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With its vast treasure trove of rich, diverse literature dating back more than 2,000 years, classic Chinese literary works have long been held in deep esteem by acknowledged masters from home and abroad. Yet contemporary titles, particularly in the fiction category, are facing cloudy prospects overseas. The lack of translation expertise and limited export channels are proving to be the main hindrance to Chinese literature's global ambitions.
"Feathered Serpent," a 1998 story from Xu Xiaobin, is her most translated title so far. Published by US-based Simon and Schuster last February, the book has been made into nine versions circulating in the United States and Europe.
But for Xu, this late success is more about luck than labor.
Xu Xiaobin said, "In 2004, two of my fans in Canada wrote to me and said that after reading "Feathered Serpent," they contacted a prestigious local translator, whose ancestors wrote the Rise and Fall of an Empire. He, then at the age of 73, was determined to translate my book after reading it. After he finished the first three chapters, a book agent contacted me and was keen to produce the overseas version for me."
Xu believed that the story, which touches on human nature, is striking a familiar chord with western readers.
Subject matter is one thing that could narrow the cultural gap.
While copyright sales soar as Chinese publications are being exported to over 200 countries and regions, most of the exports consist of reference books and traditional classics. The proportion of contemporary Chinese literature is minimal. The dearth of translators with a mastery of both the language and culture of China and that of the target country is another barrier.
Bi Feiyu, Author, said, "Though being the most spoken language, Chinese remains a "small" language. English on the other hand is being spoken in practically every country in Europe."
Zhang Wei, whose forty exported titles are exhibited in the book fair, believed that an open mind-set is key to ensure China's literary force.
Zhang We said, "An open and relaxed social atmosphere could nurture good literary works. China has opened up for thirty years, and I am glad to see we have already reaped some harvest in this field. But it takes longer to achieve the same results as some developed countries."
The current Beijing Book Fair, where two-thousand publishers from over fifty countries and regions are attending, has seen Chinese writers set up their own pavilion for the first time. In a space over one-hundred-and-fifty square meters, the cream of contemporary literary works are being exhibited.
It's hoped that through the book fair, the voice of Chinese writers may be heard on a even broader sphere.