Chinese books play bigger role as cultural ambassador, gain attention at intl book fairs
A new chapter
Published: Nov 10, 2022 09:01 PM
Visitors talk in front of a wall of books at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany on October 22, 2022. Photo: VCG

Visitors talk in front of a wall of books at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany on October 22, 2022. Photo: VCG

The China books corner at the Frankfurt Book Fair Photo: VCG

The China books corner at the Frankfurt Book Fair Photo: VCG

Visitors at various international book fairs held around the world over the past few years have found themselves fascinated by stalls hosted by Chinese publishing houses full of high-quality books with themes covering diverse topics such as Chinese politics, economics, culture and history.

At the Indonesia International Book Fair in Jakarta, Indonesia, which opened on Wednesday and the Riyadh International Book Fair that wrapped up in Saudi Arabia on November 2, Chinese publishing houses brought brilliant works that show the endeavors of contemporary Chinese people and China's traditional culture to overseas readers.

Back in October, the Frankfurt Book Fair held in Germany, one of the largest events of its kind, also saw more than 1,000 different kinds of publications exhibited at the Chinese booths. These more proactive moves to reach overseas readers and a larger publication market by Chinese publishers have created more opportunities to promote cultural communication between China and the rest of the world.

"Through this, China and its concept of building a 'community with a shared future for mankind' can be understood by more and more people, many of which will gradually realize the possibility of the peaceful, friendly and coordinated development of mankind," Italian sinologist Gabriella Bonino told the Global Times.

Dancing on the pages

For those who are eager to get a better understanding of China, these works are a great window on China as they use different languages to narrate Chinese stories.

For instance, at the Indonesia International Book Fair, Chinese books for children attracted many local elementary school students who spent their time in front of the booths carefully reading. Meanwhile, at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the China International Publishing Group and China National Publications Import and Export Co, Ltd represented more than 100 publishing companies in China.

An increasing number of Chinese books have been published abroad in the past few years, Ren Lei, chief representative of the German office of China National Publications Import and Export, told the Xinhua News Agency at the book fair.

Books about children's education, novels authored by well-known Chinese writers and works on Chinese philosophy and traditional Chinese medicine are especially popular among readers in Europe, according to Ren.

For scholars, the appearance of more Chinese books at overseas exhibitions represents a great opportunity to dispel prejudices people have toward China.

Bonino said that it is common for people to learn about other faraway countries through fragmented stories and reports written by writers who often "lack of enough background about the target they write about and therefore have biases." 

Yet through scholars, sinologists, and translators dedicated to China-foreign communications, there are also books that provide a more all-around view of China that can be seen by international readers.

"Some short journalism reports do not consider China's history, nor the way of thinking of Chinese and their consistent pursuit of national unity and peaceful development over thousands of years," Bonino noted.

She added that books, no matter which aspect or topic they cover, can better introduce a comprehensive China, such as explaining the Belt and Road Initiative, or outlining China's proactive efforts to carry out comprehensive protection of its cultural heritage.

A bridge

The efforts of publishers to promote cultural exchanges have been acclaimed by experts as well. Chinese books at overseas book fairs can increase the "visibility" of Chinese culture, allowing overseas readers to see the country's unique cultural characteristics, especially when exhibited alongside works from other countries, Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, told the Global Times. 

Zhang noted that overseas promotion of Chinese books, especially those which fall into categories such as the social sciences, traditional Chinese culture and the humanities can keep overseas readers up-to-date on China's cultural development. 

"Chinese books, especially ones that have realistic themes or write about real historical events are popular amongst overseas readers. Also, China's net literature has earned a lot of fans from Southeast Asia," Zhang said.

"Jiujiu weigong (work for a long time) is a Chinese phrase that can be used to describe these books' overseas journey. It means we take the long road when it comes to exhibiting these books and popularizing them overseas."

To better promote Chinese books, Xiao Shuming, a cultural researcher, told the Global Times that exhibiting Chinese book culture should not be limited to paper books only, but also include other creative cultural maneuvers. 

"Promoting Chinese book culture can be more flexible in the digital era. For example, launching book-related cultural creative products, making visually creative cover designs, or showing people an abstract about the book using video introductions… such methods can more directly capture overseas readers' attention," said Xiao. 

"More fun elements added to Chinese books can also help overseas readers to conquer the language barrier, but prior to this, they must be translated well," Xiao said.