Rumors of limit on foreign book imports have parents worried about children’s literature

By Deng Xiaoci Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/16 17:33:39

Children read books at a book fair in Jiaxing, East China's Zhejiang Province, in June 2016. Photo: IC

 Zhao Qian, a 33-year-old Beijing mother, told the Global Times on Wednesday, that she is stockpiling her son's favorite foreign books, just in case she cannot find them later.

The sentiment is echoed by many Chinese parents after foreign media reported that China may be about to curb imports of children's books.

Chinese publishing houses reportedly will have to export the rights to 10 domestic children's books if they want to import 16 foreign titles, which may bring the number of new foreign books coming onto the Chinese market every year down from thousands to hundreds, the US-based Voice of America (VOA) reported Wednesday.

The import limits, especially when it comes to children's books, are being implemented to curb foreign ideological influence, VOA claimed.

Publishing insiders have received verbal notices on the matter from the Beijing authorities, although there is no formal written order yet, according a Financial Times report Monday.

A senior employee at a Beijing-based children's book publisher, going by Coco on social media, told the Global Times on Wednesday that it is taking longer to get official approval for new titles than before, saying that "what used to take just three weeks now usually requires more than two months."

However, an Amazon China sales worker who requested anonymity told the Global Times that there has been little change recently in the number of children's books they are selling.

"We heard about the decision, but we have not received any concrete notice," the Amazon employee noted.

KST, a top vendor of children's books on the Tmall e-commerce platform, also said that they have not received any such notices when reached by the Global Times on Wednesday.

Groundless accusation

Unless the foreign media can name particular children's books that are banned from being imported, their accusations should be seen as groundless, Chen Shaofeng, deputy dean of the Institute for Cultural Industries at Peking University, told the Global Times on Tuesday, adding that he has not yet heard about such limits from any "reliable" sources.

Chen argued that if such limits were implemented, it would have less to do with ideology and more to do with efforts to protect China's domestic cultural products. It might be also in line with the national policy to foster cultural confidence, Chen noted.

Some children's book merchants are clearly taking advantage of parents' worries about alleged restrictions, persuading their customers, usually mothers, to buy as many books as possible as soon as possible just in case, according to Coco.

Coco suggested that parents should not follow this trend, for books that have already received approval to be published in China will continue to be available, regardless of whether or not import limits are introduced in future.

"I hope the authorities will speak out soon on the matter, and as publishers we can make more detailed plans to provide the best works for our young readers," said Coco.

Blend of both

"I do not understand why they are limiting the number of imported children books, and I do not support such regulations," Zhao said while busy making booklists for her son and filling in her online shopping cart at the same time.

"As parents born in the 1970s and 80s, we do not blindly follow, we simply choose the best books for our children," said the mother.

Song, another Beijing mother, expressed her mixed feelings on the idea of import restrictions, saying "I read my daughter both Chinese children's books and translated foreign books, and they are complimentary."

While Chinese children's books focus on teaching values, foreign books are more light-hearted and better at improving emotional intelligence, Song said.

She took the Do Not Kiss Me Unnecessarily, a book from the US series Learn to Love Myself, as an example, saying the book touches on sex education and how to protect oneself, which she found very valuable.

Another mother going by "Huntermama" on Weibo expressed her concerns over foreign influence on the book market, saying that "what if my child grows up and loses the ability to appreciate Chinese culture?"

According to an 2013 article written by Hai Fei, former president of the China Children's Press and Publication Group, there were nine children's books imported for every domestic book published in China in 2000, and that ratio had moved to six to four by 2011, marking steady progress for China's children literature output.

Newspaper headline: Reading restrictions?

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