The Authenticity of the Copy: Rethinking Mo and Fang (copying) in Chinese Painting

A two-day international symposium.

A two-day international symposium on copy theory in Chinese art will be held at the University of British Columbia (UBC) on March 29th, 2007, 9:00 am and 6:00 pm and March 30, 2007, 9:00 am to 3:30 pm. Twenty scholars from Canada,

Pre-registration is strongly advised. Please send your name, affiliation, contact info / email, and dates you will attend the event to April Liu,, no later than March 20. Please indicate whether or not you would like to purchase lunch at the symposium. (approx $10)


Arata Shimao (Tama Art Univ., Japan),
Timothy Brook (UBC),
Erin Campbell (Univ. of Victoria),
Susan Chang (UBC),
Adam Chu (UBC),
Craig Clunas (Univ. of London SOAS),
John Hay (UC Santa Cruz),
Gary Ho (Ho Chuang-shi Foundation for Calligraphy, Taiwan),
Jean Kares (UBC),
Richard King (Univ. of Victoria),
Zoe Li (UBC),
Kathlyn Liscomb (Univ. of Victoria),
April Liu (UBC),
Kazuko Kameda-Madar (UBC),
Yin Ji Nan (Central Acad. of Fine Arts, China),
Jerry Schmidt (UBC),
Hsingyuan Tsao (UBC),
Richard Vinograd (Stanford Univ.),
Suzanne Wright (Univ. of Tennessee),
Joshua Yiu (Seattle Art Museum).

Panel leaders:

Timothy Brook (UBC),
James Cahill (Emeritus UC Berkeley),
Craig Clunas (Univ. of London SOAS),
John Hay (UC Santa Cruz),
Richard Lynn (Emeritus Univ. of Toronto),
Yin Ji Nan (Central Acad. of Fine Arts, China),
Arata Shimao (Tama Art Univ., Japan),
Susan Young (UC Santa Cruz).

The problem of the copy is intended to serve as a vehicle for rethinking issues of production, authenticity, creativity, appropriation, reiteration, interpreting, re-interpreting, emulating, and pedagogy in Chinese art, particularly in its later imperial period. A long-held truism in Chinese painting history is that a great artist is also a great copyist. The logic of this claim pits Chinese art against the traditions of post-Renaissance European art, which constructed artists as unique and individual heroes who consciously avoided copying to create something that has never been made before, a pursuit of so-called “originality.” Thus it has been considered that the true artist is expected to create; the talentless artist can merely copy. To copy was to plagiarize, to reproduce a flawed reproduction that merely captured the surface of things. Authenticity and originality demanded creation.

Like all truisms, this one exaggerates the polarity between East and West, and yet there is a difference between them that needs to be explored and reinterpreted. In Europe, the concept of copying provided no ground for legitimacy. In China, on the other hand, mo ? (trace, close copy) and fang ? (copy, or emulating, appropriation) were understood as essential methods for legitimate forms of cultural production. Is it possible that mofang is not what the English word copy implies at all, but something better understood as visual referencing, coding, or appropriating? In this economy of signs, then, what constitutes authenticity? Our goal is to rethink, and even redefine, a theoretical position for Chinese painting in the broader context of painting theory.

This public and free event is organized by Dr. Hsingyuan Tsao (Dept. of Art History, Visual Art and Theory, UBC) and Dr. Timothy Brook (St. John’s College and Dept. of History, UBC). For more information, please send an email to or call 778-865-5907

Sponsored by:
University of British Columbia (UBC),
Dept. of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory,
St. John’s College,
Museum of Anthropology (MOA),
Maple Mountain Studio,  Studio of Fleeting Thoughts
MacTaggart Collection, University of Alberta.