Is this cultural appropriation?

Forums Fiction Plotting Is this cultural appropriation?

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    I discovered a piece of ancient Chinese literature called The Journey to the West and really enjoyed it. Parts of the story (some characters and sections of plot) are inspiring me to write a similar character in a similar situation, possibly resolved differently. My idea wouldn’t necessarily incorporate Chinese characters, culture or mythology. I’m wondering if that would qualify as cultural appropriation, and if it does, what I would need to do to not appropriate.

    What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
    -1 Corinthians 15:36b

    R.M. Archer

    Would it be cultural appropriation if a Chinese person came across an American story and was inspired to write something with a similar character and plot? Nope. It’s just being inspired by another artist’s work. (The bigger concern would be plagiarism, but even that seems unlikely in such a situation.)

    Of course, I’m also of the opinion that even specifically cultural inspiration can be used if it’s done respectfully and with research.

    Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. Worldbuilding enthusiast. Singer. Fan of classic literat


    @sarahfi *looks up cultural appropriation*

    I don’t think you need to worry. It’s like doing a retelling of a fairytale, legend, or Greek myth, which tons of people have done in Western culture (and which I am doing at the moment in my WIP). I think people would only be offended, like Archer said, if it looks like plagiarism, or just failing to be original and thoughtful in general in how you use another culture’s ideas. Since you’re already asking this question and wanting to be careful with it, I’d say you’re good to go.

    Putting what I said above in a more practical way, I would suggest that you get to the heart of the original story — why it was written and the message that is being communicated through the journey and overall quest. Then build on it or twist it or do whatever writerly, amazing stuff you plan to do.

    Also, as a Chinese-American, I’m super excited that you’re being inspired by that piece of literature 😀 I had to read it… in Chinese class… in Chinese… so I’m not sure I remember a lot of it haha. I’m sure you read it in English, right?

    Best of luck with your story!

    INFJ // The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)


    @r-m-archer That does make sense. I’m not too worried about plagiarism, so hopefully that’s good!

    That is SO AWESOME that you read it in Chinese- although it’s not surprising that that would affect comprehension :).

    What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
    -1 Corinthians 15:36b

    R.M. Archer

    @sarahfi Like Grace said, it sounds like you’re good to go. You sound like you’re taking care with both the culture and the story, so I don’t think you have anything to worry about. 😉

    Fantasy/dystopian/sci-fi author. Mythology nerd. Worldbuilding enthusiast. Singer. Fan of classic literat

    Daeus Lamb

    In my humble opinion, people are waaaaayyy too sensitive about cultural appropriation. People act as if they own their culture. As if somehow the aura of the wild west became my inheritance as an American citizen and if someone throws aliens into the wild west they’ve done the equivalent of spraying graffiti on my house and they’re suddenly an aggressor.

    But who decides what is cultural appropriation? Are all the Chinese going to get together and vote on it. If 20% of the population supports you, does that mean you’ve done wrong, or does it mean you’re reflecting a Chinese subculture rather than the Chinese culture at large?

    If we use this logic here, we have to use it elsewhere. I’ll be morally bound to never try a twist on impressionist painting, because that would be artistic appropriation against the dead artists who can no longer speak to defend the sanctity of their artistic styles.

    The only time you should worry about dealing with a foreign culture is if you depict them badly without ever giving them a fair chance or if you pretend to depict them accurately without ever giving them a chance.

    Cultural appropriation as the term is used in pop culture is nothing less than cultural Marxism which is nothing less than true Marxism which is possibly the deadliest philosophy the world has ever known.

    👖 🐢🐢🐢🐢🐢

    Maya Joelle

    I’m super late on this but I’m just gonna chime in to agree with everything @daeus-lamb said above.

    For everyone who thinks your book is cultural appropriation, there are probably a thousand someones who don’t care a bit and will absolutely love your story.

    • This reply was modified 10 months, 3 weeks ago by Maya Joelle.

    fear no evil | may evil fear you

    Chelsea R.H.


    Sorry I’m super late to this but I only just saw it and since this is a topic I’ve actually done a lot of research on, I thought I’d quickly give you my thoughts.

    Some people may call your story appropriation and some might not. However, the most agreed upon definition of cultural appropriation is when a piece of a culture, usually a minority culture that has at some point either in the past or present been oppressed, is taken by somebody who is not from that culture and used without regard to its original context. A good example is sacred religious objects or significant pieces of dress. For a practical example, in Australia the Aboriginal people have various weapons (such as the boomerang) which have spiritual, as well as practical, relevance. In many Aboriginal cultures, women touching or using many of these weapons is taboo. It would be cultural appropriation if I wrote a story in which a white woman used a boomerang as her primary weapon, since it takes the weapon out of its significant spiritual context.

    However, I don’t personally feel that retelling a story from another culture necessarily fits the description so I think you’re good. Cultural Appropriation and taking inspiration from other cultures aren’t the same thing.

    Hopefully that makes sense and good luck with your writing!

    Mahalo keia huiʻana


    I think you’ve said it very well, @seekjustice. Seems to match with the definitions of cultural appropriation I’ve found online.

    According to one online dictionary, cultural appropriation is: “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.”



    That is really helpful, @seekjustice. Thanks.

    What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
    -1 Corinthians 15:36b

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