ORIGINALITY HELPS TO OPEN UP A NEW ERA Analysis of the Influence for Chinese Children’s Books Collected by Libraries across the World

来源:International Publishing Journal



China’s publishing and academia feel quite excited at the news that shortly after children’s literature writer Cao Wenxuan won the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2016, Chinese illustrator Xiong Liang was shortlisted for the same award of 2018 just before China took part in Bologna Children’s Book Fair as guest of honor. However, people are quite divided over this, as some believe it demonstrates that children’s books of China already take up a prominent position in the world, while some retort that China has yet to become a country good at producing many outstanding children’s books, as the number of original books it produces still lags far behind and a couple of writers winning international award doesn’t mean anything. How does children’s book of China fare in the global market? This question catches the attention of both the publishing and the academia. This article tries to provide an answer by exploring from the regular angle, citing the example of the number of books published from 1956 to 2016 by China Children’s Publishing House incorporated in the libraries across the world.


He Mingxing

  Professor of Beijing Foreign Studies University

  Executive Director of Center for Evaluating the Effect of Chinese Culture’s Global Development

The Publishing of Children's Book: Growing in Tandem with China's Society  

Founded on June 1, 1956 under the jurisdiction of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League, China Children’s Publishing House is a national level agency to publish juvenile and children’s books. Its development is an embodiment of the publishing of children’s books in China. Up to 1966, 10 years after its founding, it had published 729 children’s books of different varieties, with total copies exceeding 100,000,000. In this decade, it also started to publish children’s magazines such as Middle School Students, We Love Science and Children’s Literature , which have been children’s companions for generations as they grew up. To date, all of China’s original children’s books which enjoy global fame were published by this publishing house, such as Tales of the Spring and Autumn Period , Tales of Warring States , Tales of the Western Han Dynasty , Scarecrow, Stories of the Lin Brothers , The Secret of the Precious Gourd , The Treasured Ship , The Adventure of a Doll , The Goddess Conch , Tales of Avanti , Zhang Ga the Solider Boy , Splendid Journey , The Little Holster and Uncle “Boots”, Fishing Boy , Baby Tadpoles Looking for Mummy , Jin Gua and Yin Dou , and Pony across the River . These books were introduced to many countries and regions in the world in the forms of illustrated editions, comic books and picture books.

  China Children’s Publishing House has boasted a team of outstanding authors and illustrators, not least the group of “Golden authors” and “Golden illustrators”, who has topped the list of children’s book publishing talents in this country. The publishing house’s authors included many renowned writers such as Mao Dun, Ye Shengtao, Mao Yisheng, Hua Luogeng, Lu Jiaxi, Li Siguang, Bing Xin, Zhang Tianyi, Wu Han, Lin Handa, Yan Wenjing, Ye Junjian, Chen Bochui, Gao Shiqi and Ye Zhishan. This publishing house has been selecting “Golden Authors” and “Golden Illustrators” of China ever since 1994. Those awarded the honor of First “Golden Authors” and “Golden Illustrators” were Sun Youjun, Yu Xinyan, Zhu Zhongyu, Su Shuyang, Jin Bo, Zhang Zhilu, Zhang Jingzhong, Yan Yiyan, Wen Quanyuan, and Chen Yuxian. The winners of the Second “Golden Authors” and “Golden Illustrators” were Ma Ming, Tu Xiaoming, Bu Yulin, Bing Bo, Li Zhiyi, Chen Jin, Zhang Junyi, Wu Guanying, Meng Xiangcai and Jin Tao. And the winners of the Third “Golden Authors” and “Golden Illustrators” were Ma Ainong, Li Yupei, Li Quanhua, Ruan Jiaxin, Shen Shixi, Wu Qing, Lin Hua, Zheng Chunhua, Gao Hongbo and Cheng Sixin. All of them are representative authors or illustrators of children’s books of China. In 2000, it merged with China Youth Paper into the CCPPG (China Children’s Press & Publication Group). Over the course of more than six decades, its development has been an epitome of the publishing of children’s books in China.

  After searching from the large database OCLC, which covers over 20,000 libraries of more than 100 countries, I found that 3,907 books produced by CCPPG were collected by the world library system from the publishing house’s founding in 1956 to 2016. Table 1 depicts the trend of development in the 60 years.

  The world library system adopts strict criteria in selecting Chinese-language books, favoring scarcity and originality when deciding which books to collect.As a result, the number of Chineselanguage children’s books collected by the world libraries can be considered as one of the indicators of these books’originality capacity.

  From Table 1 we can see that the the originality capacity of children’s books in China has been gradually improved during the six decades, almost going hand in hand with China’s social development. The process can be categorized into six phases successively, namely period of start-up, period of stagnation, period of recovery, period of rapid development, period of expansion, and period of flourishing. The period of start-up lasted from 1956 to 1966, when children’s books in China started from scratch. In the decade, the number of children’s books with certain level of originality capacity ranged from 30 to 50 every year. Throughout the tenyear “Cultural Revolution” (period of stagnation), as we can see from Table 1, few books of this kind were published from 1967 to 1976, as indicated by the single-digit number in four years and zero in six years. The period of recovery referred to the decade from 1978 to 1988. From Table 1, it can be found that it was not until 1988 that the number had recovered to the level of 1966. In 1988, the number was 49, rivaling 44 in 1956, the first year of its founding. The period of rapid development lasted from 1989 to 1999, when the number grew gradually each year, reaching a record high of 119 in 1999.

