CHINA – A travelogue

The Chinese are crazy about Norwegian books. That is the impression we were left with after having visited the book fair in Beijing. Ever since 2010 NORLA has travelled to the book fair in Beijing, Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF), which takes place every year in the end of August. This year we were accompanied by four Norwegians: Even Råkil from Oslo Literary Agency, Hans Petter Bakketeig from Stilton Agency, Gina Winje from Winje Agency and Svein Størksen, Magikon Forlag. At the fair energetic work was carried out to present Norwegian books and meet with Chinese publishers to promote the translation of more Norwegian titles into Chinese.

Bejing international book fair

While the book fair was taking place, the project “China meets Norway in a bookshelf” was launched in Shanghai and Beijing, a cultural exchange project that promotes Norwegian art books, picture books and illustrated books in China. Behind the project are Ben Yu and Yiley Wang, who are the founders of the organization Northing and residents of Norway. They had invited along several Norwegian authors, illustrators, and book artists who met with Chinese colleagues to inspire and be inspired through exhibitions, seminars and brain-storming workshops.

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A Norwegian travelogue from the end of the 19th century called China “Poetry’s Wonderland”. It is a country with a long and proud book and literary history. The first paper books were printed in China − in the 8th century. Today it is also the country with the world’s largest population, more than 1.3 billion people. Wars and political obstacles have from time to time created problems for the book trade, but now the middle class is growing and they want books, not least for the coming generation. There are approximately 370 million children under the age of 18 in China. For the right books, there are an infinite number of readers to reach out to. According to OpenBook, the Chinese book market’s total sales volume in 2015 was RMB 62.4 billion, an increase of 12.8 % compared to the year before.

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In addition to this there are book sales to libraries, which according to the estimates of professionals in the industry have an annual sales volume of approximately RMB 12 billion. The total sales volume of the Chinese book market is accordingly RMB 74 billion, or more than a dizzying NOK 88 billion. The market for literature in translation is growing, but the authorities also want to increase the export of Chinese books to other countries. Some publishers say that they have received an injunction from the government to export one book for every book they import, but others say that is just a rumour, or that it’s not a requirement, just a recommendation on the part of the authorities. Whatever the case, it did not appear to put a damper on Chinese publishers’ interest in Norwegian books.

The Beijing International Book Fair has a separate international hall at the book fair. For four years the Nordic countries have had a presence at the fair with a joint stand. In this way we have made many contacts. The Nordic stand was bubbling with activity and it was clear that Chinese publishers wanted to meet foreign agents and publishers and to do business. The sale of Norwegian books to Chinese is stable and on the rise and there is a large interest in many Norwegian books. Before NORLA started visiting the book fair in Beijing, there were very few translations into Chinese. But goal-oriented efforts and visits to the book fair have produced results. In 2013, NORLA awarded subsidies to 12 translations to Chinese, in 2014 there were six, in 2015 ten, in 2016 20. In addition to this, there are also Norwegian books that are published without having applied for funding from NORLA. It was clear that the book fair appreciated the presence of the Nordic representatives. Literally. The Nordic joint stand was awarded the book fair’s «Exhibitor Excellence Award 2017».

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Our Danish colleague, Lars Sidenius, holding the award.

Very few Norwegian authors are well-known in China. But there is some awareness. Many Chinese people view Ibsen as the father of the modern Chinese drama. Jostein Gaarder was recently in China to celebrate that Sophie’s World has sold over two million copies. Norwegian children’s books are experiencing an enormous popularity and several have won prestigious prizes. Anna Fiske’s Hello books have been hugely successful and more than one million copies have been sold. According to Publishers Weekly, one might just as well describe the children’s book market in China as A, B, C: “Amazing, Booming, Crowded”. That doesn’t only sum up the children’s book market, but also our impressions after intense days at the fair.

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Text by Senior Adviser Per Øystein Roland.
Pictures by Per Øystein Roland and Director Margit Walsø.

Read more about the book fair and Chinese Publishing:

Visit the book fair website

China Meets Norway in a Bookshelf

Read more about «China Meets Norway in a Bookshelf» and organizer Ben Yu here

Read the Publishers Weekly’s reports from the book fair here

and here

On the Eve of Beijing International Book Fair: Exponential Growth (in Publishing Perspectives)

The the German Book Office Beijing report The Chinese book market 2016

More about the publishing industry in China in Wikipedia

Read more about Norwegian literature in China here:

Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder is very popular in China. Read more from his visit in Spring 2017 here

Read about the success of Norwegian children’s book authors at the 2015 Shanghai book fair here

Read all about NORLA’s activities in China here

Click here to see the covers of many of the Norwegian books that have been published in Chinese with translation support from NORLA (up to and including 2011 here

Interested in reading more of NORLA’s letters from recent activities?

Now we’ve collected all the articles here