Belt and Road opens new chap­ter for authors China’s con­tem­po­rary word­smiths are gain­ing a wider au­di­ence through the de­vel­op­ment of the ‘mod­ern Silk Road’. re­ports.

China Daily - - TWO SES­SIONS -

Prior to 2011, kung fu, Jackie Chan and pan­das were the im­ages read­ers in the Arab world as­so­ci­ated most with China, ac­cord­ing to Ahmed El­said, an Egyp­tian pub­lisher who op­er­ates from a base in the Ningxia Hui au­tonomous re­gion.

Six years later, the list has grown and writ­ers such as Liu Zhenyun, Xu Zechen and econ­o­mist Justin Yifu Lin have seen their pop­u­lar­ity grow with read­ers in the re­gion.

“Be­fore 2011, even Chi­nese lan­guage ma­jors at uni­ver­si­ties in the Ara­bic-speak­ing world didn’t un­der­stand Chi­nese so­ci­ety, the peo­ple or his­tory very well. At the time, there were very few books about China in English, let alone Ara­bic,” said the pub­lisher and trans­la­tor, who ma­jored in Chi­nese at the Al-Azhar Univer­sity in Cairo and now op­er­ates from Yinchuan in North­west China.

“When I was a stu­dent, only about 50 ti­tles had been bought and trans­lated from Chi­nese for decades. It was re­ally dif­fi­cult to get Chi­nese books, which partly stim­u­lated my plan to be­come a pub­lisher,” El­said noted.

The sit­u­a­tion im­proved af­ter the ad­vent of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, pro­posed by Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping in 2013, which saw more Chi­nese books, cov­er­ing a wide range of sub­jects, ap­pear­ing in Egyp­tian book­stores.

Si­nol­o­gist Marine Ji­bladze, from Georgia, had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. She said un­til re­cently there were very few books about China in the for­mer Soviet state, with the ex­cep­tion of a small num­ber of for­eign trans­la­tions about tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture.

“The Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive of­fers a great chance for more cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional ex­changes be­tween the two coun­tries. Re­cently, we have seen books in Ge­or­gian about Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture, his­tory and lan­guage,” she said.

Mul­tilin­gual ap­proach

Zhao Haiyun, deputy depart­ment chief at the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Press, Pub­li­ca­tion, Ra­dio, Film and Tele­vi­sion, said since the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive be­gan pro­vid­ing fund­ing for trans­la­tions of Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has sup­ported mul­tilin­gual ver­sions of 980 ti­tles, aim­ing to reach read­ers in coun­tries and re­gions along the routes of the “mod­ern Silk Road”.

Liu Xinlu, an aca­demic and trans­la­tor at Bei­jing For­eign Stud­ies Univer­sity’s depart­ment of Ara­bic stud­ies, said many peo­ple in the Arab world are un­fa­mil­iar with Chi­nese so­ci­ety and vice versa. “To im­prove un­der­stand­ing, Ara­bic­s­peak­ing peo­ple want to read books about our core val­ues and how China per­ceives the world,” he said. “The Arab world used to look to the West for de­vel­op­ment ex­pe­ri­ence, but now it is more im­pressed and en­light­ened by what China has achieved in the past 30 years. Peo­ple are now more will­ing to look to the East, and Chi­nese pub­lish­ers are ea­ger to in­tro­duce more ti­tles to them.”

Un­like years gone by, when the Arab world was in­ter­ested in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, such as lit­er­ary clas­sics, peo­ple are now fas­ci­nated by con­tem­po­rary is­sues, such as the coun­try’s de­vel­op­ment model and mod­ern authors.

Through his re­search, Liu dis­cov­ered that peo­ple in the Arab world love read­ing, and they are es­pe­cially keen on hu­mor­ous ro­mances.

That point was echoed by El­said, who said Liu Zhenyun’s use of hu­mor and re­al­ism — dis­played in works such as Cell Phone and Iam not Madame Bo­vary — is the key to his pop­u­lar­ity.

“The con­tem­po­rary writ­ers in­tro­duced to the Ara­bic-speak­ing world dif­fer in style, but what they write re­flects how Chi­nese peo­ple live their lives, which is at­trac­tive to Arab read­ers,” he said.


In the early 2000s, China be­gan a cam­paign to en­cour­age do­mes­tic pub­lish­ers to com­pete on the global stage and work with in­ter­na­tional pub­lish­ers. While some are look­ing to the English-lan­guage mar­ket, others, such as the China In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Press and Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity Press, are seek­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties along the new trad­ing route.

The two pub­lish­ers are among 16 that have es­tab­lished branches in coun­tries within the scope of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, ac­cord­ing to Zhao: “In ad­di­tion to copy­right trades, lo­cal­iza­tion op­er­a­tions are an im­por­tant and ef­fec­tive way of ‘go­ing out’.”

Jing Xiaomin, deputy di­rec­tor of the China In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Press, be­lievesChi­ne­se­booksshoul­dreach out to all read­ers, not just peo­ple comb­ing the shelves of univer­sity li­braries.

To en­sure that read­ers are eas­ily able to lo­cate Chi­nese-themed books, her com­pany has es­tab­lished spe­cial “China Shelves” at two of the big­gest book­stores in Egypt and the United Arab Emi­rates.

“One big sur­prise came with our dig­i­tal book plat­form called That’s. We set out to of­fer an e-book sys­tem for our Ara­bic part­ners to learn about Chi­nese ti­tles. In ap­pre­ci­a­tion of our technology, 40 lo­cal pub­lish­ers have of­fered the plat­form 10,000 ti­tles in Ara­bic, ac­count­ing for 70 per­cent of the to­tal,” Jing said. “We’re pleased to see our e-book stan­dards have been ac­cepted in­ter­na­tion­ally.”