  The period of expansion was from 2000 to 2009, when China Children’s Publishing House merged with China Youth Paper into the CCPPG, which is the first specialized group dedicated to the publishing of children’s books in China. This merge improved the quality and scale of the publishing of children’s books in China, as the number exceeded 200 in 2009, when 206 books were collected by the world library system. The period of flouring started in 2010 and lasted till today. Table 1 tells us that in the period from 2010 to 2016, the number of this publishing house’s books collected by world libraries grew year by year, exceeding 300 in 2014. This period also coincided with the diversification of the publishing of children’s books in China. For instance, after the CCPPG was founded, Changjiang Children’s Publishing Group and 21st Century Publishing Group were established in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Some publishing houses are also working hard to expand the international market by setting up joint ventures on children’s book publishing with foreign partners. They also try new models of Internet + publishing platform + online learning platform, applying digital publishing techniques that have been developing rapidly.

  There is a perception in the academia that there are two “golden decades” in the publishing of children’s books in China. In his article The Age of the Publishing of Children’s Books in China (published on the June 2016 issue of China Publishing Journal), Mr. Hai Fei pointed out that there are three distinctive features about the golden decades. First, many outstanding writers, flagship writers and bestseller authors are emerging with their brilliant works, such as Cao Wenxuan, who wrote The Grass House and Bronze and Sunflower , Yang Hongying, who produced MO’s Mischief and the Diary of a Smiling Cat , and Shen Shixi, who produced the Animal Story Series . Second, as more and more publishing houses start to produce children’s books, mass publishing has replaced specialized publishing. Over 520 out of 584 publishing houses in China produce children’s books. Third, we have witnessed a constant growth in the variety, total copies and sales volume of children’s books. In the first decade of the 21st century, more than 40,000 children’s books were published,ranking the first in the world. Among the 40,000 books, children’s literature books exceeded 16,000. Every year, a total number of more than 600 million copies were published and over 200,000 books were on sale, yielding more than 10 billion yuan in sales. With its annual output value growing in double-digit for 10 years in a row, children’s books have become the most dynamic and competitive sector with greatest potential and fastest development in the publishing circle. Hai Fei’s notion of “golden decades” is generally in conformity with the conclusion of this article on the period of expansion from 2000 to 2009 and period of flourishing from 2010 till today.

  All in all, in the 60-odd years, the publishing of children’s books in China started from scratch and grew stronger as time passed by, synchronizing with China’s social development, as evidenced by the number of books produced CCPPG which are collected by the world library system.

Most Collected Childre's Book of China by the World Libraries in the Past 60 Years  

The following Form 1 sums up the search results in the OCLC system, recording the most collected books in the world library system from the founding of China Children’s Publishing House in 1956 to 2016. The most collected books are the most globally influential ones. Therefore, the following form shows Chinese children’s books which are most influential in the world in the past six decades.

  We can see from Form 1 that from 1956 to 2016, among the 82 books selected according to the number of libraries collecting the books, 2 or 3 books were incorporated into the system in 15 years, while in 2009 and 2016, 11 and 7 books were incorporated respectively, the highest number in the six decades. According to the ranking, we can roughly get a list of Chinese children’s books that are most influential globally. There is a lot to explore in this list, and two questions catch my mind.

  First, why don’t world libraries collect many book varieties produced during the “Golden Decades”as called by the academia in China?

  From Form 1, we can see that only a few world libraries collect books produced by CCPPG in nearly two decades from 2000 to 2016, as almost no book produced by the publishing house during this period got collections from more than 20 world libraries. For instance, 12 world libraries collects Gao Hongbo’s Cricket’s Diary (children’s literature, picture book), which was published in 2015, and 10 world libraries collects Yang Hongying’s The Mouse Chasing the Sun (children’s literature, illustrated edition) and Moth’s Waltz (children’s literature, illustrated edition). As CCPPG doesn’t hold the copyright of some famous writers, I also tried to identify how many world libraries collect the books of these writers and found that these books don’t get many collections either. According to the statistics provided in Hai Fei’s article, Cao Wenxuan’s The Grass House wer’e republished 300 times in China, and his Bronze and Sunflower were republished over 150 times. However, the 1997 version of The Grass House published by CCPPG have been collected by only 12 world libraries, while the 2005 version of Bronze and Sunflower has been collected by 15 world libraries.

  Why the world libraries don’t collect many books produced in the “Golden Decades”? There can be many answers to this question. But in answering it, one can’t avoid the following questions: since the core of children’s books in China lies in its cultural originality, then what is the orientation of the cultural originality? What is the logic positioning for the originality of children’s books in China? How to ensure originality? These questions pertain to the innovation in China’s humanities and social sciences. As a saying goes, a drop of water reflects the sunlight, children’s books reflect the seriousness of these questions.

