PUBLISHING TRENDS IN CHINA
Jin Yong kung fu book
More than 500,000 book titles were published in China in 2016 according to Fan Jun from the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication. The rights to 9,811 Chinese titles were sold overseas that year. The total sales revenue of publications in China reached $54.1 billion in 2018, up 5.9 percent year on year, according to the China's Books and Periodicals Distribution Association. China published 208,294 books, with a total print run of 6.4 million volumes, in 2004. [Source: Library of Congress, Xinhua China Daily, January 11, 2019; Mei Jia, China Daily, September 5, 2017]
The Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) and the Beijing International Book Festival, often held together at the China International Exhibition Center in Beijing, are big events in the book and publishing worlds. Event in 2016 included six pavilions with a total exhibition area of 78,600 square meters. Nearly 300,000 of the latest Chinese and foreign publications from 2,407 domestic and overseas exhibitors were on display. More than 300,000 visitors attended the 2017 fair.“t the event, 5,262 deals were struck, an increase of 4.9 percent compared with the figures in 2016. The deals covered 3,244 Chinese titles that were sold or will be co-published overseas. The ratio of titles sold compared with titles bought was 1.6:1, meaning that China is now selling rights to more titles than it is buying. [Source: Mei Jia, China Daily, September 5, 2017; Zhang Yuchen, Global Times, August 25, 2016]
The writer Yu Hua told the New York Times, younger writers don’t like to see books that reveal the dark side of China; they live very comfortable lives; they don’t believe in the dark side of China; they are not even aware of the hundreds of millions of people still living in extreme poverty.
Describing what was involved in getting his biography about Mao published in China, Ross Terrill wrote in The China Beat,” For several years they would periodically invite me to Shijiazhuang for banquets and TV interviews and at the final dinner press into my hand an envelope with maybe 20,000 RMB, maybe 30,000 RMB. One year, they sought to reward me and themselves with a suggestion. The publishing house needed a new car but prices, due to tax, were terrible for a foreign car. Would I buy one in Boston, export it to Hebei, and take a commission on the money they would save by avoiding (they hoped) the Chinese tax? I explained I was a writer, not a car dealer, and the matter was dropped. [Source:Ross Terrill, The China Beat, February 26, 2010]
See Separate Articles: CULTURE AND LITERATURE factsanddetails.com; CONTEMPORARY CHINESE LITERATURE factsanddetails.com ; JIN YONG AND CHINESE MARTIAL ARTS FICTION factsanddetails.com ; LITERATURE AND WRITERS DURING THE MAO ERA factsanddetails.com CULTURAL REVOLUTION FILM AND BOOKS factsanddetails.com ; ACCLAIMED MODERN CHINESE WRITERS factsanddetails.com ; MO YAN: CHINA'S NOBEL-PRIZE-WINNING AUTHOR factsanddetails.com YU HUA factsanddetails.com ; LIAO YIWU factsanddetails.com ; YAN LIANKE factsanddetails.com ; WANG MENG factsanddetails.com ; POPULAR MODERN CHINESE WRITERS factsanddetails.com ; POPULAR AND ACCLAIMED BOOKS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; SCIENCE FICTION IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; CHINESE SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS factsanddetails.com ; MODERN POETRY IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; WRITERS OF CHINESE DESCENT: AMY TAM, HA JIN, YIYUN LI AND GAO XINGJIAN factsanddetails.com ; INTERNET LITERATURE IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; POPULAR WESTERN BOOKS IN CHINA factsanddetails.com ; WESTERN BOOKS ABOUT CHINA factsanddetails.com ;
Modern Chinese Writers and Literature: MCLC Resource Center mclc.osu.edu ; Modern Chinese literature in translation Paper Republic paper-republic.org ; Wang Shou Wikipedia article on Wang Shou Wikipedia ; Shanghai Baby Book Reporter Review bookreporter.com ; Gao Xingjian Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Nobel Prize site nobelprize.org ; BBC Report bbc.co.uk ; Ha Jin Random House randomhouse.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Book Browse bookbrowse.com ; Book Reporter bookreporter.com ; Amy Tan Amy Tam.net amytan.net ; Academy of Achievement biography achievement.org ; Anniina’s Amy Tam Page luminarium.org ;
Popular Books in the 2000s
In the early 2000s, how-to books on business and parenting were popular. Thrillers and diet books were not. The owner of Dangdang.com, China biggest online bookseller, told the New York Times that people in Shanghai are into lifestyle and “petit-bourgeois books” while those in Shenzhen are into get-rich guides and those in Beijing like books on business management, novels and foreign language lessons.
