By Yangqingchuan, Hu Xiaobing and Rao bo
BEIJING/FRANKFURT, Oct. 24 (Xinhua) -- For Zhang Genrui, head of the Germany subsidiary of China's flagship global book trader, this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest and most influential event of its kind, was a sort of role-change experience.
For the past 16 years in Frankfurt, Zhang had been courting local publishers, book dealers and the press to promote Chinese books. But this time around he and his colleagues were frequently wooed by a swarm of reporters, book traders and readers at the book fair, especially after Chinese writer Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for Literature on Oct. 11.
REFORM EFFORTS PAY OFF
At the well-lit exhibition stand of China International Publishing Group (CIPG) in Hall 6 of Messe Frankfurt, the book fair venue, dozens of reporters from Germany, Sweden and Venezuela focused their questions on Mo Yan, but Zhang was instinctively trying to turn the interview into a business opportunity.
"Mr. Mo is a very-known author in China and his novels always give a vivid account of those living at the bottom of the society," he said, while touting "Graded Chinese Reader--Selected, Abridged Chinese Contemporary Short Stories", a new book published by Sinolingua Press, a CIPG subsidiary.
"This collection includes a short story by Mr. Mo that criticizes the traditional bias toward women," Zhang told the reporters, adding that "it is also a very good textbook for Chinese language learners."
"It would be unimaginable a decade ago," said Zhang, referring to the growing attention the Chinese exhibitors received and the more than 2,600 copyrights they managed to sell during the Oct. 10-14 event, compared with 2,424 sold last year and 953 in 2000.
"Every year we have more Chinese exhibitors coming here and our total exhibition area has doubled from 320 square meters to 604 square meters since 2000," he said.
And in terms of print and decoration quality, China books are now as good as their Western peers. Since China Book Trading GMBH, the CIPG's Germany subsidiary run by Zhang, was launched in 1997, its circulation capital has grown from mere 60,000 German Marks (about 180,000 euro in today's value) to 1 million euro. Its total sales last year reached half a million euro.
As the coordinator for the Chinese delegation to the book fair, Dai Lan, director of exhibition at China Universal Press & Publication Co., Ltd (CUPP) took a broader view of China's participation at the world's largest annual book trade event.
"Over the years, the book fair has evolved into an important platform for showcasing China's cultural appeal," he said.
China first took part in the book fair in 1956, but in the capacity of an observer not an exhibitor and for the next four decades the CIPG had been the sole Chinese exhibitor at the annual event.
According to Dai, it was until the 21st century that other exhibitors started to join the Chinese delegation at the book fair.
This year, there are 70 entities in the official delegation and there are also independent attendees from China.
Since the start of the century, China's status at the world's top book event has been ascending quickly and it was chosen as the fair's guest of honor in 2009.
CIPG Vice President Lu Cairong said China's fast-growing clouts at the Frankfurt Book Fair during the past ten years were no coincidence, since the country's cultural sector received a huge boost from the ongoing reform efforts to make the publishers tailored to the market.
During the period, driven by the market-oriented reform of the cultural sector, top-level Chinese publishers have been actively exploring the overseas market, with across-the-board growth in exports of copyrights, books, printing services and digital products.
Striving to reach out to readers worldwide, they hired a lot of China experts from abroad to translate Chinese books into foreign languages, and cooperated with global online commerce giants such as Amazon.com to open direct sales channels overseas.
According to some estimate, Chinese publishing and media organizations have already set up more than 450 overseas subsidiaries.
RIDING THE WAVE OF "CHINA FRENZY"
As Mo Yan shot to fame worldwide after receiving the Nobel Prize, the "Mo Frenzy" spread to Frankfurt and suddenly turned Karin Betz, the German translator for his novel Sandalwood Death into a celebrity at the book fair.
"I was so confused when so many media outlets find me and want to have an interview," she told Xinhua.
But to Chinese exhibitors who attended the fair annually, the craze was not much of a surprise, After all, Juergen Boos, director of the fair, had already told them back in 2009 that Mo could win the prize because of his popularity in the fair.
At the same time, they also believed that Mo's success was taking place under a bigger picture of the world's increasing interest toward China and its culture, language and people.
That can be called "China Frenzy" and Chinese publishers are actually riding the wave of it.
"As China became a global economic powerhouse, the number of overseas Chinese language learners grew by leaps and bounds, and that may explain the increasing exports of Chinese language textbooks," said Zhang from the China Book Trading GMBH.
"On the other hand, more and more foreign tourists are interested in China and there is a growing need to know more about the country's political, economic and cultural basics," he added.