Opening a New Chapter
Experts call for more exchanges and better translations to promote mutual understanding among different cultures
By Li Xiaoyang  ·  2019-05-27  ·   Source: NO. 22 MAY 30, 2019
The 10th Seminar on Publishing for International Readers hosted by China International Publishing Group in Beijing on May 17 (WEI YAO)

When Wang Xiaobo (1952-97) wrote about his dream of visiting an Egyptian desert in his novella The Silver Age in the 1990s, the Chinese writer perhaps did not imagine he would become a rage in that country decades later.

"You may not believe this but the most popular contemporary Chinese writer in Arabic-speaking countries today is Wang Xiaobo," said Ahmed Mohamed Elsaid Soliman, General Manager of Egypt's Wisdom House Cultural Investment Co., talking of the writer known for his allegorical style and black humor.

Soliman, who came to China in 2010 and is still here promoting cultural exchanges between China and Arab states, was speaking at the 10th Seminar on Publishing for International Readers hosted by China International Publishing Group (CIPG) in Beijing on May 17. Publishing industry professionals from Asia, South America and Africa attended the event on the sidelines of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations.

The popularity of Wang's works in Arabic-speaking countries reflects the growing curiosity about China. Besides its current development, China is also attracting wide attention for its traditional culture.

Learning more about foreign readers' preferences can help China better promote its books and improve its soft power, Soliman said.

Window to China

The conference, convened under the theme promoting exchanges and mutual learning among Asian civilizations, put the significance of cultural exchanges in the spotlight. As a major approach to enhancing cultural understanding, publication and export of books are playing an increasingly important role, according to the participants in the seminar.

With China becoming increasingly active on the world stage, readers in other countries are expanding their focus on China's economy, politics and development path. Xi Jinping: The Governance of China, a collection of Chinese President Xi Jinping's speeches, conversations, instructions and letters, outlines China's development philosophy. To date, there have been 30 versions in 26 languages of the first and second volumes of the book.

Books about China enable people from other countries to gain a full image of China. "To know about the Chinese culture and spirit, it is very important to read Chinese writers, philosophers, historians and business people so that we can understand China in a much better way," Kaushal Goyal, General Manager of the New Delhi-based GBD Books, said at the seminar.

In response to the demand, more books on China are being circulated in other countries. According to Lu Cairong, Vice President of the Beijing-headquartered CIPG, there were over 40,000 English book titles on China in 2018, a huge rise compared to about 20,000 in the previous year. Apart from English-speaking countries, publishing industries in countries that speak other languages are also focusing more on China.

According to the seminar, Chinese literary classics such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a panoramic 14th-century historical novel by Luo Guanzhong, as well as books on ancient philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) account for a large part of China-related books meant for foreign readers. In recent years, Chinese herbs and TCM have started getting popular in many countries.

Besides classics that continue to grip, Chinese contemporary literature has also become popular with foreign readers, providing a window to China's present, like the works of Mo Yan, who won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature. His novels like Red Sorghum and The Republic of Wine recorded upheavals in Chinese society, weaving folk tales and imagery with satire. Mo's books have been translated into at least 40 languages.

For publishers worldwide, declining sales of books in the digital era remain a common concern. According to Kim Seung Il, President of Gyeng Ji Pressing in the Republic of Korea, the publishing industry in his country is declining due to the impact of mobile apps which provide online reading content.

It is the same with China's publishing industry though new opportunities have also emerged. Internet forums such as have made Chinese online stories about the feats of martial art heroes accessible to foreign readers by translating them. Founded in December 2014, the website has millions of page views every day.

According to China Writers Association's latest report, the number of registered authors of online literature in China exceeded 14 million as of 2018, providing a new chance for the traditional publishing industry to develop more digital platforms and promote online writing.

Readers visit the Chinese booth at the Thessaloniki Book Fair in Greece on May 11 (XINHUA)

The diversity approach

According to Laura Prinsloo, Chair of the Indonesian National Book Committee, the publishing industry plays a key role in weaving the threads that hold the global community together and bringing different cultures closer. This calls for more exchanges between countries. "Just like the future of our world, the future of our industry depends on diversity and intercultural cooperation," she said.

Diversity is all about creating variety, she added. From a global perspective, it also means that readers from various parts of the world hope to see contents relevant to them.

Although China is no longer a mystery for many foreign readers, their understanding of the country is still limited. Goyal held up Indian readers as an example. Many facets of China remain unfamiliar to Indians, who are interested to know more about Chinese policies such as reform and opening up and the Belt and Road Initiative as well as China's culture and business growth, he explained.

"Indians have learned about Confucius, Lao Tzu [the founder of Taoism] and Sun Tzu [famed for his Art of War] but have not heard of other great Chinese philosophers like Mencius and Chuang Tzu [the Taoist philosopher]. We can increase their awareness about China by translating and publishing Chinese historical, social, political and cultural books in English and Hindi," he pointed out.

Goyal highlighted that Chinese and Indians should jointly promote cultural exchanges to bring the two neighboring countries closer. Therefore, mutual learning about the Chinese and Indian publishing industries is necessary since publication of books in both the countries' languages will help the two sides seek common ground while maintaining individual characteristics.

The Chinese publishing industry needs improvement and exchanges with other countries on content generation, translation, design and outbound promotion, Lu said. "We need to publish more high-quality work to better meet demands of foreign readers and bridge China with the rest of the world," he concluded.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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