One of the hottest selling books in the early 2000s was “Harvard Girl”. It was written by parents who described how they prepped their little girl, beginning when she was an infant, to succeed at a America’s most prestigious university. The book's success inspired a dozen or so imitations: Harvard Boy, Cambridge Girl, Our Dumb Little Boy Goes to Cambridge and Tokyo University Boy.
Dale Carnegie books such as “How to Friends and Influence People” and “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” sell well in China. Other popular book that fit into the “success studies” category includes “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, “Who’s Moved My Cheese” and “Harvard Girl”, the story of a young Chinese girl from a working class industrial town that managed to get into Harvard. It sold 1½ million copies. Books by Bill Gates, G.E. CEO Jack Welch and Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing also sell well. Other popular self help books include the “The New Harvard MBA Comprehensive Volume of How to Conduct Yourself in Society” and “Be an Upright Person, Handle Situations Correctly, Become a Boss”. By some counts success books make up a third of all books sold. These including a whole genre books on Jewish success with titles like “The Eight Most Valuable Business Secrets of Jewish Wealth”, “The Legend of Jewish Wealth” and “Jewish People and Business: The Bible of How to Live Their Lives”. See Jews
Book Trends in China in the 2010s
Lu Qianwen wrote in the Global Times: Chinese writer Liu Cixin's 2015 Hugo Award win for The Three-Body Problem launched the sci-fi genre into the mainstream consciousness. With the numerous adaptations of several of Liu's short stories and novels currently in the works, many are calling 2015 a banner year for Chinese sci-fi. The ripple effect of Liu's Hugo win is comparable to 2012, when Mo Yan won the Nobel Literature Prize, an event that secured top spots on the best-seller list for many of the authors representative works for quite some time. Since the Hugo Awards were announced in August, Liu's trilogy has been at the top of the best-seller list. This position at the top is expected to continue through December and into the new year, according to Openbook, a leading domestic publishing industry research institute. [Source: Lu Qianwen, Global Times, December 28, 2015],
“The effect of TV and film adaptations on the publishing industry was fairly obvious in 2015. From The Ordinary World and The Journey of Flower to the recent The Legend of Mi Yue, TV shows adapted from books have given their originals books a brand new lease on life. According to statistics from Amazon, Chinese mainland sales of The Journey of Flower have increased by a factor of 10 since the TV series hit the airwaves, while Nirvana in Fire saw 33 times more sales than before its TV series debuted. However, just like how hot topics on social media increased sales of related books in 2014, the TV and film adaptation bump only lasts a short time. Most of these books only reached the top of the book list for two months at most.
“Since Steve Jobs: A Biography became a hit in the Chinese market in 2011 (the year was even called the Year of Jobs in Chinese publishing circles), celebrity biographies have ushered in a new era. This new era has seen an increase in not just the number of celebrities, even those that are still young, joining in to write about their career and life experiences, but also fan acceptance of this genre. Bai Yansong's biography Bai Talks held the most appeal among the numerous celebrity biographies published in 2015. The book ranked at the top of half of this year's monthly top-seller lists, and Bai has also appeared more frequently at book meets in different cities than on his TV show on China Central Television (CCTV). Other biographies from celebrities such as Jing Yidan and Chai Jing, also both CCTV program hosts, and 24-year-old actor Zhang Yixing also saw great sales.
“Inspirational works, mostly books featuring relaxing true stories of love or courage, showed off their great vitality in the market this year, especially when those books were written by celebrities. “Amitabha”, “To You Who Are Single” and “Guai, Momotou” are just three examples of the multitude of similar books published this year. The beginning of this trend can be traced back to last year's king, Zhang Jiajia's I Belonged to You, which remained at the top of best-seller lists throughout the entire year. Although the book was a work of fiction, its inspirational nature kicked off a trend toward Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-like books. Domestic readers have not just embraced inspirational works by domestic writers. The Miracle in the Grocery Store by Japanese writer Higashino Keigo and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by US writer Gabrielle Zevin, have strong fan bases here in China, despite the controversial discussion about the latter's value as a work of literature.
