Traditional books back in fashion

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Daily, April 24, 2022
Adjust font size:

Sector benefits from general revival of culture.

In March 2019, Zhang Meng, an editor in charge of the cartoon section in Beijing Xiron Culture Group, was browsing Weibo, where many artists post their works. She came across a comic strip that personified Chinese characters and was immediately captured by its creativity.

The story, created by Milehemilu called Word Man, took place in a world where citizens were all Chinese characters. They had to live according to the original meanings of the characters and radicals (the characters' parts) were not allowed to exist independently. Chou (ugly) was a freshman at Character College, who was always bullied. At the college entrance ceremony, Chou met a fugitive Tishoupang (a radical meaning using hands to do something) that was running from the Radical Hunters. The two formed a new character Niu, which had a number of meanings including twist, grapple and wrench. They thus commenced an adventure in the world of Chinese characters.

"I was thinking: 'Wow, a story about Chinese characters! If we can discuss and develop the plot more,'" the 34-year-old says, adding that "there were few similar cartoons in the market".

Zhang did not hesitate to reach the artist and found he already conceived lots of ideas about the "characters of characters".

Before developing a story and the "personality" for a Chinese character, Milehemilu would first learn about the origin and evolution of its meanings.

Milehemilu, born in 1997, represents a new generation of writers who, inspired by Chinese traditional culture, are using new perspectives and forms to create works that are received well among young readers.

"He was not a professional cartoonist, but interested in the art and Chinese characters. He created the work and was fully devoted to it. We all liked the story, so soon we decided to cooperate," Zhang says.

Now published on various online platforms, including Tencent Cartoon, and, targeted at young people including students at middle school, college and university, Word Man has been updated to 70 chapters. On Tencent Cartoon alone, it has got more than 35 million likes and 1,225 people rated it 9.8 points out of 10. The first book came out last October.

Word Man is just one of more than 100 works of Chinese traditional culture that Xiron has launched and is working on especially at a time when it has become a new fashion among young people nationwide.

Pan Liang, editor-in-chief of Xiron, observes that in the last three to four years, an increasing number of products have become popular among young people because they are conceptually related to traditional Chinese culture, such as hanfuļ¼apparel worn in ancient times, cosmetics and cultural creative products like folding fans, lipsticks, or the figurines of emperors launched by the Palace Museum. In the autumn of 2017, people queued for hours to take a look at the precious painting Qianli Jiangshan Tu (A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains) from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) when it was on exhibition at the Palace Museum.

"Chinese traditional culture has become a fashion these years possibly because people feel confident about our country and culture," he says.

"This is the best time for Chinese traditional culture," he says, adding that "especially at a time when social media is highly developed so that videos can go viral in a very short time. For publishers, this trend provides a lot of opportunities".

Xiron has launched not only works from established writers such as Yu Qiuyu, Zhou Guoping, Meng Man and Wang Meng, but also works that cater to the flavor of young people, like the cartoon series of Foodie Boy Comics: The Amazing History of Food.

Yu Qiuyu's Lectures on Chinese Culture published in 2019 has sold more than 300,000 copies. It is a systematic interpretation of Chinese traditional culture by the essayist and scholar. A teenager version has also sold more than 300,000 copies.

Xiron is not the only publisher that tries to seize the opportunities, but Pan says there are a lot of books about traditional Chinese culture in the market, but whether they can sell well depends on whether "young people can have fun in reading".

For example, when designing the bestselling book The Travel Guide to the Tang Dynasty, the publisher tried to tell readers through the book cover that rather than heavy and difficult, this historical book offers an experiential reading. In an amusing and creative way, it talks about the historical background and social and cultural knowledge more than 1,000 years ago that common people can relate to now, Pan says.

"So we have been trying to switch our identity and perspective to those of readers to turn books that we think good into books that readers really like," he says.

For example, the publisher is now working on a series of picture books about the Forbidden City targeted at teenagers, Pan says. In each volume, there will be a beast from the Forbidden City as the narrator that will use humorous language and vivid pictures to talk about assorted cultural relics.

Besides, since 2015, Xiron has been working on a completed collection of Twenty-four Histories, which is translated from ancient Chinese into modern Chinese.

"The existing versions of Twenty-four Histories are either too difficult for common readers or incomplete because they are excerpts selected by the compilers," he says.

"We decided to spend 10 years preparing this huge book that covers a wide range of topics in the dynasties throughout Chinese history," the 38-year-old says.

"Translated and revised by historians and experts, our version will allow readers to acquire Chinese ancient wisdom through light reading," he says.

The classics will ultimately stay after the sifting time, but "what we need to do is to transform those cold texts into something warm and alive, just like craftspeople", Pan says, "which is quite challenging".

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from