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Journey to the West (2)

By Yang Guang (China Daily)

09:01, August 29, 2012

People's Literature Publishing House started exporting copyrights of literature after China joined the Universal Copyright Convention in the early 1990s, primarily to the Hong Kong and Taiwan regions, and some Asian countries and regions.

According to Liu Qiao, head of the publishing house's international cooperation department, for various reasons, such as the lack of competent literary translators, the exported titles were small in number and were limited to modern classics, such as Shen Congwen's Border Town and Lao She's Rickshaw Boy.

Even when deals for contemporary literature were done, the results were far from satisfactory. For instance, the advance payment for Zhang Wei's acclaimed Ancient Ship was just $1,500.

Now, however, Liu says her team is selling contemporary Chinese literature in the mainstream Western market.

For instance, since they began to represent online writer Ai Mi's romance Under the Hawthorn Tree, the unfulfilled love story set during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76) has been sold to 17 countries and regions. Its advance payment was $180,000, setting a record for literature copyright in recent years.

"Its success is attributed to its subject - a sad love story under a specific historical and social context," Liu explains, adding that such stories with a universal motif and marked Chinese characteristics are likely to arouse the interest of overseas readers. "At the same time, it has been adapted into a film of the same title by director Zhang Yimou, which adds to its international popularity."

Liu says they have realized that only through cooperating with prestigious international publishers and agents, can Chinese literary works be sold at a reasonable price; and only when the international partners have made a considerable investment, will they try their best at editing and promoting the books. And during this process, the influence of contemporary Chinese literature will be enhanced.

Statistics from the General Administration of Press and Publication indicates that by April 2012, 459 Chinese press and publishing organizations have branched out overseas, with 28 of them in book publishing-related businesses.

Registered in London in March 2007, China Youth Publishing International (CYPI) was the first Chinese publisher to invest overseas. It focuses primarily on books and relevant electronic products about Chinese culture, arts, landscape and travel.

With its unique selling point of China-themed photo albums, CYPI has gradually gained a foothold in London's publishing scene over the past five years and has established a global marketing network covering Europe, North America and Asia.

But the journey is not all smooth sailing. Guo Guang, general manager of CYPI, says the most painful lesson was when tons of books prepared for the US market had to be disposed of, because the original British spelling had not been converted.

Now, the years of pioneering toil are beginning to pay off. After three years of planning and editing, The Great Chinese Gardens: History, Concept and Techniques, which shows the visual splendors of China's finest gardens and explains their ideas and techniques in simple terms, has been published in six language editions and will be available in more than 1,000 bookstores across the world.

Guo adds CYPI is planning to establish an English-language website and start several electronic magazines to provide information and services for overseas readers.

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