Chinese bookworms are no strangers to publications featuring Japanese writers. Big names like Kawabata Yasunari and Haruki Murakami aside, each year classic and new books by even not-so-famous Japanese writers are commonly seen in Chinese bookstores.
"China is a big overseas market for Japanese writers and their works," said Li Yao, chief editor of the foreign literature department of Thinkingdom Media, a leading domestic private publisher. "Basically writings by all of [Japan's] top-ranking writers have been introduced to China," Li told the Global Times.
Fame and wealth in China
Evidence for the popularity of Japanese writers in China is also seen in a recent list of foreign writers' royalty revenue in the country. The report, by West China City Daily in Chengdu, southwestern Sichuan Province, has been released for seven consecutive years since 2006.
Last week, the list showed there are a total of five Japanese writers among the top 20 foreign writers gaining the most royalties in China from November 2011 to the corresponding month this year. Four of them edged into the top 10 including Haruki Murakami, Higashino Keigo, Toru Kuroyanagi and Inamori Kazuo, with their royalties ranging from 3 million yuan ($482,000) to 1.5 million yuan.
Japanese literature in the Chinese market can now be generally classified into three types: popular, pure and children's literature. "In the popular category, the whodunits are very influential," said Li.
With representative works Into the White Night by Higashino Keigo, and The Sleeping Dragon by Miyuki Miyabe, whodunits have earned a wide base of fans both in Japan and China, especially among male readers. "As the flagship whodunit Japanese writer, Higashino Keigo saw the total sales of his book in China by the end of last year amount to 3.5 million copies," Li noted.
As for writers of pure literature like Kawabata Yasunari and Haruki Murakami, all of their works have been translated into Chinese and are available in the market. "Norwegian Wood and 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami sold more than 4 million copies in China so far," said Li.
And according to Li, other popular books like Window of the Small Peas by Toru Kuroyanagi, a classic of children's reading, recorded a total sale of 5 million copies. "In fact for each of those top ranking Japanese writers, the total book sales in China are somewhere between 4 and 6 million copies," Li added.
Japanese literature has been widely introduced to China since the country's opening up in 1978 but back then it was without authorization from writers. (China didn't join the Universal Copyright Convention until 1992.) After 2000, the country witnessed another high wave of Japanese literature introduction, this time with formal authorization from writers.
Though sharing a certain degree of cultural similarity, Japanese literature differs from Chinese in large part due to its writing style and imaginative content. Besides, Japanese literature became a link in the world literature development chain much earlier than Chinese literature, take for example Kenzaburo Oe's winning of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature.
With their massive entry into the Chinese market, Japanese books have influenced a group of Chinese readers and writers. Mo Yan, the new Chinese Nobel Laureate mentioned after winning the prize in October that many Japanese writers like Kenzaburo Oe have shed their positive influence on Chinese writers.
However, with Japanese writers and their works enjoying high popularity and much attention in China, their Chinese peers are still being overlooked in Japan.
"Many writings of second-level or even mediocre Japanese writers can be commonly seen in Chinese bookstores, while our first-class writers' works are still a rare sight in Japan's market," said Mao Danqing, a Chinese writer residing in Japan.
"Japanese writers and their works started to go abroad much earlier and hence have more experience compared to their peers in China," said Li, stressing that their market network is more extended.
"Meanwhile as the emissary for Japanese literature, its movies reached out to the world also much earlier than Chinese movies," he added. Among Chinese films, a typical example is Red Sorghum (1987), directed by Zhang Yimou based on Mo Yan's eponymous novel. The book only gained a reputation in the world after the movie became known globally.
The whodunits, which now occupy a large part of Japan's popular literature, have been developing since the 1950s. But domestic writers of the genre, like Cai Jun and Hai Yan, began to establish the style much later. "For example, Cai Jun is known for his whodunits in the country, but it was only since this decade that he started writing, with the emergence of the Internet," Li introduced.
The small base of domestic popular books and writers has exacerbated Japanese publishers' tendency to overlook Chinese writers. "As Chinese publishers, we are very familiar with different Japanese writers and their styles, but this is definitely not the case for Japanese publishers when they are asked about Chinese writers," Li added.
However, a silver lining is that they started to pay more attention to Chinese writers especially after Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize in Literature this year. "Mo Yan's works can be seen in several of Japan's large bookstores with congratulatory notes on the side, along with the works other modern Chinese writers," Mao told people.com in an interview.
"The owner of a big bookstore told me that Japanese publishers now wish more people could come and buy Chinese books, and he thought this was a good sign," said Mao.
Whether from the Japanese publications we can see in almost every Chinese bookstore, or the eye-catching royalty figures on the wealth list, China has now become an indispensable market for Japanese writers and publishers. However, on the other side, China can also play an increasing role in providing its literature to readers in Japan.
Thanks to its high degree of modernization, reading has become a big part of Japanese people's life. "According to statistics, every Japanese person reads dozens of books each year," said Li. "In fact, with more Chinese writers and their works introduced in Japan, its local publishing market will also be expanded," he pointed out.