One of the cur­rent dar­lings of the Chi­nese pub­lish­ing world is spy novelist Mai Jia, who is be­ing pro­moted heav­ily in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket.

“One of our se­crets is to take the writ­ers to meet the read­ers, not only at in­ter­na­tional book fairs, but also in Chi­nese de­part­ments at uni­ver­si­ties or China Study In­sti­tutes, where we are re­ceived warmly ev­ery time,” she said.

Jing be­lieves that the younger gen­er­a­tion of up-and-com­ing Chi­nese writ­ers will have few prob­lems gain­ing global recog­ni­tion be­cause they are more in­ter­na­tion­al­ized than pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions and most of them speak ex­cel­lent English.

“They write about top­ics that prompt sym­pa­thy, such as start­ing busi­nesses and the pres­sures of ev­ery­day life,” she said.

Bei­jing Nor­mal Univer­sity Press has also tasted suc­cess with three se­ries of books cov­er­ing an­cient clas­sics, con­tem­po­rary lit­er­a­ture and China’s de­vel­op­ment model, as part of an ex­tended project called The Zayed Col­lec­tion. The press is also in­tro­duc­ing the works of con­tem­po­rary poet Hai Zi to the po­et­rylov­ing Arabs.

Trans­la­tion chal­lenge

Xie Xi, who leads the press’s in­ter­na­tional busi­ness depart­ment, said a lack of qual­i­fied trans­la­tors poses a big chal­lenge for Chi­nese pub­lish­ers work­ing on books that will ap­peal to a global au­di­ence. To re­solve the prob­lem, many pub­lish­ers are now work­ing with Chi­nese uni­ver­si­ties, the For­eign Min­istry and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions to nur­ture more tal­ent.

Both In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal univer­sity press use at and least the two trans­la­tors for each book, one from China and one from the tar­get mar­ket, which en­sures both pre­ci­sion and orig­i­nal­ity.

At the same time, an in­creas­ing num­ber of Chi­nese pub­lish­ers are par­tic­i­pat­ing in in­ter­na­tional book fairs held in coun­tries along the routes of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. Chi­nese pub­lish­ers were out in force at last year’s Cairo In­ter­na­tional Book Fair, at which China was the guest of honor. Next month, Abu Dhabi will host a book fair fea­tur­ing Chi­nese books.

And it isn’t just books, the Ara­bic ver­sion of Path­light, a lead­ing Chi­nese lit­er­ary magazine, gained pop­u­lar­ity at book fairs af­ter its pub­lisher, the Peo­ple’s Lit­er­a­ture Magazine, is­sued the trans­lated ver­sion.

Some of the books des­tined for Chi­nese-Ara­bic ex­changes — such as Civil­i­sa­tional Repo­si­tion­ing: China’s Rise and the Fu­ture of the Arab Peo­ple by the Jor­da­nian writer Samer Khair Ah­mad — have proved so pop­u­lar that English ver­sions are now be­ing pro­duced.

Mean­while, the For­eign Lan­guages Press and the New World Press are main­tain­ing mo­men­tum by in­tro­duc­ing the aims of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive in English and other lan­guages. Bright Prospects for the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, pub­lished by the For­eign Lan­guages Press, in­tro­duces the project in easy-toread brochures, while Bik­ing the Silk Road tells the story of a 6-year-old girl and her fam­ily who travel along the route by bi­cy­cle for 80 days.

“I hope there will be more en­thu­si­asm about China in coun­tries along the routes of the ini­tia­tive, so more books will pro­vide bet­ter knowl­edge about our coun­try and nour­ish greater un­der­stand­ing,” said Liu Xinlu, from the Bei­jing For­eign Stud­ies Univer­sity. Con­tact the writer at mei­[email protected] chi­

In ad­di­tion to copy­right trades, lo­cal­iza­tion op­er­a­tions are an im­por­tant and ef­fec­tive way of ‘go­ing out’.”

made read­ing a habit and a way of life,” she said.

Wang said the Bei­jing fes­ti­val serves as a plat­form where gov­ern­ment sup­port com­bines with pub­lish­ers, book­stores and or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­mote read­ing toof­fer­in­te­grat­ed­public­ser­vices and the best re­sources.

“It wasn’t easy to work with so many part­ners, but it was worth mak­ing the ef­fort be­cause I know how read­ing can light up peo­ple’s lives and help build a strong coun­try,” Wang said.

The fes­ti­val’s man­age­ment team is now ac­tively seek­ing more part­ners and ad­vo­cat­ing read­ing unions among peer groups, such as school stu­dents and po­lice of­fi­cers.

Zhou Huilin, di­rec­tor of pub­lish­ing man­age­ment at the ad­min­is­tra­tion, said pro­mo­tions will ac­count for a large part of his work plan for next year, such as es­tab­lish­ing a long-term mech­a­nism to pro­mote read­ing, which will in­clude es­tab­lish­ing a guid­ing com­mit­tee and a sys­tem to as­sess the im­pact of the pro­gram.

On March 1, the Pub­lic Cul­tural Ser­vice Guar­an­tee Law of the Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic of China was of­fi­cially en­acted, guar­an­tee­ing fund­ing, in­fras­truc­ture and fa­cil­i­ties to pro­mote read­ing.


Zhao Haiyun, deputy depart­ment chief at the State Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Press, Pub­li­ca­tion, Ra­dio, Film and Tele­vi­sion

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