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Catching the Book Worm
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German novelist Christoph Peters revisited China last week with his wife and 4-year-old daughter. The excited writer came for the 14th Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), in which Germany is the "Country of Honor". A promising German novelist, Peters, 40, is famous for his enigmatic new style.

With two of his books published here in Chinese, Peters reveals that his novel has adopted some ideas from ancient Chinese classics, among which The Analects of Confucius and Li Bai's poems are his favorites.

"Chinese ancient philosophy is amazing to German readers," says Peters. "I have learned that German college students are reading 'I Ching'."

German novelist Christoph Peters talks with a young reader at the book fair.

"I Ching" (Book of Changes), often regarded as the earliest philosophy book in Chinese history, was first translated into German and published in 1924 by German scholar Richard Wilhelm under the help of Lao Naixuan, a well-read post-Qing Dynasty linguist who explained the profound meanings of "I Ching" to Wilhelm.

Nearly 80 years later, as China speeds up its internationalization, the cultural exchanges between Germany and China are thriving again.

"No doubt that books will play an important role in pushing forward that trend and promote mutual understanding of German and Chinese peoples," says Jing Bartz, a Chinese-born German and director of the German Book Information Center (BIZ) in Beijing.

Bartz, who is in charge of organizing the events of the Country of Honor for the book fair, says: "We endeavor to fully showcase the country's books for Chinese readers at the book fair."

Launched 14 years ago, BIBF is the fourth largest of its kind worldwide, importing books from abroad and exporting Chinese books to the rest of the world. The BIBF has also successfully promoted the copyright trade between China and other countries.

This year, the five-day event, which closed yesterday, was themed Germany: Inspiration and Innovation. It provides publishers, agents, writers and readers from Germany and China a great opportunity to exchange their thoughts through books, symposiums, forums and cultural activities.

Zhang Chi, 20, a college student from Tianjin Foreign Studies University who majors in German, came to hunt for German books.

"Germany is a developed country; therefore, its literature often reflects people's attitudes toward urbanization and environmental pollution," Zhang says.

Both new-generation German novelists, Peters and his wife Veronika are interested in Chinese culture.

While he expresses his passion for Chinese culture, Peters also acknowledges that he belongs to the minority in Germany.

"Maybe Chinese culture attracts some Germans, but most of my compatriots' knowledge of China is confined to food, medicine and martial arts," Peters says. "It is difficult to find translated Chinese literature on German bookshelves."

However, Peters believes more German people will now pay attention to China because of its burgeoning economic development.

According to the General Administration of Press and Publication of the People's Republic of China (GAPP), in 2005, China imported 366 book copyrights from Germany, while exporting only nine copyrights.

Last year, thanks to the Chinese government's "going out" policy, which helps domestic publishers participate in the international copyright trade, exports to Germany increased to 104.

This year's Beijing International Book Fair attracted some 2,000 publishers from 53 countries and regions, and about half of them were overseas publishing companies.

Besides Germany, many countries have set up their own stands at the fair, such as Greece, the Netherlands, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Next year, Greece is likely to be the country of honor by the 15th BIBF, since it is where the Olympic Games originated.

The world's growing interest in China has fueled the enthusiasm of local publishers to take on the growing market of Chinese-language learning supplements.

On September 1, the over-100-year-old Commercial Press in Beijing launched a new magazine, The World of Chinese, at the book fair.

The visual displays attract many young visitors to Beijing International Book Fair. About 2,000 publishers from home and abroad take part in the event.

It is reportedly the only Chinese-learning magazine designed to serve foreign learners' needs, says Zhu Xiaojian, editor-in-chief of the magazine which offers a CD and an interactive Chinese learning website (www.refbook.com.cn).

Zhu says that in the coming months, based on the smooth operation of the English-Chinese magazine, the Commercial Press will launch other languages, such as Japanese, Korean and Russian.

To cater to the diverse needs of Chinese- language learners worldwide, the People's Education Press has also launched new products. For the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games, the publishing house has produced Chinese 2008, a five-copy book series in eight languages.

For younger readers, there is Happy Chinese and Learning Chinese With Me, while for adult learners, there's Fast Chinese and Standard Chinese for Chinese learners in Japan.

In collaboration with Mindmap Research Institute (Shanghai) and the Chinese Character Research Institute, the Shanghai-based Taotu Animation Technology Co Ltd has published a series of multi-media toolkits for overseas Chinese-language learners.

Based on the Mind Mapping methodology, the so-called Hafala Chinese learning tool enables non-Chinese learners to acquire 2,500 Chinese characters in a systematic way within months, according to Elizabeth Yu, from Taotu.

Other Chinese high-tech companies, such as the Beijing-based Hong'en Softwares Co Ltd, also offer products for "faster Chinese learning".

It is reported that at least 100 publishers and software developers in China have developed Chinese-language learning books and related tools.

During the book fair, the People's Education Press inked deals with a couple of publishers from the United States, India and Canada, among others for at least 50 Chinese-language learning book projects, according to copyright manager Lu Gang.

(China Daily September 4, 2007)


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