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Chapter and verse

By Mei Jia | China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-08 07:46
Red Sorghum by Mo Yan. [Photo provided to China Daily]

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Foreigners know about kung fu, acupuncture and Chinese cuisine, but few read Chinese literature. This scenario continued into the first decade of the new millennium. Publishers in China were mostly cultural institutions by nature, not market players, and their chances of winning over global audiences were slim.

Jing Xiaomin, vice-president of the China Intercontinental Press, recalls her first experience at Book-Expo America in 1999. Visitors happily picked up posters of Chinese scenery from Jing and her colleagues but refused Chinese titles published by the company even when they were offered for free.

"I suppose the time was not right back then. Chinese books started to gain global appeal after 2005," Jing says.

Established in 1993, China Intercontinental Press sold its first copyright of the book Taoism in China in 2005.

"Before 2003, we published books in foreign languages known as nontrade publicity material. By joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, China got on the road to play a bigger role and attracted more attention," she adds.

In 2003, the country began to restructure its publishing industry, and turned old publishers into market-driven companies. Internationalization and global influence became part of the plan.

In 2006, the China Book International project was launched, followed by China Masterwork International. The two plans stressed the need for translation and promotion budgets, and left every other factor to market forces. Similar projects were launched by China's press and publication administrations, as well as the China Writers Association.

By then, the momentum for Chinese books to grow internationally had already picked up speed.

In 2007, Jing's company sold The Great Wall Revisited: From the Jade Gate to Old Dragon's Head by William Lindesay to Frances Lincoln Publishers in Britain and Harvard University Press. The book is a visual tour of 72 sets of photos in then-and-now comparisons, shot from 1871 to 2004 along the Great Wall.

"We made a fortune from that book, and set a new record," Jing adds.

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