In China, A New Literary Translation Publisher is Born

In Feature Articles by Kate Whitehead

Bookworm Press

China’s The Bookworm bookstore chain has launched a literary magazine, a new writer’s prize and will begin publishing English translations of Chinese novels next year.

By Kate Whitehead

“Those Chinese born in the 1980s and 1990s are writing about contemporary issues — examining the human condition, dealing with fanatic urbanization and environmental issues, how to develop themselves as individuals and express their creativity and make a living. These are the things they’re concerned with,” says Peter Goff, co-founder of The Bookworm bookstore chain in China.

Japanese culture has for years had a strong influence on music, fashion and entertainment in China and with Japanese writers such as Murakami topping the bestsellers lists Goff says it is now influencing the fiction.

China is one of seven key countries featured at The Markets: Global Publishing Summit at the Frankfurt Book Fair on October 13, 2015.

“A lot of young people read Japanese authors, so the books that are coming through are in the genre of magic realism, surrealism and fantasy fiction. The influence in fiction started about five years ago and has been very widespread over the last two to three years,” he says.

Very little of this contemporary fiction has been translated and the US, Britain and the rest of the world has yet to get an appetite for Chinese novels. But Goff is confident that the time will come and he and the Bookworm team are pushing to make that happen. Last month they announced the winners of the inaugural China Bookworm Literary Award, a competition initiated at the beginning of the year to select a previously unpublished novel by a mainland Chinese writer. The winner was Wang Zhezhu from Guangdong and the runner-up, Li Ziyue from Fujian.

“They are both young and have an interesting take on things. Their novels are being translated and we hope to they’ll be ready for the Spring of 2016 — these are the people we hope to introduce to the world,” said Goff.

The shift to getting more Chinese fiction translated into English is apparent in the Bookworm’s in-house literary journal, Mala. When the journal was started four years ago it was focused on expatriate writers living in China, but it has swung towards more Chinese writers and the latest issue due out in October is about 80 percent Chinese writing in translation and 20 percent written by native English speakers.

Like most places in the world, young people are more likely to be glued to their smartphone that have their head stuck in a book. To try to encourage more young people to read, Bookworm ran a competition called Flash Europa 28 — 104 stories from the 28 countries of Europe were translated into Chinese. The 500-word stories were distributed free, one a day, over social media such as WeChat and Weibo.

“So far on our own WeChat site we’ve had 4 million reads of these stories. When it’s big in China the numbers are staggering. We didn’t have any marketing budget — we just made it available. If you did have the resources to push these things imagine how many people you could reach,” says Goff.

About the Author

Kate Whitehead

Kate Whitehead is a Hongkonger and has made the city her home since she was eight. She escaped for university and returned after her master’s degree and was on staff at the Hong Kong Standard and South China Morning Post and was the editor of Cathay Pacific’s inflight magazine, Discovery. She now writes freelance for the SCMP, CNN Travel, BBC Travel, WWD and Forbes.