China will escape fast-food literature given enough time, says Chen Chenchen in Global Times

This is not the first time that China has been criticized for leaving the golden age of reading behind. In July, an article by Sharmistha Mohapatra, an Indian expat living in Shanghai, describing the clusters of Chinese passengers she witnessed playing iPad games on a flight from Shanghai to Frankfurt, after which she concluded that the Chinese habit of reading was in decline. This stirred up lots of discussion.

Last week, an Atlantic article titled “Why aren’t Chinese people reading books anymore?” said that “the country’s once-robust trade in serious literature has withered under an increasingly materialistic, results-oriented society,” and that while China boasts of having the largest publishing industry by number of works published, public enthusiasm has vanished.

The country’s once-robust trade in serious literature has withered under an increasingly materialistic, results-oriented society, writes Helen Gao in The Atlantic.

In a chapter from his essay collection China in Ten Words, Yu Hua, an acclaimed Chinese writer, recounts the following anecdote from his childhood: In the wake of the Cultural Revolution, Western classic novels, previously denounced as “poisonous weed,” started to reappear in the remote village where he lived. Because of the shortage in supply, however, villagers had to purchase these books with ration tickets issued by the local bookstore. On the day the tickets were distributed, Yu arrived at the bookstore at dawn. A line was already snaking out from the entrance, formed by hundreds of villagers who had waited all night long. At 8 a.m., the bookstore owner announced that only 50 ration tickets were available. Yu remembered feeling as if “someone had poured a bucket of icy water over his head in the dead of winter.” The 51st person in line, staring at people ahead of him leaving with brand new copies ofAnna Karenina and David Copperfield, looked so crushed that the number “51” soon became a village slang for bad luck.

Tash Aw“Now there seems to be a much stronger idea of…Singaporeanness, compared to 30 years ago,” says Malaysian novelist Tash Aw in this interview with Samuel Caleb in The Epiphany. The Booker Prize-longlisted author discusses the rivalry between Singapore and Malaysia, about the post-colonial literary fetishes, and his own writing career and the choices he has made in his life.

You’re currently living on campus as a writer-in-residence—how familiar are you with Singapore?

Quite—my sister used to study here back in the 80s, and I’ve visited from time to time. I’ve noticed since I arrived, though, that now there seems to be a much stronger idea of…Singaporeanness, compared to 30 years ago.

South Korean pop stars and actors are still riding the Hallyu wave, feeding international audiences on Billboard chart-toppers, addictive dramas and horse-riding dances. But despite the seeming enthusiasm around all things Korean, the nation’s beloved literature has remained niched, out of the limelight and still struggling to find its place in the American market.

Translated literature, in general, only makes up 3 percent of the American literary market to begin with, and literary fiction and poetry comprises about 0.7 percent of that. Nonetheless, as editor and professor Charles Montgomery points out, people can still rattle off the titles of numerous foreign writers from other countries.