17 January 08 | E.J. Van Lanen

Richard Lea has a two-part [ 1, 2 ] overview of the literary scene in China in The Guardian:

The world’s most populous nation, the world’s biggest consumer of raw materials, and now the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, China strides irresistibly towards its economic and political destiny. But as Beijing prepares for its Olympic extravaganza this summer, the cultural life of the 1.3 billion people who live and work in this economic superpower remains a closed book to many in the west – their bestselling authors unfamiliar, their most exciting writers untranslated.

We’ve done some thinking about China—it’s a huge oversight to miss out on publishing a book from a country of 1.5 billion people—but, based on the article, the publishing industry there sounds even more complicated that Japan’s, which is almost indescribable.

This is at least partly because of the unique constitution of the Chinese publishing industry. “Officially, publishing is still an activity reserved to the state. So unlike, say, printing or bookselling, no private or foreign direct participation is allowed,” explains Richardson. There are some 570 state publishing houses, which until recently were insulated from the vicissitudes of the market. “Now they are ‘cultural enterprises’, are expected to become financially independent and are allowed to compete in each others’ patches.”

As always in China, Richardson continues, “things are more complicated than they would appear at an official level”. Alongside the state houses are “cultural studios”, private publishers that supply creative input for the state houses (which is legal), or simply buy ISBNs and publish themselves (which is not). “Meanwhile foreign publishers also cannot participate directly, but all the major international publishing companies have some form of representation in China and many have worked out forms of co-operation with Chinese partners that get under the wire.”

We won’t give up, but it’s an uphill battle—and that’s not considering all the other hurdles in making something like this happen. China is the guest of honor at Frankfurt in 2009 (It’s sad to say we’ll be waiting this long to find a book from China to publish. I hope it’s not the case.) and we’ll definitely find a book (or two or three) at the fair.


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