Amid concerns about the impact Chinese books can have abroad, the US novel When the Purple Mountain Burns has been drawing attention at the Beijing International Book Fair not just for its plot set during the Nanjing massacre, but also because it marks a new chapter in Chinese publishing.
Written by Chinese-American novelist Shouhua Qi, the book provides a rich historical view of the atrocities committed by Japanese troops during World War II. However, its publisher, Long River Press (LRP), is also making history.
"It marks a milestone in China's entry into the international publishing market," said Xu Mingqiang, chief executive of LRP, the first US-based Chinese publisher to release a book about China written by a United States-born author.
The LRP, jointly established by the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) and the Hong Kong United Press Co. in 2002, has promoted its products to the shelves of mainstream US bookstores and on the listings of online retailer Amazon.
"It's the growing enthusiasm for Chinese culture worldwide that has created the opportunities for us," said Xu, who boasts over 30 years of international publishing experience.
Xu had sensed the growing interest of US readers in Chinese culture and decided the time was right to enter the US market. His intuition was supported by an article, in Time magazine's June Asian edition, telling readers that learning Chinese was the key to profiting from the country's booming economy.
About 100,000 people in the US have learned Chinese, which has been included on school curriculums. Worldwide, more than 30 million people are studying Chinese as a second language and 2,500 universities in 100 countries the subject.
Xu says LRP is set to publish more US-born writers specializing in Chinese language and culture. The firm's booth at the ongoing International Book Fair includes two Chinese-learning books written by American Sinologists and one book on Chinese women aviators during WWII, all written by native English speakers.
"Surging demand for Chinese books has boosted international cooperation," said Xu. "Publishers from Britain, France, Germany and Singapore have shown great interest in our books, and some Chinese firms are seeking cooperation with the US through us."
Zhou Mingwei, vice president of CIPG, said Chinese publishers had opened up the US mainstream market. As China's biggest foreign language publishing organization, the CIPG has succeeded by taking a localized strategy, according to Zhou.
"Chinese culture differs greatly in thinking patterns from Western culture, which poses a serious challenge for the publishing industry," said Xu. LRP learned a lesson from Yao Ming's book which was not successful in the US market, as most US basketball fans cared only for the native players.
"We should learn from the US and observe the local rules," Xu said. Two years ago, LRP became a shareholder in a US-funded publishing house named "China Books". LRP now has 18 staff, 13 of whom are US-born.
Chen Shaofeng, deputy director of the Culture Industry Research Institute at Beijing University, mirrored the debate’s flipside, saying China's cultural sector would have to compete fiercely in the international market and cultural industries should adopt a chain development strategy.
China holds only 1.5 percent of the global cultural products market, while the United States accounts for 40 percent.
However, China is growing in areas such as copyright transfers of Chinese-learning materials. At the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany last October, Chinese publishing houses sold the rights to 615 items.
(Xinhua News Agency August 31, 2006)