Chinese children's books impress overseas readers, gain increasing popularity

Updated: Dec 12, 2022 Women of China Print
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An increasing number of Chinese children's books — including children's literature, picture books, audio books and puzzle books — have made their way into the global market. The high-quality books have been attracting a growing number of global readers with their plots from a Chinese perspective and their ingenious character designs. The books have won extensive praise around the world. Many of the books have won international awards.

Going global

The thriving development of China's children's book-publishing industry is due in part to the overall development and prosperity of the country, and the "going-out" strategy of Chinese culture, as well as the concerted efforts of Chinese children's book publishers over the years.

Imported children's books used to be hot items in the Chinese children's book-publishing industry. But today, the Chinese children's book-publishing sector is experiencing amazingly rapid development, astronomical economic returns, and incredibly fierce competition.

In recent years, with the development of China's comprehensive national strength, China's book-publishing industry has benefited from a new period of policy opportunities. The Chinese Government has adopted several national policies to support and boost the development of book publishing. That has resulted in an unprecedented opportunity for Chinese children's books to go global.

Statistics released by China Press, Publication, Radio and Television News, the copyrights of more than 4,000 Chinese children's books have been exported to other countries during the past 40-plus years since China's reform and opening-up. China's children's book-publishing industry has undergone a transformation from "being imported" to "going out."

The international children's book market also provides a favorable environment for Chinese children's books to go global.

In the context of globalization, with the growing strength of China, more and more countries and regions are eager to learn about Chinese culture and listen to Chinese stories. The children's book market is no exception.

An increasing number of international publishers have sought cooperation with their Chinese counterparts. Various models, and multiple channels, for promoting the overseas popularity of Chinese children's books have emerged, such as Chinese-foreign cooperation in the creation of children's books, and the establishment of overseas branches of Chinese publishing companies.

The quality of Chinese children's books continues to improve, and never fails to impress children and international publishers. With rich content, a wide range of subjects and novel forms, Chinese children's books attract children from all over the world.

[Photo Supplied by China National Museum of Women and Children, National Museum of Classic Books]

At international book fairs, such as the Bologna Children's Book Fair, in Italy, Frankfurt Book Fair, in Germany, and Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, exhibition stands of Chinese companies (which publish children's books) attract the attention of other exhibitors.

It has been reported that China published more than 40,000 varieties of children's books in 2018, ranking China first in the world in that segment. Chinese children's books have become an important force in the international children's book market.

China National Museum of Women and Children (CNMWC) and National Museum of Classic Books held an exhibition, Dazzling Childhood — A Hundred Years of Chinese Children's Books, at CNMWC in 2019. The organizers selected more than 100 books from among the many excellent children's books published during the previous century. The books were displayed in chronological order. Excellent children's books are not only a true reflection of the spirit of their respective times, but also children's closest spiritual friends that will be remembered for a lifetime.

[Photo Supplied by China National Museum of Women and Children, National Museum of Classic Books]

Increasing influence

Thanks to the high level of creativity and design, as well as the various models of Chinese-foreign cooperation, Chinese children's books have drawn worldwide attention, and they have enjoyed increasing influence in overseas markets. In recent years, many of the books have won international awards.


Don't Let the Sun Fall



Chinese illustrator Zhu Chengliang won the Golden Apple Prize, during the 27th Biennial of Illustrations Bratislava (BIB), in 2019, for his illustrations in the picture book, Don't Let the Sun Fall. The BIB, established in 1967, is the world's first non-commercial international illustration award. Zhu is the fifth Chinese illustrator to win the award.

[Photo Supplied by China Peace Publishing House]

Don't Let the Sun Fall, written by Guo Zhenyuan, was published by China Peace Publishing House in 2018. It is a picture book that highlights Chinese elements and childlike innocence. The book focuses on children's curiosity about natural phenomenon, such as the sunrise and sunset. It tells the interesting story of a group of animals who tried their best to prevent the sun from "falling" from the sky.

Zhu's exploration of and innovation in traditional Chinese culture gives the book a strong Chinese flavor. For example, the prototype of the cow is a clay sculpture in Fengxiang, in northwest China's Shaanxi province, and the prototypes of the bird and cat are nigugu, a kind of clay sculpture (that can make a sound) in Xunxian county, in central China's Henan province. The two kinds of clay sculptures are on the list of national intangible cultural heritage.

Don't Let the Sun Fall is widely considered to have landmark significance among the original Chinese picture books.

The book has earned many domestic and international awards, including Bing Xin Children's Book Award, Chen Bochui International Children's Literature Award and BIB Golden Apple Prize. Its copyright has been exported to Spain, Japan, France, Lebanon, Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea.

Lonely Elk King

Chinese author Liu Xianping (1938-2022) won a well-known Russian literature award, in 2019, for his book, Lonely Elk King. The award was established in 2015 to honor outstanding authors who write about nature and animals. The award aims to improve the social significance of contemporary nature literary works.

Liu, known as the father of contemporary nature literature in China, traveled across the country twice. His major works include four full-length novels about people exploring the wildlife world, and dozens of works about his adventures in the great nature.

Lonely Elk King was published by People's Literature Publishing House and Tiantian Publishing House in 2018. To explore the mystery of the elk's flourishing in China, Liu visited national nature reserves for elks in Shishou, in Central China's Hubei Province, and in Dafeng, in East China's Jiangsu Province. He wrote stories about the elks, and other interesting wildlife, and he conveyed the ecological concept of respecting nature and life.

Gao Hongbo, writer and vice-president of the Chinese Writers Association, says, "Liu is a writer with a strong sense of responsibility and mission. The original intention of nature literature is to arouse people's awareness of environmental protection, by means of literature, to let people consciously join in the cause of environmental protection, and to achieve real harmony with nature."

Shu Lin's Grandpa

Shu Lin's Grandpa, a children's picture book illustrated by British-Chinese artist Yu Rong, was showcased at the London Book Fair in April.

The book tells the story of Shu Lin, a Chinese immigrant girl, who overcomes cultural differences and forms friendships in her new school with the help of her grandfather. The book combines paper-cutting and ink painting with other Chinese elements to create a painting style that is both classical and modern.

Shu Lin's Grandpa, published in Chinese by Dandelion Children's Bookstore and in English by Otter-Barry Books, was shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal this year. Kate Greenaway Medal, founded by the Library Association in 1955, is a prominent children's book award for illustration in the United Kingdom.

What is required to better tell Chinese stories to international readers? A pure heart, a love for traditional Chinese culture and the passion to convey Chinese stories through words or pictures, says Yu. "To make Chinese books popular in overseas markets, it is not enough to rely on Chinese elements alone, having an international perspective is also very important," she says.

"In recent years, original Chinese books have made great progress in 'going out.' More Westerners are willing to accept and understand Chinese culture deeply. But it still takes time and effort to help Western families accept original Chinese books. In the meantime, we need more talents, who understand both Western art appreciation and Chinese culture, to promote good Chinese stories in the world," Yu says.

She says she is delighted to see some books with Chinese elements, including children's books, have been placed on the shelves of British people, which shows Chinese culture is influencing Westerners in a silent way.

(Women of China English Monthly September 2022 issue)

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