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Penguin Prepays $100,000 for Chinese Book's Right

In China's most expensive overseas book deal ever, British Penguin Group has prepaid US$100,000,10 percent of the total purchase value, to buy the English copyright of Chinese bestseller The Wolf Totem.

The Penguin Group, under the British Pearson Education company, bought the copyright from central China's Wuhan-based Changjiang Literary Art Press here Thursday.

According to the contract, the English version of The Wolf Totem will be published in all English-speaking countries simultaneously in 2007.

The Wolf Totem tells the story of a provincial youth, grassland wolves and Inner Mongolian nomads in the 1960s and 1970s. Writer Jiang Rong uses epic narration to depict Inner Mongolia's grassland environment and nomadic culture.

The novel has topped China's bestseller list for 16 continuous months since last April, selling about 1 million copies.

The critical acclaim for the book in the Western media has caught the attention of overseas publishers.

Zhou Hailun, general manager of the Beijing branch of Penguin Group China, who is obsessed by grassland wolves, said the purchase of the novel's English copyright is a significant step for Penguin Group's march into the Chinese market.

The 70-year-old Penguin Group has published such Chinese masterpiece as The Dream of Red Mansions, Fortress Besieged and Red Sorghum.

According to the State Administration of Press and Publication, China exported 1,314 book copyrights, while importing 10,040, in 2004. The average subscription fee for China's exported copyrights is about US$5,000, only 6 percent-7 percent of the total value of the copyrights.

One veteran publisher expressed concern that few books overseas about China embody the Chinese soul, because of the ideological and aesthetic differences between the east and the West.

"The Wolf Totem helps Westerners understand Chinese values, which are new to most Western readers but are quite marketable," Zhou said.

He believes that the relationship between humans and nature and the portrayal of minority culture in the novel will offer opportunities for dialogue between the East and the West.

Owing to a trend of enthusiasm about things Chinese, many international publishing tycoons are seeking opportunities to publish Chinese books overseas.

Peter Olson, president of US-based Random House Inc., said Asian writers have become the largest headspring for the global book market.

"China boasts many new rising writers, most of whom have not found overseas publishing opportunities," Olson said. "Themes with vivid Chinese characteristics are favored by overseas readers."

Several overseas publishing houses showed great interest in The Wolf Totem. The Changjiang Literary Art Press finally decided to cooperate with the Penguin Group who offered the highest bid.

According to An Boshun, director of Changjiang Literary Art Press Beijing Book Center, a French translation of The Wolf Totem is about to be published. A Korean version is to be published at the end of 2005. Versions in other languages are being negotiated.

(Xinhua News Agency September 3, 2005)

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