Over the past few days, the Chinese version of David Beckham: My Side, written by the soccer star along with British sports pundit Tom Watt, soared straight to the top of the bestseller list in many cities in China in its debut week, much like elsewhere in the world.
On November 1, the day it was released, hundreds of fans of the England captain crowded two of Beijing's largest bookstores located in the downtown areas of Xidan and Wangfujing.
They filed in long queues to buy the hardcover copy, which was sold at 29.8 yuan (about US$3.60).
For the China City Press, which bought the book's rights from British publisher HarperCollins to publish My Side in China, this is somewhat surprising.
"We had expected that the sales would be good, but it is selling better than we expected," said City Press Deputy Editor-in-Chief He Yuxing.
On the day the book was released, he received calls from bookstores in other Chinese cities, all reporting "the good news," he said.
For the flourishing local publishing industry, the marketability of My Side is not a novelty.
Over the past few years, many international bestsellers have been published in China, and almost each one of them has performed well on the market.
Prior to My Side, Hillary Clinton's memoir Living History, published by Yilin Publishing House, and US superstar Madonna's children's book debut English Roses, also sold quite well.
Other bestsellers that have found their way to Chinese readers in recent years include Who Moved My Cheese, Harry Potter, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Sophie's World and the works of Japanese novelist Murakami Haruki.
Rich Dad, Poor Dad alone sold 2 million copies. In the Chinese market, a book reaching 10,000 copies in sales is considered not bad.
The fifth book of the popular Harry Potter series sold at least 500,000 copies, according to its Chinese publisher, the People's Literature Publishing House, which is still looking into the possibility of reprinting the previous four Harry Potter books, of which a combined 5.6 million Chinese copies are already in circulation.
All this both delights and worries many critics and insiders in the Chinese book publishing trade.
Insiders have hailed this as an important manifestation of the domestic publishing industry's rapid integration into the world market.
"Chinese publishers can now follow international trends quite closely," He Yuxing claimed.
Several years ago, it often took one year or even longer for an international bestseller to be introduced to Chinese readers.
But today, many Chinese publishers keep their eyes on the titles that are yet to come out but have the potential to be a big hit. Many now purchase the publishing rights even before the titles are officially released.
Take My Side as an example. The original English version was released on September 12, and its Chinese edition came out in less than two months.
"We began negotiations with HarperCollins long before the official release of the book," said He Yuxing. "During that process, we had to beat a dozen other Chinese publishers, who were also eager to get the book's publishing right."
What worries many critics is that Chinese book publishers have neglected the books written by local writers.
"There is almost no risk to publish 'super bestsellers' such as My Side, because they have been tested by the international market," pointed out Chen Kuang, a senior correspondent from China Book Business Report.
As a result, companies often spare no efforts in spending money to market books published on purchased rights, which they believe are worth the investment.
In contrast, publishers seem to be more careful as far as money is concerned when promoting books written by local authors, even though many have the potential to become bestsellers.
One of the best examples to illustrate this is Tibetan writer A Lai's novel Chen'ai Luoding (When the Dust Settles Down), which won the Mao Dun Literary Award, one of the most authoritative literary awards in China, in 2000. The writer had had difficulties having his novel published until the People's Literature Publishing House finally accepted the novel and published it in 1998.
The book became a hit after it was granted the award, with as many as 70,000 copies sold in less than three months.
As more and more international bestsellers are being introduced to China, perhaps the issue of the quality of translation has never been so acutely felt by readers.
Because many companies rush to get titles onto bookstore shelves, they sometimes neglect the quality of translation.
Earlier this year, the Chinese translation of Jack: Straight From the Gut, written by General Electric chairman and CEO Jack Welch, sold 600,000 copies in China. However, the Chinese version was accused of being filled with translation flaws.
According to Zhang Weizu, an English professor from the Capital Normal University, whose complaints on poor translation have been widely reported by Chinese newspapers earlier this year, there are altogether more than 2,000 mistakes in the translation.
Some errors were made because the translator did not fully understand the original sentences, others were simply the result of negligence. For example, July was mistranslated to liuyue (June) and "north" was mistakenly translated into "west."
The problem is not confined to Welch's book.
Zhang and other linguists have also found similar mistakes in many other translations. Some of the mistakes simply reflect the translators' lack of some basic knowledge.
For example, in one book Zhang found the name of Mencius, when in fact the person being referred to was an ancient Chinese philosopher with the well-known Chinese name Meng Zi. This had been transliterated into a totally different foreigner's name.
According to Tan Chuanbao, a professor from the Beijing Normal University, some publishers employ college students to do the translation in order to cut costs.
It is not that there is a lack of qualified translators.
After the fifth book of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series were released, impatient readers, who could not wait for the Chinese edition to come out, posted their own translations on the Internet.
That sparked a legal row over whether those amateur translators had violated the copyrights of the publisher or the original translators.
He Yuxing claimed that their translation of David Beckham's memoirs has been carefully polished.
"The translation of books needs standardization and better regulation to serve readers," he said.
(China Daily November 10, 2003)