Power of the printed word
A TV documentary sheds light on how far Chinese bookstores abroad have come, reports.
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.