China Daily

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.


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 meijia@

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.

 ?? LI MIN / CHINA DAILY ?? Zhao Haiyun, deputy department chief at the State Administra­tion of Press, Publicatio­n, Radio, Film and Television
LI MIN / CHINA DAILY Zhao Haiyun, deputy department chief at the State Administra­tion of Press, Publicatio­n, Radio, Film and Television
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