Chinese Reading Habits
Chinese people read on average about eight books in the year 2015, a slight increase compared with that in the previous years, according to a survey by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication. It was the academy's 13th survey since 1999, covering 45,911 samples from 81 cities and townships of 29 regions at the provincial level. Both urban and rural areas are included, with adults and youth answering different questionnaires. "This year, we found that the rate of Chinese adults who have a habit of reading is on the increase, to 79.6 percent, and most of them are also readers of digital content," Wei Yushan, head of the academy, said. [Source: Mei Jia, China Daily, April 20, 2016]
According to the China Daily: “Technology is rapidly changing both publishing and reading, and the academy is also updating its researching areas and methods accordingly. In its first year, it asked about the habit of surfing the internet, and found only 3.7 percent of responders did so. The 2015 figure is 70 percent. Of the eight books an average Chinese read in 2015, three were in digital form. Moreover, 64 percent of Chinese adults are reading e-publications and 60 percent read using mobile phones. “Wei says that in a similar survey of French readers, who read an average of 16.7 titles in 2014, the figure for e-books was just over one. "An average Chinese spent 62.2 minutes a day reading on mobile, including 22.6 minutes on WeChat, on news, friends' updates and other fragmented reading materials," Wei says.
About 52 percent of Chinese adults were reading on WeChat in 2015. “Half of all Chinese say they are willing to pay money for e-book downloads. They would also pay more for e-books than they did in 2014: on average 1.64 yuan (25 cents) for a single e-book. But in case of printed books, the acceptable price shrinks: They'd now pay 14 yuan for a 200-page paperback novel, while in 2014, it was 16 yuan. “The survey indicates that online readers' major preferences are urban romance, history and fantasy. Xu Shengguo, head of the Institute of Publishing Research under the academy, says most mobile readers favor those categories, too.
“Zhou Huilin, an official with the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, says there is steady government input into reading promotion. Some 10 million yuan has been invested in providing free e-books for migrant workers. A total of 18 billion yuan has been earmarked for the building of rural libraries over the years. "We've found that in some rural areas, where print books are not handy for purchasing or lending, people there are reading with mobile phones. E-reading there really helps to increase the reading population," Zhou says.
Chinese Publishing Industry, the Largest in the World
It appears that China now has the world’s largest publishing industry. The publishing industry in China was valued at US $8 billion dollars in 2013, making the second largest in the world after the United States at that time. In 2013, according to china-briefing.com, Chinese publishers published 444,000 titles and 8.3 billion books. The report from China’s Books and Periodicals Distribution Association mentioned above said that China had 225,000 bookstore with total sales revenue of $54.7 billion in 2018. BookMap estimates of the global book market at $143 billion, with just over $40 billion to the U.S. If all this data is correct China would have the world’s largest publishing market. [Source: china-briefing.com, June 23, 2015; Mark Williams Global Publishing, January 11, 2019]
Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore wrote in the New York Times in 2012, “The Chinese publishing industry is in an “expansive mode” explained Seth Russo, the director of international sales at Simon & Schuster. It is now the world’s largest in terms of volume, with 7.7 billion books published in 2011, up by 7.5 percent from 2010. Driving sales is a literate population that emphasizes education and self-improvement. Censorship has become less draconian since Mao’s time and publishing has become more commercial. As a result, readers of Chinese books today have more choice of genre, voice and subject matter than they have had at any time in the last 60 years. [Source: Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, New York Times, September 4, 2012; Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore is an editor at Time Out Beijing]
“Unlike many developing countries, China has a long tradition of education and reading, culture and literature,” Jo Lusby, head of Penguin China, told me in Beijing this week. The Chinese consumer’s interest in books needed only to be revived, not created. Mirroring a society more concerned with personal pleasure and personal woes than political movements, contemporary Chinese writing focuses on individual feelings. The racecar driver and bad-boy blogger Han Han is making millions off his novels, including his debut “Triple Door,” a scathing satire on school life, which sold over two million copies. Genre fiction is exploding. In bookstores, crime stories and romantic fiction rub alongside wuxia, adventure stories of chivalrous martial heroes, and so-called “officialdom” fiction , tales of political intrigue that double as how-to guides for aspiring officials. (Mind you, the latter genre tends to tread carefully, often focusing on local stories of corruption rather than daring to incriminate party higher-ups.)
Popular nonfiction books include self-help tracts on how to get rich or find love. Publishers at the fair last week also described a growing children’s book market propelled by the one-child policy: Chinese parents are eager to pour their resources into their single offspring. And English-language books---from novels to learning aids---are in demand among those who want to improve their language skills.
History of Publishing in China
Publishing in China dates from the invention of woodblock printing around the eighth century A.D. and was greatly expanded with the invention of movable clay type in the eleventh century. From the tenth to the twelfth century, Kaifeng, Meishan, Hangzhou, and Jianyang were major printing centers. In the nineteenth century, China acquired movable lead type and photogravure printing plates and entered the age of modern book and magazine printing. [Source: Library of Congress]
Under the Communists, after a brief flourishing during the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956-57, the publishing industry came under strong political pressure in the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957. The industry had not fully recovered from this campaign when it was plunged into the Cultural Revolution, a period in which publishing was severely curtailed and limited mainly to political tracts supporting various campaigns. During the Cultural Revolution, schools and universities were shut down and books were banned. Writers were executed, imprisoned and forced to commit suicide. This suffering became part of China’s creative legacy in the 70'when ‘scar literature,” a popular genre that describes the horrors of the era.
