The U.S. novel "When the Purple Mountain Burns" has been drawing attention at the Beijing International Book Fair not just for its plot set during the Nanjing massacre, but also because it marks a new chapter in Chinese publishing.
Written by Chinese American novelist Shouhua Qi, the book provides a rich historical view of the atrocities committed by Japanese troops during World War II. However, its publisher, Long River Press (LRP), the first China-owned publishing house in the United States, is also making history.
"It marks a milestone in China's entry into the international publishing market," said Xu Mingqiang, chief executive of LRP, the first U.S.-based Chinese publisher to release a book about China written by a United States-born author.
The LRP, jointly established by the China Foreign Languages Publishing and Distribution Administration (CFLPDA) and the Hong Kong United Press Co. in 2002, has promoted its products on to the shelves of mainstream U.S. bookstores and the list of on-line retailer Amazon.
"It's the growing enthusiasm for Chinese culture worldwide that has created the opportunities for us," said Xu, who boasts 30 years of international publishing experience.
Xu had sensed the growing interest of U.S. readers in Chinese culture and decided the time was right to enter the U.S. market.
His intuition was supported by an article Time magazine's June Asian edition, telling readers that learning Chinese was the key to profiting from the country's booming economy.
About 100,000 people in the U.S. have learned Chinese, which has been included on school curricula.
Worldwide, more than 30 million people are studying Chinese as a second language and 2,500 universities in 100 countries the subject.
Xu says LRP is set to publish more U.S.-born writers specializing in Chinese language and culture. The firm's booth at the ongoing International Book Fair includes two Chinese-learning books written by American Sinologists and one book on Chinese women aviators during WWII, all written by native English speakers.
"Surging demand for Chinese books has boosted international cooperation," said Xu. "Publishers from Britain, France, Germany and Singapore have shown great interest in our books, and some Chinese firms are seeking cooperation with the U.S. through us."
Zhou Mingwei, vice-president of CFLPDA, said Chinese publishers had opened up the U.S. mainstream market.
As China's biggest foreign language publishing organization, the CFLPDA has succeeded by taking a localized strategy, according to Zhou.
"Chinese culture differs greatly in thinking patterns from Western culture, which poses a serious challenge for the publishing industry," said Xu.
LRP learned a lesson from Yao Ming's book which failed to in the U.S. market, as most U.S. basketball fans cared only for the native players.
"We should learn from the U.S. and observe the local rules," Xu said. Two years ago, LRP became a shareholder in a U.S.-funded publishing house named "China Books". LRP has 18 staff, 13 of whom are U.S.-born.
Chen Shaofeng, deputy director of the Culture Industry Research Institute at Beijing University, said China's cultural sector would have to compete fiercely in the international market and cultural industries should adopt a chain development strategy.
China holds only 1.5 percent of the global cultural products market, while the United States accounts for 40 percent.
However, China is growing in moves such as copyright transfers of Chinese-learning materials. At the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany last October, Chinese publishing houses sold the rights to 615 items.