Executed hawker’s son accused of copying Taiwanese artist's work

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 4:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 6:05pm

The family of a Shenyang hawker whose execution last month prompted a public outcry is now embroiled in a suspected plagiarism scandal over the son’s paintings, triggering heated debate online.

The collection of 13-year-old Xia Jianqiang consists of paintings he drew in the past few years depicting his family’s struggles and has provoked widespread public sympathy for his father, Xia Junfeng.

The hawker was sentenced to death for killing two city management officials in 2009. Supporters claim he was acting in self-defence against the enforcers, notorious for their bullying and violent practices.

The boy’s paintings have recently drawn suspicion from commentators online who claim they are products of plagiarism. Some pointed out that at least a dozen of the paintings closely resemble those of the famed Taiwanese illustrator Jimmy Liao Fubin, whose works have gained wide popularity among children and adults alike across the strait over the last decade.

A post that compared Xia’s paintings to those of Liao’s by putting them side by side was widely shared online.

The suspicions have prompted Xia Jianqiang’s mother, Zhang Jing, to issue an apology on her Weibo account, admitting her son "imitated" Jimmy’s paintings.

“I would like to apologise to Jimmy Liao and explain myself to him,” she said, adding: “I sincerely had no idea about [the concept of] plagiarism in art as I studied only up to middle school.”

On Thursday, Jimmy Liao’s marketing company, Jimmy S.P.A. said in a statement it had acknowledged the claims and said it would “continue protecting the original author’s rights against illicit conduct that profits from plagiarism according to the law,” in a public statement published on Sina Weibo.

But it also hinted it was unlikely to pursue this latest suspected plagiarism, adding that any lawsuit “could interfere Liao’s creation and occupy his time".

The announcement was shortly followed by Taiwanese actress and singer Annie Yi’s statement on Weibo in which she said Xia’s family would dedicate all profit from the paintings’ sales to the two city management officials’ families and charity projects.

In addition, Yi said she had asked Xia’s mother, Zhang Jing, to “stop running her microblog and focus on raising her child".

Yi was one of the most outspoken celebrities who publicly stated their support for Xia’s family. After Xia Junfeng was executed last month, Yi announced she had adopted Xia Jianqiang as her godson and would treat Xia’s mother as her “sister”.

Xia Junfeng's defense attorney Chen Youxi declined to comment on the issue in a telephone interview with South China Morning Post on Thursday.

Tong Zongjin, a professor of China University of Political Science and Law, said on his blog that copyright issues with painting plagiarism are complicated in Chinese law. 

He said that determining if Xia Jianqiang's paintings broke the law depended on whether Xia's family had deliberately concealed the truth and whether Xia Jianqiang had added his own creations to the collection. He added it was not easy to determine if Xia Jianqiang's paintings were protected under copyright law and whether it was permitted to publish them.  

The collection, titled Xia Jiangqiang’s paintings, consists of 150 paintings. 5,000 copies have been published and cost 128 yuan (HK$162) each on online shopping website