China update: Trends, topics, new titles

While it is frightening to see in this very moment how the new Mandarin hotel next to Rem Kohlhas‘ CCTV tower is burning, I was checking all kinds of sources on news with regard to China’s publishing landscape.

Friends told me that the crisis so far did not have any knock out impact on the industry, but at the same time, I hear a lot of lines about „restructuring“ – or reconsidering all to bold and expansive strategies in publishing companies.

We learn for instance that Liaoning Press which was the first publishing company allowed to go public at the Shanghai Stock exchange in 2008 has been re-branded as North United Publishing and Media (Group) Co., Ltd. More significantly, most of the major Shanghai based publishing groups have been encouraged to become more of  ‚companies‘ instead of state run cultural agents, and yet another publisher – Reader Publishing Group in Gansu Province –  is also preparing to go public.

The annual Beijing domestic book fair held in January says in releases that business concluded with 2.5 bn RMB worth of deals (ca. 200 m up as compared to 2008).

Also, translations which had shown tremendous growth to an estimated 10,000 titles sold into China for translation per year, seem to remain solid. In a workshop sponsored by the British Council, it was announced that China will be the guest of honor at the London Book fair in 2012 (after being in that role in Frankfurt later this year).

Forcasts e.g. in China Daily have it that books about macro economics as well as the now exactly 30 years of China’s opening may be among the top issues in the year’s new releases.

In fact in  the top bestseller segment, the controversial „Currency Wars“ (货币战争) by Song Hongbing  is back as #1 in non fiction. And 30 years of the special economic zone in Shenzhen have been turned into a novel called „Destiny“ (命运 ) by Lu Tianming.


Much more interestingly in terms of international reach is the clear trend that more and more regularly, books from Chinese authors are given prominent recognition abroad. In a piece in the New Yorker, the broadening reciprocal exchange of books and ideas via translations in both direction has been recently discussed – and compared to the lack of such an exchange with the Arab world.

Pankaj Mishra reviewed the English translation of the in its Chinese edition hugely successful novel „Brothers“ by Yu Hua  in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. But also the very dark The Vagrants: A Novel, a captivating new book on the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution, by short story writer Li Liyun, got instantly attention and appraisal in the Times as the English translation was released by Random House.

In the most recent Chinese bestseller lists provided by China Publishing Today, a new novel, long listed at last year’s Man AsiaLiterary Award, Murong Xuecun, hit the charts, „Dance the Red Dust“ (原谅我红尘颠倒), while his earlier book „Leave Me Alone, Chengdu“ was given a German translation at Zweitausendeins.

So one can be cautiously optimistic that the flow of books and ideas between China and us starts to broaden from the odd trickle that it once was into a quite robust – and exciting – stream.

The next step ahead however would need to involve more sophisticated and also two sided working relationships between publishers and editors from the West with their counterparts in Chinese publishing houses – which used to be for so long just this: state controlled government agencies.

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