Chinese Contemporary Literature Assembles to “Go Overseas” and Let its Stories Do the Talking




 The “literary recognition” of Chinese contemporary writers’ works continues to grow in the overseas market. Many scholars have already ascertained promising signs from behind the uptrend: overseas readers and publishing industries’ interest in Chinese novels is no longer confined to satisfying mere exoticism or intensifying stereotypes but derives from aesthetic appreciation. As for Chinese literary works themselves, successful “exportation” depends more on their artistic quality, aesthetic style, and ideological depth.

  Chinese works continue to unleash their literary charm upon the world. Not long ago, China swept up quite a craze for all things Eastern at the Havana International Book Fair. As the guest of honor country to Cuba, China composed its own “Chinese Literature Series,” comprising novellas and short stories from many famous contemporary writers such as Tie Ning, Su Tong, Wang Anyi, and Chi Zijian. Spanish language editions were also distributed at the fair, showcasing the vivid and rich image of contemporary China. Decoded by Mai Jia was included in the list of “20 best spy novels of all time,” following the official release of its French version after the previous launch of 33 foreign languages versions. Liu Cixin won six awards within the genre of international fantasy literature, including the Hugo Prize, for his popular work The Three-Body Problem. Recently, the Spanish version won the Best Foreign Novel Award at the Ignotus Awards. As Chinese Internet Literature continues to “go overseas,” it attracts more and more fans and followers and has already aroused the interests of many foreign friends online eager to learn about Chinese culture.

       While “sending out” literature has maintained an increasingly firm pace, the domestic publishing market has also been delighted to observe the subtle benefits of “looking inside.” He Mingxing, a Professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, informed our reporter that for a long period of time, the overseas evaluation system of China’s contemporary literature tended to start from a Western-centric perspective, with interpretations focusing most on the ideology of a novel’s theme. Many appraisals were seemingly made through rose tinted glasses as evaluators laboriously scoured biased literary works in search of representations of a “backward China.” This was done to satisfy the prejudices or preconceptions of certain people. “This can hardly be described as a professional international literary dialogue. It is stories themselves that really touch the heart. Chinese literature has the capacity to conquer the world with its artistic and aesthetic values.”

 Subvert prejudices and bestow the story with a heartbeat like Forever Young’s

  Recently, the British Daily Telegraph named its best 20 spy novels of the past hundred years. Chinese writer Mai Jia's novel Decoded, the original work From Russia with Love of the “007 Bond series,” the original work The Bourne Supremacy on which the film Bourne Identity is based, and other classic works were included on the list.

  Decoded firmly caught the eye of overseas critics due to its readability. The novel tells the story of a mathematics expert named Rong Jinzhen who, on being recruited to the State Secret Service, dedicates himself to breaking the “purple code” and “black code”. His struggles on this secret front vividly reveal the protagonist’s patriotic feelings to the reader. Not long ago, the French version of Decoded was published. The translator Claude Payen has said that the various literary genres of the West are clearly defined, while Decoded breaks the fixed narrative structure that is expected of European and American spy novels, thus being able to express the depths of the character’s psychology. Kirschbaum, Editor-in-Chief of “Penguin Modern Classics,” also supported this view, “Mai Jia subverted our traditional impressions of China writers, and the subject of his writing is very much a global one. That said, his writing remains sufficiently Chinese in that elements of the Oriental mystery story are intertwined with the great era of unrest and phantom. It is dynamic and complex enough to be considered a good job by any novelist.”

  As only footsteps can be sensed in ordinary stories, many readers praised the heartbeat that can be felt throughout Decoded. A good story that has its own “heartbeat” is the “trump card” for any novelist wanting to make it internationally. Besides being a well cultivated and strong work in and of itself, though, Decoded could not have achieved this level of acclaim and popularity without the joint force of language translation and propagation. Due to authentic language translations, the strong recommendations of sinologists, and the hot reviews of overseas mainstream media and critics, Decoded has been favored by two international publishing giants, Penguin Publishing Group and FSG Group of the United States. The royalty rate for Decoded is much higher than that of ordinary Chinese writers, which is about 6% of overseas publications. The work has reached the top 15% of the best-selling writers in Europe and America. A senior copyright agent has said, once the English translation of a novel gets a firm foothold, the promotion of other European languages versions will be a great success. When the largest Spanish press launched the Spanish version of Decoded, 18 bus routes throughout the country advertised it for 40 consecutive days with the cover picture of the novel being seen everywhere in the streets. After the “Snowden Incident,” many overseas publishers took the opportunity to push forward with the publicity of Decoded and the novel has been ever increasing in popularity on social platforms.

  Personalized writers’ bios broaden “exportation” channels

  According to the literature publishing industry, the phenomenon of Decoded represents a classic case of “exportation” for China’s contemporary literature and possesses great significance. The literary value, aesthetic sensibilities, and spiritual features apparent in Chinese contemporary literature are not only the experience of China but also part of the world experience. In order to promote the influence and identification of contemporary literature abroad, it is necessary to ponder the brand creation methods of writers, how best to let their good works do the talking, and means to avoid conceptualization and symbolization.

  Yu Yunquan, Deputy Director of China Center for International Communication Studies, has presented a set of data taken from overseas surveys on Chinese national image among the world's 22 largest economies. The data indicates that over 60% of the people surveyed think that “Chinese cuisine” and “Chinese medicine” are the most representative of Chinese culture while only 10% consider that Chinese literary works represent Chinese culture. “It is not difficult to find that Chinese contemporary writers’ groups are not yet seen as distinct. Some foreign language editions of literary works which are domestically published have not interacted well with overseas publishing institutions. Having been shelved overseas, many translations fail to attract the attention of mainstream literature researchers and ordinary readers.” Some scholars have pointed out that many writers feel “accomplished” after the translation and publication of their works abroad and so stop actively participating in the overseas promotion of translations, leading to a decline in the work’s growth momentum.

  How should we further improve the exportation of Chinese literature? Recently, a program entitled “The International Database for Contemporary Chinese Writers and Their Works” was launched to recommend 100 outstanding Chinese contemporary writers to the world. The program assembled a varied team of specialists and literary institutions: Selected Novels provided resources on contemporary writers and works; Chinese Culture Translation and Studies Support Network (CCTSS) was responsible for the overseas translators' resources and technical support; Beijing Language and Culture University organized sinologists to strengthen the academic support available. The portraits, resumes, and representative works of 100 writers as well as a short video showcasing the individual style of the contemporary writers, were made into personalized “writer bios,” and then translated into ten languages, including Arabic, English, French, German, Russian, Spanish, and Portuguese. A total of 1000 bio cards are being made per author which clearly declare to the world: I am a Chinese writer, I am making Chinese creations.