Mon, May 19, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Carvers groan about copycats scratching at margins


The annual wood-carving festival in Sanyi township, Miaoli County, kicked off on Saturday and will run for nine days, but festival organizers said visitors were sparse over the weekend as a result of rains and the country-wide panic over the SARS epidemic.

This year's Sanyi wood-carving festival has gotten considerably less attention than in the past few years not just as a result of natural causes like SARS-induced agoraphobia, but also due to some criticism from local art workers that it has become a less-than-desirable event for them.

Why? They point blame at the wood sculpture competition held each year together with the festival. The national competition, has now become "a source of evils" because local wood sculptors complain that it has brought them more harm than good since its prize-winning works end up being copied by the Chinese.

What's worse is that the Chinese copycats can mass-produce these works and actually sell them back to Sanyi.

In fact, some estimate that over 80 percent of the works on sale at the arts shops in Sanyi are from China -- many of which bear a clear resemblance to Taiwanese prize winners.

Dumping from China has become increasingly serious in recent years, forcing many art workers in Sanyi to give up their beloved craft.

It may not come as a surprise that this form of intellectual property theft does not originate in southern China. It is much more local. Sanyi residents who have invested in the local wood sculpture business are now using the cheap labor costs in China to control the wood sculpture market in their hometown or other parts of Taiwan by dumping mass-produced works imitated from Sanyi artists.

Kuang Tang-ya (官當雅), a local sculptor, lamented the rampant piracy and dumping of figurines from China.

Kuang said he is not interested in participating in the annual wood sculpture competition for fears that his creativity will soon be stolen and become a money-making tool for others.

The 35-year-old sculptor survives in the business by cultivating his own customers and customizing his Zen-inspired works according to their liking.

Tseng Wu-lang (曾武郎), a local art worker who had won a first prize in last year's national wood sculpture competition, said now is the time for the Sanyi wood sculpture business to transform itself to adapt to the change of the environment.

"As traditional sculptures are easily imitated and mass-produced by the Chinese, Sanyi art workers should develop products [that use special composite materials] that are difficult to copy," Tseng said.

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