Following the Cultural Revolution, publishing again flourished in unprecedented ways. In 1982 the China National Publishing Administration, the umbrella organization of Chinese publishers, was placed under the Ministry of Culture, but actual management of the industry was directed through four systems of administration: direct state administration; administration by committees or organizations of the State Council or the party Central Committee; armed forces administration; and administration by provinces, autonomous regions, or special municipalities. In 1984 statistics showed that 17 of the country's 418 publishing establishments were in Shanghai, whereas Beijing was home to 160 publishers. In 1985 plans were announced to foster the growth of the publishing industry in Chongqing, Xi'an, Wuhan, and Shenyang to take some of the workload from Beijing and Shanghai.
Different publishers were assigned to specific kinds of publications. For example, the People's Publishing House was responsible for publishing works on politics, philosophy, and the social sciences; the People's Literature Publishing House produced ancient and modern Chinese and foreign literature and literary history and theory; the China Publishing House had the principal responsibility for collating and publishing Chinese classical literary, historical, and philosophical works; and the Commercial Press was the principal publisher of Chinese-to-foreign-language reference works and translations of foreign works in the social sciences. Other publishers dealt with works in specialized fields of science.
In addition to the routine method of distributing books to bookstores in major cities, other methods of distribution were devised to meet the special needs of readers in urban and rural areas throughout the country. Mobile bookshops made regular visits to factories, mines, rural villages, and People's Liberation Army units, and service was provided in those locations through which individuals could request books. Arrangements were made with the libraries of educational institutions and enterprises to supply them with the books that they required, and books specifically applicable to certain industries were systematically recommended and provided to the departments concerned. Also, book fairs and exhibits frequently were provided at meetings and in public parks on holidays and other special occasions.
In the 2000s, China was still a relative lightweight when it came to books and literature. In the early 2000s there were only 500 publishing houses in China compared to thousands in Taiwan. Bookstores in China are busy but more than half the purchases are of textbooks or translations of American books. The British publisher Penguin opened an office in China in 2005 and has been recording growth rates of 200 percent a year. The majority of consumers for its mostly English-language titles have not been ex-pats but rather have been middle class Chinese. A quasi-underground publishing industry in China meets the popular demand for pornography, steamy Danielle-Steele-style novels, and homegrown Science Fiction. Serial Novels are available as text messages in cell phones.
Eric Setzekorn wrote in China Beat: In many ways, the commercialization of China’s publishing and distribution sectors has seen the entrenchment of government influence rather than its withering away. Xinhua Bookstores are the largest and only country-wide chain of bookstores; in 2006, the chain had over 14,000 stores, giving Xinhua tremendous economy of scale advantages to buy and sell books in bulk and make or break authors. Another key advantage for state sector bookstores, and Xinhua in particular, is their unique legal mandate to sell official school textbooks developed by the Ministry of Education, which is the most lucrative part of the Chinese book market...Xinhua Bookstores’ ubiquity is matched by their bland book selection, which often includes large displays of pro-government works and never carries controversial material such as the magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu.” One “bright spot is the popularity of Japanese manga or Chinese derivatives among many younger readers. Although currently online downloads seem to be the most popular way to get the latest manga in China, throughout Taiwan and Japan many internet cafés offer magazines and manga in addition to food, creating a hybrid bookstore/internet café/restaurant where many young people spend their free time, which might soon be commercially viable in China.” [Source: Eric Setzekorn, the China Beat, June 17, 2010]
Book Stores in China
China had 225,000 bookstores and sales outlets for books at the end of 2018, a 4.3-percent increase from the previous year, according to an annual report on the country's bookstore industry issued by China's Books and Periodicals Distribution Association, “Private bookstores played a significant part in the development, as 85 of the over 160 popular Sisyphe Bookstore chain as of October 2018 were opened in 2018 alone, and Yanjiyou, another popular brand, opened another 53 bookstores from January to November last year, according to an article in the People's Daily. [Source: Xinhua China Daily, January 11, 2019]
