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Awards give books an exciting chapter

By WANG KAIHAO | China Daily | Updated: 2024-04-23 08:53
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Eight books on social sciences have won Wenjin Book Awards this year. [Photo provided to China Daily]

In the digital era in which people's attention is often distracted by fragmented, eye-catching information, Tuesday's annual World Book and Copyright Day is probably one of the few moments that remind people of the irreplaceable importance of reading, in what may now be termed the old-fashioned way.

The Wenjin Book Awards, which are bestowed by the National Library of China every year for this special occasion, was organized as a key event ahead of the day — and as a guide for readers. The list of winners of the 19th Wenjin Book Awards was released in the national library in Beijing on Friday. Among China's highest honors in the publishing industry, the awards are mainly given in non-literature genres.

Twenty titles in three categories — children's books, pop science, and social sciences — stood out from the nearly 2,500 submissions across the country to gain the top awards, and an extra 41 were honored by making it to the final round.

From themes that seem to be far removed from today's reality, like astronomy and archaeology, to subjects that are deeply influencing our everyday life like artificial intelligence and silicon chips, the awardees cover a wide range.

"In the winners' list, we've seen top-tier experts writing approachable books for the general public, focusing on history, architecture, and traditional culture," Wang Yuguang, a Peking University professor and a jury panel member for the social science genre, commented. "But we also find more entries related to livelihoods, education, and the society we live in."

For instance, among the eight winning titles in this genre, there is Looking for Liao Ling. Zhao Feng, an archaeology professor at Zhejiang University and a famous researcher of ancient fabrics, traced the history of silk during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) following a reference in a famous stanza by the poet Bai Juyi.

Meanwhile, in The Archaeology in Zodiac Animals: Discovering China From Twelve Animals, Yuan Jing, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, chose a fresh angle to reconstruct how these animal totems gained their status through analysis of bones and relics bearing their images.

Individual stories are equally powerful at awakening collective memory, as To Approach the Dearest People indicates.

When Song Zhixin sorted through her parents' belongings after they both passed away, she accidentally found letters written by her father to her mother during the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea (1950-53) and some diaries from the battlefield. She compiled them into the book.

"I want to create a more immersive experience for today's people to approach that war, thanks to my father's vivid descriptions," Song said.

In terms of pop science, panel member Wang Yusheng, a researcher with the China Science and Technology Museum, said that the six winners reflected scientists' personal feelings in pursuing academic achievements.

"When discipline segmentation gets more and more detailed in modern times, sometimes we realize that we've neglected other fields that we should focus on," said Chen Yong, a geophysicist and an academician at Chinese Academy of Sciences. "That's why we often admire naturalists like Charles Darwin. So how about writing a small book that concerns our shared home, the Earth?"

That is the origin story of his book Dynamic Earth, which reminds human beings to retain their awe of nature.

Six more winners are in the children's book category. Lai Xuemei, a book critic and a judge of the awards, said Chinese children's books have greatly advanced in recent years, breeding many stories with warmth and concerning various topics like local cultures, environment issues, and humanity.

For instance, Cen Xiaoxian, a teacher based in Foshan, Guangdong province, praises the lion dance, a signature form of intangible cultural heritage in her hometown, and wrote the children's novel Lion Girls to cheer for young people chasing their dreams.

The Wenjin Book Awards are named after Wenjin Ge, a former Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) royal library in present-day Chengde, Hebei province, which contributed key collections to the national library. The awards were launched in 2004.

"Nowadays, algorithms and AI largely decide what we see," Wang Lei, a professor at the Communication University of China, said. "If we don't deliberately read, we cannot nurture the capacity to independently think and actively absorb knowledge.

"Reading is a fascinating adventure from one world to another," he said. "Thanks to the Wenjin awards, we're encouraged to set off on that journey."

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