit lists as defendants not only Zhang but also Penguin Group (Canada) and the book’s London, England–based translator, Nicky Harman. It’s asking for $6 million in damages for copyright infringement, and another $1 million in “damages for bad faith conduct and/or punitive and exemplary damages…against each of the defendants”.
It cites “multiple and detailed reports posted on the Internet, including from Chinese language scholars, summarizing the nature and extent of the ‘plagiarism’ in the Chinese language version” of Gold Mountain Blues, “as well as from ‘The Concubine’s Children’ by Denise Chong,” yet another celebrated Chinese Canadian author. (In an added twist, The Concubine’s Children is published by Penguin.)
The suit represents a new stage in a controversy that has swirled around Gold Mountain Blues for weeks, even as Zhang made two appearances at last weekend’s Vancouver International Writers and Readers Festival.
The novel is a multigenerational chronicle of a family that immigrates from China’s Guangdong province to B.C. in the 19th century. Rights to it have been sold in 12 territories around the world.