The Wenxueshanfang ("House of Mountain of Literature") bookstore in in the Gusu district of Suzhou, in East China's Jiangsu province was founded with in 1899. Covering about 20 square meters and filled with shelves on three sides with books categorized as literature, history and philosophy, it specializes in in antique books and was run in 2016 by 90-year-old Jiang Chengbo, the grandson of the store’s founder. [Source: Wu Yan and Wang Jianfen, China Daily, October 7, 2016]
Beijing has a lot of bookstores. Eric Setzekorn wrote in China Beat, One of the major advantages Beijing enjoys over other Chinese cities is a vibrant and comprehensive book culture that dates back hundreds of years. Although indistinguishable neighborhood bookshops serve the general reading needs of much of the population, a wide range of more specialized shops are patronized by particular reading groups such as academics and government officials. One of the unique aspects of Beijing’s book scene is the presence of high-level government and military bookstores scattered throughout the city. To name a few, the National Defense University, Academy of Military Science, and Central Party School are... an untouched gem for anyone interested in understanding the mentality and opinions of those at the center of China’s government and party institutions. In just one example of the research possibilities of this material, the National Defense University Press publishes many of the dissertations of its students, all senior military officers, which in plain Chinese explain what they feel is important, what policies they favor, and why. utilized, because many of the claims that China’s government---particularly its military---is not transparent could be demolished with one backpack full of books. [Source: Eric Setzekorn, the China Beat, June 16, 2010]
Little Red Bookshop in China
A bookstore called Utopia in Beijing specializes in Communist literature, with books, according to the New York Times, with titles like “Mao Zedong’s Road to Success” and “The Marxian Legacy,” and canvas satchels with Che Guevara’s visage. The store’s web site served as a social networking site for leftists until it was shut down in 2012. [Source: Edward Wong and Chris Buckley, New York Times, August 20, 2013]
The Economist reported: “In a small bookshop on the ninth floor of an office and residential building in Beijing's university district, the staff wear Mao badges. Works extolling the late Chinese leader, damning capitalism and attacking globalization are laid out on shelves. Scour the “non-mainstream economists” section for some of the most popular ones. Staples of most bookshops--volumes on how to succeed in business, play the stockmarket or get into an American university--are not on sale. [Source: The Economist, February 5, 2009]
“The Utopia bookshop is a refuge for China's leftists, the term used to describe those nostalgic for Mao Zedong's rule and worried that the country is abandoning its communist principles. This is the place to buy the selected writings of Mao's late widow, Jiang Qing, and other members of the Gang of Four who were imprisoned after the chairman's death. A three-volume critique of China's property law, enacted in 2007 and much disliked by leftists because of its supposed bias in favor of private-property ownership, goes for 200 yuan ($30).”
“A bookshop manager says the global economic crisis is proving good for business. More in China are beginning to question “mainstream” economic thinking that favors open markets and private enterprise. “Liberalism is bankrupt. Lots of mainstream economists have nothing to say now,” says a Utopia regular.” The bookstore’s website “carries an article accusing Western countries of trying to make China “the biggest sacrificial victim” of the economic downturn and describing China's liberal economists and political thinkers as the West's “running dogs”.”
Shenzhen Book City
Decline of China’s Bookstores
China’s brick-and-mortar bookstores nearly died out as a result of strong competition from Amazon-like ecommerce companies. Chang Chem of SupChina wrote; “On a Wednesday morning in the summer of 2011, the Beijing bookstore Wind in the Pines , a 16-year-old cultural sanctuary, closed its doors for the last time. “This was once a cultural epicenter of the capital, a spiritual home for many,” mourned one internet user (in Chinese). “Though I knew its days were numbered, I still can’t help but cry on its last day.” [Source: Chang Chem SupChina, April 8, 2021]
The closure of Beijing’s flagship bookstore was just the beginning of a long road to obsolescence for physical bookstores across the nation. In the early 2010s, China was still on the brink of its digital revolution, accounting for 1 percent of global online transactions. By 2017, China’s economy had utterly shifted gears: 40 percent of the world’s digital transactions occurred within its borders, and the prospect of maintaining any brick-and-mortar enterprise during that ecommerce craze seemed like a Sisyphean nightmare.
“From 2002 to 2012, bookshops were in a world of hurt. According to a report by the consulting firm Roland Berger, roughly half of China’s private bookstores closed in that period. In 2010, a year before the demise of Wind in the Pines, its close cousin and neighbor Third Pole Books , China’s largest private bookstore, shuttered after only three years in business. Other famous chains — Silhouette Books in Beijing, and Shanghai’s Ming Jun Bookstore and Think Happy Books — followed suit in the years after. Even the state-owned Xinhua Books, which enjoys lavish subsidies, struggled to make ends meet (in Chinese).
