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The complexities of humanitarian awards: Gui Minhai’s daughter on the freedom to publish

Gui Minhai, a publisher who disappeared in China earlier this year, has said in a videotaped interview—which critics say is forced—that he does not want the Prix Voltaire. His daughter denies that this is his actual feeling.

It fell to the daughter of Gui Minhai, the Swedish publisher and bookseller detained in China in January, to ask a question Sunday (January 11) that has dogged the International Publishers Association (IPA) for more than two years:

“Why is the Chinese Publishers Association allowed to be part of the IPA? How is this defensible?” Angela Gui asked a hushed gathering of IPA delegates in a Skype transmission from her home in the UK on the first day of the IPA’s 32nd International Publishers Congress seated in New Delhi.

In a full day of issues and insights, the interview with Gui’s poised, articulate daughter was easily the most compelling part of the day, coming in a session which asked “Do Awards and Recognitions Help?” in cases in which defenders of the freedom to publish are granted the IPA’s Prix Voltaire and other humanitarian awards.

The session’s chair, Jessica Sänger, director for European and international affairs with the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, had asked Angela Gui if—on the eve of formally confirming her father as the honoree of the 2018 Prix Voltaire—there might be more ways the IPA’s 60-nation membership could support Minhai in his plight.

“Is there anything we should be doing to support you,” Sänger asked, “in your campaign to hopefully improve his situation and finally be released?”

Angela Gui answered without rancor, choosing her words thoughtfully. “In terms of what can be done to help, that’s a very difficult question because there’s certainly no information [about her father’s current situation]. I’m unsure how to proceed in my own advocacy efforts. And of course, I think using the channels that are available to the IPA to exert pressure is very important.”

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China’s fiction and nonfiction bestsellers of 2017

Fiction bestsellers in China last year were dominated by non-Chinese authors, according to OpenBook, while homegrown authors sold better in nonfiction.

One of the most reliable fixtures on the monthly fiction bestseller lists from China’s OpenBook has been Japanese author Higashino Keigo, best known for his mystery novels. In 2017, his Miracles of the Namiya General Store had its second year at the overall top of OpenBook’s China’s charts. In both 2016 and 2017, this was the biggest seller.

Keigo’s dominance doesn’t stop there. Three of his works are in the Top 5 on the annual charts, with Journey Under the Midnight Sunand The Devotion of Suspect X at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.

The Afghan-born American author Khaled Hosseini and Scotland-based Claire McFall complete the Top 5 on the list, with Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and McFall’s Ferryman.

One of the most noticeable trends in the fiction bestseller list is the dominance of foreign authors. When Publishing Perspectives pursued the question of why so many fiction bestsellers in China are by non-Chinese authors, we were told that there are three factors in play.

  • Many Chinese readers have an interest in leading international popular titles, a factor evident in the familiar Western books on the list.
  • Television and film production, often attached to one of these titles, can be a key driver.
  • And some authors—chief among them is Japanese author Higashino Keigo—gain a kind of cult status and can generate years of sales on reputation and across many books.

OpenBook in China is similar to Nielsen in the UK or NPD in the United States, providing research and analysis on the evolving Chinese publishing industry. Below is OpenBook’s list of bestselling fiction titles in China in 2017:

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Even what doesn’t happen is epic

The revival of science fiction in China

Science fiction isn’t new to China, as Cixin Liu explains in Invisible Planets, an introduction to Chinese sci-fi by some of its most prominent authors, but good science fiction is. The first Chinese sci-fi tales appeared at the turn of the 20th century, written by intellectuals fascinated by Western technology. ‘At its birth,’ Cixin writes, science fiction ‘became a tool of propaganda for the Chinese who dreamed of a strong China free of colonial depredations’. One of the earliest stories was written by the scholar Liang Qichao, a leader of the failed Hundred Days’ Reform of 1898, and imagined a Shanghai World’s Fair, a dream that didn’t become a reality until 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, given the degree of idealistic fervour that followed Mao’s accession, very little utopian science fiction was produced under communism (in the Soviet Union there was plenty, at least initially). What little there was in China was written largely for children and intended to educate; it stuck to the near future and didn’t venture beyond Mars. By the 1980s Chinese authors had begun to write under the influence of Western science fiction, but their works were suppressed because they drew attention to the disparity in technological development between China and the West. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when Deng’s reforms began to bite, that Chinese science fiction experienced what Cixin calls a ‘renaissance’.

Cixin himself has been at the forefront of the scene since the 1990s. He is the first Asian writer to receive a Hugo award (in 2015), and the author whose work best captures the giddying, libidinous pace of the Chinese economic boom. His monumental Three-Body Trilogy – first published between 2006 and 2010, and recently translated into English by Ken Liu, a Chinese-American sci-fi writer – is Chinese science fiction’s best-known work. Barack Obama is a fan, and the forthcoming movie adaptations are already being described as ‘China’s Star Wars’. The trilogy concerns the catastrophic consequences of humanity’s attempt to make contact with extraterrestrials (it turns out that the reason we haven’t heard from aliens yet is that we’re the only species thick enough to reveal our own location in the universe). It is one of the most ambitious works of science fiction ever written. The story begins during the Cultural Revolution and ends 18,906,416 years into the future. There is a scene in ancient Byzantium, and a scene told from the perspective of an ant. The first book is set on Earth, though several of its scenes take place in virtual reality representations of Qin dynasty China and ancient Egypt; by the end of the third book, the stage has expanded to encompass an intercivilisational war that spans not only the three-dimensional universe but other dimensions too.

