West turns new page in thinking on Chinese literature

Mo_YanHarper Collins recently announced its purchase of Chinese novel Zu Jie by Xiao Bai for $60,000, for publication in English.


The noir thriller will be published in 2015 under the English name French Concession. The purchase is part of a trend signaling increased interest in Chinese literature among Western publications and readers.

China’s book market is now the world’s largest. The industry published 7.7 billion books in 2011, a 7.5 percent increase from 2010. Of those books, 48 sold more than one million copies. Most of those titles were written by Chinese authors for Chinese readers, but Western books translated into Chinese also feature prominently.

Western titles printed in English also have a niche; Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs sold more than 50,000 copies in China. According to Penguin China, George Orwell’s 1984 was its best seller in 2011, signaling a desire for both aspiration writing and high-quality classic Western literature.

Since Chinese author Mo Yan received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2012, Western publishers and readers have become increasingly interested in Chinese literature. Penguin China recently published English translations of the popular Chinese novel The Civil Servant’s Notebook by Wang Xiaofang and Sheng Keyi’s Northern Girls.

In 2012, the London Book Fair invited 21 Chinese authors to participate. AmazonCrossing, a new launch from Amazon.com, published its first Chinese novel translated into English earlier this year.