Describing the bookstore scene in the early 2010s, Eric Setzekorn wrote in China Beat:“Dozens of bookstores continue to dot Beijing but recent developments are changing the landscape for readers and publishers by forcing many smaller stores out of the market. Part of this trend is due to advances in public transportation, particularly the enlarged subway system, that make it possible to travel across town for a larger selection and lower prices, leading to a decline in neighborhood bookstores.” [Source: Eric Setzekorn, the China Beat, June 17, 2010]
“A less positive part of the bookstore consolidation is the increasing leverage state sector bookstores such as Xinhua can exert on private booksellers using market and political forces. A mixed element in the dynamic Beijing book market is internet-related growth, which has seen the rapid expansion of online booksellers, but the flip side of the internet has been increasing illegal file sharing of e-books which some writers claim results in lost sales. Finally, consumption patterns are changing because although Amazon’s Kindle and other specialized book readers have not become big sellers in China, small LCD tablet screens that can be read on the subway or bus are increasingly popular, promoting new reading habits and tastes.”
Comeback of China’s Bookstores
In the recent years bookstores have made a strong comeback by offering themselves as cultural centers and recreational spaces where books are just one part of the offering. Chang Chem of SupChina wrote: In April 2021, China’s state media reported that bookshops during the pandemic had undergone something of a renaissance: 1,500 brick-and-mortar bookstores closed, but more than 4,000 new ones sprouted up. The new ones look different from the old. In the past few years, bookshops have begun to bill themselves as multipurpose community spaces, rather than the book havens of old. As the value of traditional bookstores — the wide-ranging selection, the convenient search experience, and the timely arrivals — become wholly subsumed by online retailers, shop owners are looking to cafes and other entertainment and retail businesses for inspiration. “The revenue for bookstores isn’t from books anymore,” said a Nanjing bookstore owner to TMTPost (in Chinese). “The pressure is now on us.” [Source: Chang Chem SupChina, April 8, 2021]
Things began to change in 2017. According to Guohai Securities (in Chinese), the annual growth rate of brick-and-mortar bookstores went from negative to positive. Online book retailers, such as Amazon, JD Books, and DangDang, witnessed the flip side of that coin. From 2014 to 2017, the growth rate of China’s online book retailers dropped from a high of 50 percent to 28 percent. After years of what many saw as the inevitable demise of the physical bookstore, the trend had reversed. The market for bookstores was expanding.
“In 2015, when Amazon opened its first physical bookstore in Seattle, JD Books began to do the same. Encouraged in part by government policies, JD cooperated with 300 offline bookstores to place its books in physical locations. A new industry — a spruced-up version of the old — was emerging, where the value of a bookstore’s physical space was taken to its next logical step. “The ideal bookstore in my mind doesn’t have to be so big,” said Guān Bō , the general manager of Third Pole Books, at the time of its closure (in Chinese). “Rather, it’s one that allows people to buy books while sipping coffee, doing exercise, or some other activity.”
Shenzhen Book City
“Enter a Yanjiyou — a 4,000-square-meter multistory bookstore chain — in Chengdu, the capital province of Sichuan, today and books are no longer the main attraction. Billed as “urban cultural complexes” ( chéngshì wénhuà zōnghét ), a typical Yanjiyou store offers a wide range of amenities, including cafes, supermarkets, restaurants, art and photo galleries, and furniture designed for community activities. “Today’s bookstores are no longer just a place to sell books; they’re a cultural complex that brings together a host of business practices,” said L Jìngzé , vice chairman of the Chinese Writers Association, in 2018 (in Chinese).
“In other words, when customers enter a Yanjiyou, they’re not entering a bookstore that also sells other services anymore; they’re entering a service hub that also sells books. “When I have free time, I like to just lounge around at [the Yanjiyou] bookstore,” explained Yuán Jié (in Chinese), a resident of Chengdu. “While reading, I like to sip a coffee and take a couple of selfies, neither of which really affect my reading.”
“Yanjiyou’s rebranding has been enormously successful. In 2014, around the time the growth of online bookstores was slowing down, it opened its first store in Beijing to much acclaim. It has since expanded rapidly into dozens of stores in major cities all across China. Sisyphe Bookstore , a competitor, has had similar success. It opened 83 branches in 2017 and 180 the year after. Its revenue reached $138 million that year for a growth of 73 percent. “By selling a wide range of products,” said Dan Jie , the chairman of Yanjiyou, in an interview with China News Service (in Chinese), “we bring higher sales to bookstore operators.”