  Second, only contents built upon our own culture and knowledge genealogy can command respect. Therefore, when publishing children’s books, we should reconsider the orientation of creativity and originality.

  As shown by Form 1, Selection of Outstanding Works from Children’s Literature from 1963 to 1983 published in 1983 has been collected by 34 world libraries, ranking the first among all these books. The book is of great literature value as it is a well-illustrated book which includes the works of many famous children’s literature writers published in the Children’s Literature, magazine from 1963 to 1983. Such as Bing Xin, Liu Zhen and Ru Zhijuan published in the Children’s Literature writers, magazine from 1963 to 1983. As the threshold of collection by no less than 30 libraries (about 1.5% of the total members of OCLC) signifies the influence of Chinese-language books in the world libraries, the abovementioned book deserves to be rated as the most internationally influential children’s book in China.

  The second influential one is When Chairman Mao was Young (published in1977) edited by Zhou Shizhao. Writing in straightaway Chinese, this book includes several stories about youth Mao Zedong’s revolutionary career in Changsha, Hunan and Peking University, such as Looking at the Map , Organizing Xinmin Institute , First Time in Beijing , The Pioneering Culture Bookstore , Founding Night Schools to Connect with Farmers and Workers , At Qingshuitang , etc. Since Mao Zedong was the founder and leader of the People’s Republic of China and enjoyed high reputation in the world, just like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington of the US, his stories would surely catch attention of children readers from different countries and regions worldwide. Although the book was published in 1977, shortly after the ending of the “Cultural Revolution”, and its printing quality lagged far behind that of today’s, the book has been collected by 29 world library systems, becoming the second most globally influential children’s book of China. The third is Zhu Min’s Remembering My Father, NPC Chairman Zhu De , which was published in 1978. This book is of the same kind as When Chairman Mao was Young , became Zhu De was also one of the founders of the People’s Republic of China. who enjoyed worldwide fame. This book, written by Zhu De’s daughter Zhu Min, narrates daily life stories of Zhu De’s interactions with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and his own children. Through these details, it describes another colorful aspeet of this great man. The Story about a Blanket Call Him Uncle Mao and Uncle Zhou Taught Me to Escape from Danger in the book are quite touching stories. The book is collected by 28 world libraries, ranking the third in terms of global influence.

  The fact that these two books rank the top gives us a direction that the development of publishing original children’s books of China in this country must be deeply rooted in our own civilization and cultural genes. For example, a majority of current literary works focus on plants, animal, science fiction, and the future, while development of stories about our national heroes such as founders, as well as famous scientists, writers, and artists of the People’s Republic of China, lags far behind in terms of the number and form of non-fictional works about American heroes in their children’s books. Children’s books undoubtedly play a more important part than any other books in portraying our national heroes and establishing our cultural genes. It deserves high attention of children’s book publishers in China.

  Lin Handa’s Stories of Warring States (comic book) published in 1962 as one book in a series shares the third place with Remembering My Father, NPC Chairman Zhu De . Lin Handa (19001972), native of Ningbo, Zhejiang, was a famous Chinese educator, philologist and historian. He graduated from Hangchow University in 1924 and went to the US in 1937 for further study. After returning to China, he became professor of Yenching University and then held the position of Vice Minister of Education. His works of popular history are young readers’ favorite, as these works combine humorous style with plain language, providing a fascinating account of China’s history. His books have been popular among readers for decades, exerting influence on generations of youngsters. His famous works include Tales of States in the Eastern Zhou Dynasty , China’s 5000-year History , and Tales of the Three Kingdoms. Stories of Warring States (comic book) was accompanied by illustrations upon publishing, therefore it is quite influential and collected by 28 world libraries. His picture books, comic books and illustrated edition of Chinese historic tales have been republished many times like an evergreen in the market.

  In addition to books listed in Form 1, I also looked up the number of books produced by other domestic children’s book publishing houses which, are collected by the world library system, and found that the most influential book produced by Jiangsu Youth and Children Publishing House since its founding in 1980 is The Historical Records (illustrated edition) published in 2004, as it is collected by 37 world libraries, exceeding Selection of Outstanding Works from Children’s Literature from 1963 to 1983 published by China Children’s Publishing House in 1983, which got 34 collections from world libraries. The number reinforced my previous judgment that the publishing of children’s books about Chinese historical tales is quite mature. As the most creative part of children’s books in China, this kind of books has been widely collected by the world library systems.

  All in all, there is a lot to explore from the statistics of this publishing house in the past six decades, and this article only presents my personal opinion, which is not necessarily comprehensive or accurate. As for the discussion around the news that Chinese authors won or was shortlisted for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, there is an agreement that only original works deeply rooted in our own culture can have worldwide influence in the real sense. Therefore, there is still a long way to go for the publishing industry of children’s books in China.