Chinese literature works gain popularity in BRI countries thanks to translation of masterpieces
Published: Apr 23, 2023 10:33 PM
Readers browse books in a bookstore in Beijing. Photo: VCG

Readers browse books in a bookstore in Beijing. Photo: VCG

A diverse array of events for World Book and Copyright Day and World Intellectual Property Day have kicked off in Beijing in April, with the hustle and bustle of book fairs at the capital's Xidan Book Building and Chaoyang Park showing Chinese readers' strong enthusiasm for the book feasts since the optimization of COVID-19 response. It was also interesting to see that some stalls selling cultural and creative products were crowded with customers. 

A press release from the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press and Publication noted that China was the top country for cultural and creative product copyrights in 2022, according to a report released by the World Intellectual Property Organization. 

Experts told the Global Times that with China's increased international influence, more copyrighted Chinese works are being introduced to the world and more Chinese books are appearing at various book fairs and in bookstores in many countries, especially countries participating in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Long tradition of literary exchanges

Zhang Hongbo, director-general of the China Written Works Copyright Society, told the Global Times that Chinese books covering a wide range of subjects including politics, classic literature and sci-fi are becoming increasingly popular in Russia. 

According to a 2020-21 report released by the National Press and Publication Administration, Russia is currently the top country for exports of Chinese books. 

With the introduction of Chinese sci-fi works to the world, hit novels like The Three-Body Problem and The Wandering Earth have been widely praised and translated into Russian. Zhang noted that the society plans to introduce more contemporary Chinese sci-fi works to Russia, as several large Russian publishers have shown an interest. 

People attend the Beijing Book Fair. Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press and Publication

People attend the Beijing Book Fair. Photo: Courtesy of Beijing Municipal Bureau of Press and Publication

Zheng Tiwu, dean of the Institute of Literary Studies at Shanghai International Studies University and a veteran translator of Russian works, told the Global Times that many Russian people love reading and have a strong interest in Chinese mythology and books about feng shui theory. 

He noted that sales in Russia of Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, a collection of Chinese supernatural anecdotes and lengthy tales, far surpass those of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature. In addition, Russian sinologists are actively translating Chinese literary works, and they often recommend excellent contemporary Chinese works to local publishers.

However, he pointed out that there is still a need for more promotion of contemporary Chinese literature in Russia through events like book clubs, exchanges and promotional activities to increase its influence.

The two experts said that China and Russia have a long tradition of literature exchanges, which have greatly helped to promote mutual understanding between the two peoples. In 2013, the two countries signed a translation and publication agreement for classic and contemporary literature works stating that translated versions of up to 100 selected literary works would be published by each side, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Understand China through reading 

The largest book fair in the Middle East, the Cairo International Book Fair has seen more and more books from China, which has gained increased attention from readers in the Arabic world. According to exhibitors at the fair, Arabic-speaking readers are eager to learn about China due to the country's great achievements in various fields including poverty reduction, sustainable development and rural revitalization. 

"The books about China's social changes, economic development and reform provide the world with the opportunity to achieve national development and progress, successful examples of properly responding to crises and challenges," Ahmad al-Saeed, an Egyptian publisher, told the Global Times. "So they are deeply loved by readers in Arab countries."

In recent years, scholars and students in Arab countries have started to pay attention to the BRI, which "helps promote the popularity of a number of books about its projects and benefits," he said. 

Yara Ismail, a lecturer at Cairo University, still remembers the time when she shared her reading experience and Chinese literature with Egyptian readers on World Book Day in 2022. Ismail told the Global Times that The Art of War, The Analects, The Book of Changes and Selected Works of Mao Zedong are the most influential classic Chinese works in Egypt. "The most watched Chinese book in the Arab world is The Art of War, and there is more than one Arabic translation," she said. 

Since Chinese novelist Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012, the Arab world has paid more and more attention to Chinese literature. Mo's novel Red Sorghum has been translated into Arabic. Over the years, more works of Chinese writers of different ages and in various literary genres have been translated into Arabic and introduced to readers. Writers such as Yu Hua, Liu Zhenyun, Su Tong and Liu Xinwu have more than one work being translated into Arabic, and female literary writers such as Wang Anyi and Zhang Kangkang have also released Arabic versions of their works.

Ismail said that similar Chinese-Arab classic translation activities have enriched the Arabic translation of Chinese literature. Thanks to the BRI, Arab readers will have a better understanding of Chinese literature. Books, as good teachers and friends and non-governmental messengers of cultural and knowledge exchanges, will undoubtedly contribute to people-to-people bonds, which is an important goal of the BRI.