Fan Fiction in China
Xiong Yuqing wrote in the Global Times: “The Chinese word tongren originates from the Japanese doujin, small independently published works that can be either a completely original creation or, as is more often the case, works are based off the original work of another - in other words, fan fiction. These tongren works can be based on a wide range of media to include ACG (animation, comics and games), novels, TV series, movies, real people or even a simple setting. [Source: Xiong Yuqing Global Times, December 8, 2015]
“China's tongren culture is heavily influenced by Japan's doujin ACG culture, which had its formal start with the doujin fair ComiKet in 1975. As such China's tongren generation is actually very young. Lacking of any large scale tongren markets or clubs during the 1990s, Chinese tongren creations grew mainly underground with only a few short novels or comics published in mainstream ACG magazines. The arrival of the Internet helped bring Chinese tongren authors together and the community began to grow rapidly around 2000. Online forums soon became the central places for publishing their works and even today these forums are still very prosperous. According to a report on jiemian.com, among the top 500 Baidu ACG forums 75 are tongren forums, while 105 tongren forums number among the top 500 Baidu literature forums.
“An increasing number of Chinese IP owners are realizing the value of tongren authors - they are creative, enthusiastic and inexpensive. This year's hit TV series The Journey of Flower and The Legend of Langya were promoted using fan-made music. Journey to the West: Hero is Back produced official derivatives based on ideas submitted by fan designers. Many games, movies and TV series have also begun encouraging fans to create tongren works, even going so far as to hold competitions so they can discover talented authors and painters as well.
“Traditionally fan-made works in Japan and China were shared by selling self-produced books at fan fairs. However, since these publications are unauthorized, their sale falls into a grey area. Most original authors tend to divorce themselves from these fan-made works, while some, such as the author of the Doraemon manga, become annoyed when readers mention how they were influenced by certain fan-made works. In recent years, conditions for the sale of fan-made works have become increasingly favorable. Some Japanese companies have even permitted the commercial sale of fan-made works. For example, game company Nitro+ permits the sale of fan doujin works so long as sales don't exceed 100,000 yen ($812). “Nowadays, online literature and comics sites such as qidian.com and u17.com allow fans to publish their fanfic novels and comics online.
Impact of Fanfiction On Mainstream Entertainment
Gladys Mac wrote in RadII China: In early 2020, two popular TV dramas centered around tomb raiding were released in China. In April, Candle in the Tomb: The Lost Caverns premiered on major streaming platform Tencent Video; later in the summer and fall, two seasons of Reunion: The Sound of the Providence came out on rival sites Youku and iQIYI. Both series are adaptations of successful online novels, and are credited with starting the Chinese tomb raiding story craze that is still ongoing. Peculiarly, both online novels began serialization in 2006, and both of them have an overlapping character, Chubby Wang. Given these similarities, it’s natural to wonder whether one of these authors plagiarized the other. [Source: Gladys Mac, RadII China, December 9, 2020]
“But it wasn’t plagiarism — the two series are the result of fanfiction. Chinese fanfiction has been in the spotlight this year thanks to the huge AO3 scandal involving The Untamed star Xiao Zhan and certain sections of his fanbase, but this is just one indicator of how popular fanfiction has become in the country — and how it is beginning to spill over into the mainstream. The development and history of modern Chinese fanfiction is a relatively recent phenomenon, but as is so often with the case there are some ancient precedents. For example, Romance of the Three Kingdoms — one of the four great classic novels of Chinese literature — is often regarded as a fanfiction of Records of the Three Kingdoms, a historical text. The former appeared in the 14th century.
“In author and Grinnell College professor Jin Feng’s discussion of danmei (BL or “boy’s love”) novels in China, she briefly touches on the subgenre of BL fanfiction. In her article “Addicted to Beauty,” Jin traces the tradition of egao, or spoofing, from Japan, and its gradual flow into Chinese cultural works via Taiwan and Hong Kong. She not only cites examples of fanfiction that spoof landmark novels like Dream of the Red Chamber (another of China’s four classics), but also contemporary works such as martial arts novelist Jin Yong’s Legend of the Condor Hero. These origins in spoofing, combined with genre’s emergence online (often looked down upon by traditional publishing houses), has led to Chinese fanfiction being marginalized in some respects. And though fanfiction has made strides toward the mainstream in recent years, another significant factor limiting this progress is the ambiguity that surrounds the rights (or lack thereof) to rework original stories and characters. While it is common for authors to pay homage to their literary forebears in their own original works, sometimes it is difficult to tease out what is a nod to the masters and what is fanfiction in disguise. Similarly, the laws around fanfiction and the right to commercialize popular names, characters and storylines is still unclear in China.
