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Dutch Guest of Honor at the Beijing International Book Fair

The Beijing Book Fair kicks off this week, and The Netherlands is this year’s Country of Honor. In order to celebrate this, the always industrious Dutch have put together Open Landscape-Open Book a pretty sizable program to promote Dutch literature.

Although the Netherlands is the guest of honour this year, we have always felt most welcome in China. In the past few years, a great many Dutch titles have been translated into Chinese. Vice versa, attention for China and Chinese literature is growing in the Netherlands. The fact that we can present ourselves as the host country this year is largely due to the good relations that have been built up in recent times. The numerous contacts have made us aware of what is important, valuable and beautiful in the view of Chinese people.

The programme we present is rich and diverse, and embraces disciplines such as literature (which is self-evident), visual art, design, architecture and comic strips. A major part of the authors’ programme will take place in the auditorium of the Dutch Pavilion. On Fair days, a continuous programme of book presentations, discussions, workshops, meetings with school classes, interviews and lectures will take place. Encounters between Dutch and Chinese writers will form a central feature of the programme. All the Dutch authors attending have recently had work translated into Chinese. [. . .]

Simultaneously with the Fair in Beijing, we shall also devote attention to Chinese literature at one of the most important literary events in the Netherlands, Manuscripta. In this context, Chinese writers will be invited to the Netherlands and a part of our programme in Beijing will also be shown live in the Netherlands.

The Open Landscape-Open Book website is pretty interesting, even if you don’t read Dutch and aren’t at the Beijing Book Fair. For instance, there’s this list of Dutch titles recommended for translation and a series of blog posts from Dutch Foundation for Literature representatives, participating authors, and rights agents, such as Michele Hutchison (who also translated Rupert into English):

The Chinese publishers I have met during the course of my career, the few who have made it to London, Frankfurt or Amsterdam, have all come across as pleasant, shy and polite people. They have invariably brought gifts: chopstick sets, handmade paper notebooks, fans, good luck hangers. At the end of the meeting they take your picture. There is a good chance you’ll never see them today.

Thinking back to those the chopstick sets yesterday afternoon, it occurred to me a copy of our rights guide (albeit in Chinese) wouldn’t really cut it as a gift. But what would? [. . .]

In terms of concrete stuff, I’m not sure what the Netherlands has to offer China that isn’t illegal to import, foodstuff and bulbs, sexy magnets, bongs or clogs. Meanwhile China is responsible for more than half of the world’s clothing and shoe production, immense quantities of paper, and zillions of plastic toys. And that’s what everyone I’ve talked to about China these past weeks has mentioned: scale. The population of Beijing is 30 million. A two-week tourist trip to the city doesn’t even make a dent on what there is to see there.

The Chinese publishers I met in the past seemed to think more in terms of Europe – European science, European thought, European literature – than being specifically interested in the Netherlands (or England, or Germany…). The titles they have bought from us have reflected this: witness the hotly fought contest for Bram Kemper’s Painting, Power & Patronage, a book on the Italian Renaissance published in English in 1992. Three publishers offered!

Putting together the rights guide involved setting aside everything learned in Frankfurt. Forget hype, rights sales, bestsellerdom, forget typically Dutch landscapes. Think academic authority, science, culture, think knowledge base, content and classical literature. While we have nothing concrete to offer the Chinese, our thought and traditions have some value. This value is not necessarily financial though. My experience of selling books to the Chinese has taught me that to expect advances from 500 to 1,000 euros, print runs of a couple of thousand copies and no royalties or royalty statements. This puts it on a par with countries like the Czech Republic. At present we’re talking author management not profit.

Probably just me, but I think it’s interesting to witness this sort of cultural exchange—one that doesn’t involve English . . .



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