Anjali Vats Discusses U.S. Perception of Chinese Piracy

On Thursday, March 30, Assistant Professor at the Boston College School of Law Anjali Vats gave a presentation titled “Theorizing the Hyperracial Infringer: Constructing China as Postmillennial Yellow Peril.”

Vats’ presentation explored the stark binary between the characters of the Western post-racial “creator” and the non-Western hyper-racial “infringer,” with particular emphasis on the role of intellectual property discourse in creating racialized anti-citizens.

She focused especially on the construction of Chinese piracy and counterfeiting and how the media constantly paints the Chinese as an “infringer,” thereby perpetuating notions of the Chinese as being the antithesis of an American.

In her presentation, Vats argued that the prolonging of the Chinese being painted as a “postmillennial yellow peril” is due to three things: first, legal and policy rhetorics of economic espionage; second, contrasts between Chinese people and “innocents” – particularly American entrepreneurs; and, third, descriptions of China as having vast mechanist production capabilities to a point where the acquisition of an “us” invention would greatly benefit them.

Throughout the presentation, Vats discussed how current representations of China attempt to modernize past fear of Asian citizens and represent the Chinese as fundamentally different from Americans.

Vats began her presentation with a film titled “The Company Man” from the FBI. She used this as an example of an American portrayal of the Chinese and spoke of how it drips with stereotypical imagery. She then connected this to the larger idea of how we conceive or understand the idea of “creatorship” and how that relates to the American Dream.

Vats noted that, when American figures of power talk about entrepreneurship, they talk as if it is accessible to everyone. Over time, this became intertwined with the idea of what it means to be American; in other words, to be American is to be able to be an entrepreneur, to come up with something revolutionary. As a consequence, the idea of infringement started to become tainted by hyper-racialization. A sentiment regarding American ideas being “stolen” by people racially different because they could not come up with it themselves became the norm.

Vats further described how this hyper-raciality was accentuated by “American anxiety.” She used the example of a pirate, and asked us what we imagine when we think of a pirate.

After letting the audience mull over the question a bit she proceeded to draw a parallel between this idea and what people think of when they think about China. She highlighted how this binary view of the opposite, as American being a nation of creators and the Chinese being a nation of counterfeiters, is exactly what allows the idea of the Chinese as a postmillennial yellow peril to keep existing.

Vats then proceeded to broaden this idea to a universal one. She argued that this hyper-racialized view of creatorship and intellectual property has worldwide implications, ranging from copyright policies to how we perceive ourselves as Americans and, consequently, how we differentiate ourselves from others.

Vats concluded her presentation with questions from the audience.

Sophomore Zach Lee was excited about the talk and noted that Vat brought up interesting points.

“Dialogues of race as it relates to Asian identity aren’t very common on campus, and Vats provided interesting insight into the connection of Asianness with the notion of a foreign threat,” Lee said.

Senior William Lam, on the other hand, was slightly disappointed with Vats’ presentation.

“It was great that she discussed copyright issues, as that was important, but I would like to have seen more documentation and written proof or policy that were made by our government that could have painted Asians as this foreign danger,” Lam said. “Furthermore, it would have been nice to see some quotes or similar items that would show whether or not there was outrage regarding these concerns that might have crossed over into xenophobia.”