Female Youth Publishing Market in China
Zhu Haifeng wrote in the Global Times, “Chinese female literature once predominantly focused on the struggles of women in gaining equality and fairness in a male-dominated society. Today, faced with a more equitable situation, Chinese female literature is taking on new directions in an effort to appeal to modern readers.” [Source: Zhu Haifeng, Global Times, April 12, 2010]
“In recent years, a bourgeoning number of publications have emerged for women readers, encompassing a massive teenage market and including magazines that present an independent, modern image. Books have also embraced the demand, enjoying prosperity in the female youth literature arena.”
“Ming Xiaoxi's Cinderella, Zhang Yueran's Newriting, Rao Xueman's M-Girl and Seventeen are all publications targeted at girls aged from 14- 22 and are hugely popular. Rao's M-Girl is a “mook” series, books with the look, design and layout of magazines. In M-Girl, the editor experiments with entertainment factors such as reality shows and short videos and produces every issue of the mook with models on the cover, all selected from its vast readership. The magazine also provides an interactive platform via QQ online chat, through which readers can directly communicate with editors and offer feedback and suggestions.”
Most of the magazines for girls sees content categorized mainly as youth love stories, mysteries and fantasies in a “leaf-through” format. The new trend has also produced an influx in related works, although not many are focused on literary depth. “Generally speaking, female youth literature is more a concept than real literature. Compared to traditional female literature, which is rich in plot and literary significance, female youth literature has a long way to go to be labeled as real literature,”Zhang Yiwu, professor of literature at Peking University, told the Global Times. “Female literature has improved greatly in the past years especially in the 1990s, represented by Tie Ning and Wang Anyi and other leading women writers and still exerts a profound influence,” Zhang added, “but the times have changed and many readers, especially teenage girls, are fond of reading material with a strong flavor of modern times, just like fast food.”
“We have a daily click ratio of more than 50 million for Hongxiu, with 90 percent of them from women readers aged from 18 to 35,” Bi Jianwei, chief editor of hongxiu.com, a website targeting teenage female readers, told the Global Times. Set up in 1999, Hongxiu.com boasts a collection of nearly 2 million literary works ranging from romantic novels, essays, poetry and diaries and its popularity is rising in click ratios every year according to Bi.
“As the first and largest publishing house to focus on women readership, Enjoying Reading Era has produced a series of novels of different genres targeting teenage girls and enjoys a turnover of 100 million yuan ($14.65 million) each year, according to Hou Kai, director of Enjoy Reading Era. “We have as many as 200 young women writers working for us and producing hundreds of novels each year with many becoming bestsellers,” he added. “Nearly every book published by our company was written, edited and read by young women, with strong female characters and we have targeted our books at teenage girls, which is a big and dynamic market of great potential.”
“With strong circulation and successful market strategy, many female youth writers have transformed into entertainment celebrities and become role models for avid fans,” Zhang commented. “Reflected in literature, female writers are not keen on the literary significance of their creations, but put emphasis on the market and personal fame. “They have found success in the market but still there is a long way to go for female youth literature to be categorized as real literature,” he added.
Pirated Books and Fake Harry Potter
By some estimates 30 to 40 percent of all books sold in China are pirated, copied, fakes or illegal in some other way. The official version of “Wolf Totem”, one of the best selling books in China in recent years, sold 2 million copies. An estimated 15 million pirated copies were sold.
The unofficial Chinese version of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” came out 10 days before the official worldwide release of the English-version of the novel in July 2007. The only thing about the Chinese version is that it had nothing in common with the official version except the title. Those that wanted the real thing had to wait for the scanned, reprinted and bound copies of that, which sold for a fraction of the cost of the official versions.
There are dozens of counterfeit, copied, and fake Harry Potter publications floating around. Among them are “Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon”, “Harry Potter and the Big Funeral” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Relative Prince “. These are often sold on street corners or are available online and have plots lifted from kung fu epics and Chinese classic like “Journey to the West”. Some are published by well known publishing house and found in school libraries.
The man who wrote the 250,000-word “Harry Potter and the Showdown” said he did it because his son couldn’t wait to find out what happens in the last Harry Potter book so he wrote his version of events and released his work online. The book quickly logged 150,000 reader after news of it was published on a Harry Potter fan website. The writer said he wanted to find a publisher but couldn’t. Even so bootleg version of hs work showed up on street corners in Beijing, Dalian, Shenzhen and Tianjin with an imprint of the publisher of the official Harry Potter books.
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Image Sources: Wiki Commons, Asia Obscura, Amazon
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2021