Power of the printed word

A TV doc­u­men­tary sheds light on how far Chi­nese book­stores abroad have come, re­ports.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BOOKS | LIFE -

Run­ning a book­store abroad isn’t only about mak­ing profit, es­pe­cially when the books you sell ap­pear for­eign to lo­cal read­ers.

In the past few decades, many Chi­nese book­stores have faced such a sit­u­a­tion in the United States, Bri­tain, France, Aus­tralia and Ja­pan.

Be­sides ring­ing up sales, the out­lets have tried to bridge cul­tural gaps and cross political bar­ri­ers so read­ers in dif­fer­ent coun­tries can en­joy Chi­nese books.

Re­cently, Tian­jin TV started to air a 12-episode doc­u­men­tary se­ries ti­tled Over­seas Book­stores.

It tells the sto­ries of seven Chi­nese book­stores in six coun­tries on five con­ti­nents. It shows how the stores sur­vived dif­fi­cult times and have con­trib­uted to cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween China and the re­lated coun­tries.

Dur­ing in­ter­views over the past 10 years, pro­ducer Yin Chang dis­cov­ered many ex­pats in China got their ini­tial ideas about the coun­try from Chi­nese book­stores in their coun­tries.

Yin her­self re­mem­bers see­ing por­traits of fa­mous Chi­nese writ­ers Lu Xun, Bing Xin, Eileen Chang and Ba Jin on the win­dows of the Li­brairie le Phenix store in Boule­vard Se­bastopol, Paris.

When she vis­ited Paris in 2013, she no­ticed lo­cals ac­knowl­edge China’s lit­er­ary cul­ture.

For the doc­u­men­tary, the TV crew chose seven rep­re­sen­ta­tive stores: Li­brairie le Phenix and Li­brairie You Feng in Paris; Guanghwa in London; Uchiyama Book­store in Tokyo; China Books and Pe­ri­od­i­cals in San Fran­cisco and Chicago; China Books in Syd­ney and Mel­bourne; and Wen­chang Book­store in Sao Paulo.

In the 1960s, when China and the US didn’t have for­mal re­la­tions, Amer­i­cans who wanted to know about China would go to China Books and Pe­ri­od­i­cals, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­men­tary.

One of the best-sell­ers then was Quo­ta­tions from Chair­man Mao Ze­dong. More than 1 mil­lion copies of the “lit­tle red book” sold at this store alone.

The store’s founder, Henry Noyes, was born in south­ern China, af­ter his grand­par­ents brought mod­ern ed­u­ca­tion to the coun­try and started the first mid­dle school for girls in Guangzhou in the late 19th cen­tury.

In the years be­tween 1960 and 1980, the China Books and Pe­ri­od­i­cals couldn’t sell as many Chi­nese books as it wanted be­cause of com­mer­cial prob­lems with the US.

But the busi­ness kept go­ing thanks to Noyes and a group of Chi­nese pub­lish­ers.

The Li­brairie le Phenix in Paris was sim­i­lar.

Regis Berg­eron opened the store in 1965, a year af­ter France es­tab­lished diplo­matic ties with China. In 1959, when ties be­tween China and the for­mer Soviet Union broke down, Berg­eron and three other French ex­perts came to China to help the coun­try be­come more self-suf­fi­cient.

But in 1980, right-wing ac­tivists in France burned down the book­store and one of the staff mem­bers was se­verely in­jured.

The own­ers re­built on the orig­i­nal site and ex­panded the space from 50 square me­ters to 200 square me­ters as it is to­day.

The Li­brairie le Phenix is known to Chi­nese writ­ers as a gate­way to the world. And for many French read­ers, it gives them their first glimpses of China.

Founded by Pan Li­hui, a Cam­bo­dian of Chi­nese ori­gin, in 1976, the Li­brairie You Feng in Paris has be­come an im­por­tant place for for­eign­ers who read about Chi­nese cul­ture.

Pan had orig­i­nally opened the shop to learn Chi­nese. In col­lege, while talk­ing to other stu­dents, he had mis­taken the OverseasBook­stores.


food tofu to be Du Fu, a great poet of the Tang Dy­nasty (618907).

With an in­ter­est in Chi­nese lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture, he started a pub­lish­ing com­pany. In the last 35 years, You Feng Pub­lish­ing House has pub­lished more than 1,000 Chi­nese books in French.

In 2015, a French ver­sion of Records of the Grand His­to­rian was pub­lished af­ter the trans­la­tion project first started 120 years ago.

Chi­nese writer Zha Liangy­ong and oth­ers were in­tro­duced to the West by You Feng. His martial-arts nov­els are pop­u­lar among French read­ers.

In the early years of You Feng, Pan lost money, earn­ing a daily rev­enue of less than 200 francs ($33).

That con­tin­ued un­til, one day, an el­derly French­man asked him for books on tai chi. Pan started to pub­lish tra­di­tional Chi­nese health books and text­books for Chi­nese-lan­guage learn­ers.

Orig­i­nally, there were only Chi­nese cus­tomers but grad­u­ally more French peo­ple came.

Now, You Feng has be­come one of the most in­flu­en­tial names when it comes to Chi­nese books in Europe. It sells French books on Chi­nese lan­guage, tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, Chi­nese cui­sine and travel, plus trans­la­tions of Chi­nese clas­sics.

Chi­nese book­stores abroad show­case the coun­try’s cul­ture, which is why the doc­u­men­tary was made, says Yin, the pro­ducer.

Con­tact the writer at yangyangs@china daily.com.cn


Li­brairie le Phenix is one of the seven book­stores fea­tured in the TV doc­u­men­tary adorn the win­dows. Por­traits of Chi­nese writ­ers like Lu Xun, Bing Xin and Eileen Chang

Li­brairie le Phenix in the 1970s. The book­store, founded by Regis Berg­eron (sec­ond from left) in 1965, has sur­vived decades of ups and downs and now of­fers a glimpse of China in Paris. Henry Noyes, the founder of China Books and Pe­ri­od­i­cals in the United States.


Chi­nese au­thor Ba Jin (cen­ter) vis­its Li­brairie le Phenix in Paris in 1979. The book­store has hosted gen­er­a­tions of Chi­nese writ­ers over the past few decades.

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