Reading less, some Chinese still love James Joyce



Portraits of James Joyce





Reading less,

some chinese still love

James Joyce



By Cui Yuanlei, Sun Liping and Kang Yan



Dai Congrong

Photo taken with a statue of James Joyce 

in the street of Dublin, capital of Ireland 



The Chinese version of the first part of James Joyce’s 1939 novel Finnegan’s Wake was published last December. Dai Congrong, professor of Chinese language and literature at Fudan University, Shanghai, spent eight years translating the notoriously difficulty work, and did not anticipate it would become a bestseller.

The book’s first run of 8,000 sold out in a month. The publishing house hurried to print more and it remains a big seller now, far beyond any of Dai’s expectations.

According to an April survey by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, Chinese people read less than five books per capita in the past year, a figure that trails woefully far behind major developed countries. The average American read seven; the French and Japanese, more than eight. Chinese people spend more time watching TV and using the Internet than reading.

During an international seminar on James Joyce at the 10th Shanghai Book Fair that started on Wednesday of August 14 and will run until Tuesday of August 20 , this apparent contradiction came under the microscope.

Anne Fogarty, a professor of James Joyce studies from University College Dublin, said that even in Ireland, Finnegan’s Wake was seldom read because it was so hard to understand.

Wang Weisong, editor-in-chief of Shanghai People’s Publishing House, publisher of the new translation, said it was “a little inappropriate” to conclude that the Chinese were reading less and less.

“In cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Chongqing, serious literature has always had readers obsessed by reading and able to digest classics of western literature,” Wang added.

Some critics attributed the popularity of Finnegan’s Wake to the extravagant marketing campaign of its publishing house, which featured giant billboards in downtown areas in major cities across China.

But others argued that readers are drawn to the book because they want to challenge themselves by trying to understand one of the world’s most difficult works of fiction for its experimental style and unique ideologue.

Joyce’s novels have been held in high esteem by Chinese readers since they first became available. During the 1980s and 1990s, Western literature icons such as Joyce, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Marcel Proust were an inspiration to the young Chinese literati when their works were translated and introduced into China.

Over 1,000 readers waited in line to buy Joyce’s Ulysses in Shanghai bookstores in 1995 and all the copies sold out on the spot, recalled Li Jingrui, founder of Yilin, China’s flagship magazine on foreign literature.

Qian Jiaqing, a student from Xinan Mofan middle school in Shanghai, is probably the youngest fan of James Joyce.

“When my father brought that book home, I feel it gave me a reading experience I had never had before,” said Qian, “Although I could not understand much of it, James Joyce’s language and narration are much different from the works of Han Han, Guo Jingming.”

Both born in the 1980s, Han Han and Guo Jingming are best-selling authors, especially popular among young Chinese readers.

“With the advancement of information exchange, travel and Internet, the Chinese people are becoming interested in more diverse aspects of the western world, even in those that the westerners themselves have not noticed,” said an observer in the seminar.






Chinese readers

increasingly prefer English books to translations



By Ji Shaoting and Xu Xiaoqing


Chinese readers increasingly prefer foreign books in English rather than their translated Chinese versions, boosting sales of English language books in China.

The growing popularity of English books in China was described as a “surge” by Zhao Wei, publisher at an international publishing house based in Beijing. Zhao was once manager of the China division of Random House, the largest general-interest book publisher in the world.

Zhao said her publishing house witnessed a double in sales volume in China, declining to reveal the exact number.

According to publishers based in Beijing and Shanghai, the “surge” has mainly occurred in sales of textbooks, children’s books, travel books and novels.

“Our retail sales of English books and other media at Shanghai Book Fair totaled 600,000 yuan (98,039 U.S. dollars) in 2011. Last year, we exceeded one million yuan and expect to witness another increase this year,” said Lang Jin, manager of sales at the Shanghai branch of China National Publications Import and Export (Group) Corporation.

The sharp increase during the week-long book fair reflects the bigger picture of the English book market, Lang said.

“Chinese people are attracted to the original version of English books, many of which first reached Chinese readers after being translated into Chinese,” said Gu Bin, general manger of Shanghai Book Traders company.

With increased income and more English language education, more Chinese people are able to read the books in English, Gu said.

English-language teaching materials have increased with the development of international schools, analysts said.

Additionally, some EMBA and MBA courses require original books, Gu told Xinhua.

“Foreign children’s books emphasize cultivating children’s abilities via games or tasks, or telling truths through vivid stories, and Chinese parents welcome this,” Lang said.

Better logistics have also increased sales in remote areas like Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and Tibet Autonomous Region, said Zhao Wei.

“When physical bookstores dominated, English books used to be available only in the biggest cities like Beijing and Shanghai. However, with China opening its book imports after joining the WTO, plus the growth of online sales, readers in remote areas can get their books by clicking,” Zhao said.

“You would hardly imagine that the English version of ‘Steve Jobs:A Biography’ could sell in remote Xinjiang and Tibet,” she told Xinhua.

According to Zhao, in addition to “Steve Jobs: A Biography,” the “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” series have also hit record sales in second- and third-tier cities across China. The novel “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell and non-fiction book “Big Data” by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger are the top two sellers in China this year.

However, publishers have also faced troubles despite the booming sales as digital versions of pirated books have eaten into their market share.

“We have sustained losses from pirated books, but at the same time it tells us that China is a large potential market,” she said.





2013 Shanghai Book Fair


People line up to enter the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair in east China’s Shanghai on Wednesday

of August 14, 2013. The seven-day book fair kicked off on Wednesday.  

Photo by Yang Shichao


People visit the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.   Photo by Yang Shichao 


A staff member recommend books to a visitor during the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair

on August 14, 2013.   Photo by Lai Xinlin 


People read books during the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.    Photo by Lai Xinlin


People visit the exhibition area of central China’s Hunan Province during

the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.   Photo by Liu Xiaojing


People visit the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.   Photos by Lai Xinlin


People visit the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.   Photo by Ding Ting 


People visit the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.   Photo by Yang Shichao 


People read books during the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.   Photo by Liu Xiaojing 


A girl reads a book attentively during the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.

Photo by Ding Ting

Boys read books during the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair August 14, 2013.   Photo by Wu Zixi


A little boy reads a book during the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.  

Photo by Ding Ting 

Visitors read comic books during the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.

Photo by Yang Shichao 

A visitor watches video on a multimedia device during the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair

on August 14, 2013.   Photo by Ding Ting 

People select books during the 2013 Shanghai Book Fair on August 14, 2013.   Photo by Wu Zixi 









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