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Serial Pleasure: China’s online reading craze is challenging Kindle

To Yuwei Pan, a regular fix of Chinese novels on her smartphone makes her daily commute a pleasure. But these aren’t just normal stories. Chinese e-books are often serialised; readers wait for the latest chapters of a story, much like viewers catch up with the newest episodes of Game of Thrones.

They also provide an interactive reading experience, where readers and writers can discuss and co-develop the plot. “I turn to Kindle for serious books, but I go to Chinese online literature for imagination, fun and freedom,” Pan says. Continue reading


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China launches Tibetan-language literature database

China Monday launched a Tibetan-language literature database to facilitate the protection and development of Tibetan culture and provide resources for future study.

Run by China Tibetology Research Center, the database was established under the approval of the United Front Work Department of Communist Party of China Central Committee.

China has approximately two million ancient books and historical documents in the Tibetan language.

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Sequoia Capital, Perfect World co-invest in Chinese literature site Zongheng

Sequoia Capital China, and Perfect World co-led a new round of financing in Zongheng, a Chinese literature site that provides vertical and horizontal literature contents.

The site is owned by Beijing-based Network Technology Co Ltd. Sheng King Fund, Guonong brothers, Shegjing360, Share Capital, and several institutions also participated in the strategic investment. The size of the deal was undisclosed.

Founded in 2008, Zongheng is a domestic Chinese original literary professional website. It serves as a cultural platform meant to guide the master writers and epic works.

Source: Dealstreetasia.com


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The Australian authors proving a hit in China

By Helen Clark

Australia sends a lot of things to China: iron ore, lithium, wine, meat. And now, China is also the country’s biggest market for books, with more contracts for Australian-penned stories signed with publishers in China than in either the United States or Britain.

Australian Writers’ Week in China has just finished up. This was its tenth year and some of Australia’s heaviest-hitting authors were there to celebrate: Thomas Keneally, author of Schindler’s Ark (which was made into the film Schindler’s List), Geraldine Brooks and teen author John Marsden, best known for his Tomorrow When the War Began teen series about a group of young people fighting foreign invaders in Australia.

But according to The Sydney Morning Herald, the real show-stopper was Aboriginal children’s author Bronwyn Bancroft, who ended up in tears after a reading at a primary school where the children burst into applause. The event visited eight cities: Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Xian, Chengdu, Suzhou, Hohhot and Guangzhou. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post


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Big library idea comes from small children

By Huang Zhiling

Construction of the world’s first panda-themed library is expected to start early next year at a primary school in Chengdu, Sichuan province, with the facility expected to open about six months later.

“People worldwide will have free access to it online,” said Zhang Mingrong, headmistress of the Chengdu Panda Road Primary School.

The school has a three-story building, the second floor of which currently serves as a convention center. It will be turned into a studio for videos about pandas. The third floor, currently a library, will be designed with five boat-shaped sections symbolizing swimming in the sea of knowledge.

“Each section symbolizes a continent. The five sections will house publications and audiovisual materials about pandas from Asia, Europe, America, Africa and Oceania,” Zhang said. Read more

Source: China Daily


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China to guide the development of online literature

By Xinhua

The General Office of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee has asked the China Writers Association (CWA) to guide online literature and carry out other reforms.

According to a plan to deepen reform of the CWA issued by the office on Thursday, CWA should establish evaluation and incentive systems that will benefit the development of online literature.

The Party’s role in literature work should also be strengthened. For instance, the Party should guide and support works focusing on juveniles and patriotism, as well as realistic and historical topics.

In the meantime, the CWA should organize literature exchange programs among Chinese mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, and provide more communication opportunities between Chinese and foreign writers. Read more

Source: China Daily


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Loss and lies in modern China explored in Jan-Philipp Sendker’s rich and resonant novel

By Mike Cormack

language of solitudeThe Language of Solitude
by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Atria

The Language of Solitude does not start well. Protagonist Paul Leibovitz yearns for his partner, Christine Wu (both return­ing from Sendker’s previous novel, 2015’s Whispering Shadows). He is financially independent, she the manager of a minor travel agency – both live in Hong Kong. In or close to middle age, both enjoy nice things. He aches for her phone calls but hesitates to send text messages, lest he seem needy. Their initial conversations are near comically anxious. Paul is concern that Christine is less enamoured, less immediately comprehending of his needs and emotions than she once was. So far, so inconsequential.

Then things begin to click. The dis­connect between Paul and Christine comes to seem less an entrance to a romcom, where all the narrative intri­cacies could be solved if only the characters would speak to one another, and more a metaphor for how people, and societies, are silenced. Read more

Source: South China Morning Post