Beijing International Book Fair – a sidestep from the Olympics
August 29, 2008 by ruediger

Arriving at the Beijing airport this morning from Europe, I find myself picked up even before I could realize the really dump whether and the thick smog clouds above the city, by a young band of helpful youngsters waving billboards spelling the fair’s acronym BIBF, and guided gently to the bus stop for Tianjin. For several days from now on, they wait patiently at the international arrival hall to collect every single soul that may show up not for the ‘paraolympics’ – which seem to start these days after the classical Olympics -, or for any type of other business, but for books.

So half an hour later, I find myself in this medium sized bus, being driven not so much across the country side, but foggy highways, for some two and a half hours, until I am dropped again, at the Tianjin bus  station where, you bet, another group of young people, waving similar bilboards, shows up, with a long list with names in their hands -trying to identify me, which fails. But no problem, they get me into another bus, this time for me alone, and from the shabby bus station neighborehood, I am driven to the heart of the city. Midway, I am allowed a quick glance at the huge olympic statium of Tianjiin (London’s Millennium Dome pales in a comparison). The the journey ends at the exhibition hall and my somptuous hotel.

Across the street, in the early evening, there is another impressive and very big hall whose purpose I ignore, a tower with not formal purpose aside from being a flashy landmark, with laser beams on its top, and hundreds (or even a few thousand) of people leisurely strolling around, some dancing in groups to the sound of a ghetto blaster, others controlling kites high up in the sky at the end of long strings, some of the kites even have colourful lights attached, while other people ambitiously make rounds and rounds on their rollerblades.

What this has to do with books? It is simple: In China things tend to be really big. We saw it with the Olympics, and with their cities and their ambition. We need to acknowledge the same lesson when it comes to books, publishing and the size of the reading audience, and hence the size of the market.  And the Chinese became pretty good and straight forward in getting all this set up and connceted with the rest of the (of our) world.

Those details will follow in the BookLab over the next few days, coming directly from Tianjin, PR China.

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