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“Harry Potter” Breaks Records in China
Since the People Literature Publishing House presented the first three collections of Harry Potter series to the public in October of 2000, about 1.5 million books have been sold across the country.

The fourth collection, "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," broke records with 160,000 copies sold throughout the country within its first week. More than a thousand delirious fans lined up on June 1 outside the city's biggest bookstore, Beijing Book Mansion, to learn what happens to Harry this time.

The store sold more than 5,500 copies in the first 50 days.

By comparison, "A Boy Student Named Jia Li," the best-selling book among the store's domestic children's books, has sold 1,566 copies since its 1999 publication, Chen said.

Why is Harry Potter so popular among Chinese readers?

Fantasy appears the most striking factor. From oddly-shaped jelly beans to dragon's eggs hatched on the hearth, J. K. Rowling exerts her fascinating imagination to create a real-seeming wizard world.

"That makes it destined for greatness," said Wang Quangen, a renowned children's literature critic from Beijing Normal University.

Suspense also helps to make this book a best-seller. Secrets emerge, followed by revelations that actually produce new secrets.

The book is also full of humor, another selling point.

Harry's unprecedented popularity among Chinese readers also brought forth concerns from critics about the current situation of Chinese children's literature.

"Fantasy, what Harry Potter tales brought to us, is just what Chinese literature writers lack," author Peng Yi said.

Shanghai Normal University professor and literature critic Mei Zihan noted that Chinese children's novelists are weaker at infusing their work with winding plots, suspense and surprises.

"I haven't found any Chinese children's book more interesting than Harry Potter," Beijing middle-school student Wu Donghan said.

Late children's author Chen Bo-chui, known for "A Cat Wanting To Fly" and "Fantasy Stretches Out Colorful Swings," once said that to see, hear and think like a child is key to good writing for children.

Yet many Chinese children's novelists write at an adult's level.

China's school system is also part of the problem. Focused solely on getting children into university, they overlook the importance of making reading fun.

Chinese children's literature wasn't always so dull, scholars say. Ancient Chinese mythology, for example, is loaded with fantastic detail. And some modern authors have picked up some of that style, notably in the "Pipilu and Luxixi" book series written by Zheng Yuanjie in the 1980s. Zheng's premise involved a gang of finger-sized characters who lived with oddball kids Pipilu and Luxixi to help them solve problems.

"It is a joint effort by the author, the publishers and retailers that creates a success for a book," said Wang Zhipeng, the marketing department manager of the Wangfujing Bookstore.

(China Daily 07/26/2001)

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