Monday, March 19, 2018

‘The copy is the original’

John Meade, who is currently gallivanting around North Carolina, alerted me to an article over at aeon which is relevant to this blog. It is about the different conception of “original” and “copy” in China. I’m not sure what I think honestly, but I’ve ordered the author’s book out of curiosity and maybe that will help.

(Mini) Terracotta Army. (photo credit)
The distinction between original vs. copy is, of course, of central importance and sometimes a matter of debate in textual criticism (for example, and note our previous discussion about altering valuable art and artifacts). Here’s a snippet from the article:
The Chinese have two different concepts of a copy. Fangzhipin (仿製品) are imitations where the difference from the original is obvious. These are small models or copies that can be purchased in a museum shop, for example. The second concept for a copy is fuzhipin (複製品). They are exact reproductions of the original, which, for the Chinese, are of equal value to the original. It has absolutely no negative connotations. The discrepancy with regard to the understanding of what a copy is has often led to misunderstandings and arguments between China and Western museums. The Chinese often send copies abroad instead of originals, in the firm belief that they are not essentially different from the originals. The rejection that then comes from the Western museums is perceived by the Chinese as an insult.
I asked a relative who’s lived in China for over a decade about this quote and she sent me the following:
We had three friends over when I read your email so I asked them. They immediately described the first concept, Fangzhipin, and then had a hard time describing the second, fuzhipin, especially in a way that answered the question of “do you see it as the same as the original?” I’d probably want to ask a few more people but my feeling from them was that the description [above] is accurate.
Read the whole article here


  1. Sounds plausible based on my limited experience. I'm not clear what the implications for a Chinese approach to TC would be. Focus only on exegetically significant variation units?

    I know they value antiquity, so I've wondered whether there would be a strong predilection toward the older reading, but perhaps if a young MS is perceived of as a good reproduction of the spirit of the NT its readings would be seen as plausible.

  2. Of course, a copy of the original wording is the same as the original wording. This is the very definition of what a copy is :-).

  3. A good example of the language of copy and original might be the Declaration of Independence:
    No one wants to say that the signed, hand-written copy on display in the National Archive is the original (note the facsimile made of this copy in 1823 is the basis of all others). Rather, they call it "the engrossed copy." Apparently, we still have Jefferson's four-page "original Rough draught" (apparently his own name for it).
    But all this discussion shows that the copy is NOT the original in the USA. Was the original confined to the draft from Jefferson's own pen? Was it the official copy printed under Jefferson's supervision on July 4th 1776 and disseminated to the states, army, and papers? Or was it the engrossed copy made slightly after the printed form?

    Anyways, I need to get back to gallivanting around North Carolina :-).

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  5. As a Chinese who happens also to be a biblical scholar, I think the article which attempts to differentiate fangzhipin (仿製品) from fuzhipin (複製品) actually makes little sense to the general public. The museum specialists may tell the difference of the word usage I guess. But they are synonymous in general. For any one going to an auction or visiting museum exhibitions, the difference between an "original" and a "copy" is crystal clear. A fuzhipin will never have "equal value to the original." No one would ever bid a fuzhipin. Owners of an iPhone fuzhipin (Shanzai as it's called) are despised anyway.

    Josaphat C. Tam

  6. A similar distinction exists in Greek, although it seems few there be who know it: you have the απογραφη (apograph = transcript) and the αντιγραφον (antigraph = copy), with the latter (from what I read) generally considered more precise and accurate than the former.

  7. “The Lutherans taught that because the Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek, these original Scriptures were authentic... The question does not pertain to the relation between the autographa and apographa but concerns the texts of Scripture as they exist today according to the original MSS. Only the apographa are extant, but these are authentic... Inspiration and divine authority pertain also to the apographa by virtue of derivation, just as a copy of a constitution is as valid and authentic as the original. The apographa are authentic because they retain not merely the content but also the very words of the original inspired Scripture.”


    1. But if the wording of one copy (an apograph) differs at various points from the wording of another copy (a separate apograph), how can both be claimed as per Preus to "retain not merely the content but also the very words of the original inspired Scripture"?

      Even with manuscript copies of the Constitution -- if differences exist among them, then not all copies can be considered "as valid and authentic as the original" under Preus' own strictures.