China Focus: Buoyant Chinese picture book market lures overseas publishers

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-25 18:28:07|Editor: An
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BEIJING, Aug. 25 (Xinhua) -- Despite the exhibition hall's vast size and being filled with hundreds of children, there is no running, screaming or fighting. Instead, the children are all calmly holding pictures books, attentively reading.

The Beijing International Book Fair is now in its 24th year, but the picture book exhibition only started in 2015 and quickly became a hit with parents and children alike.

Liang Dan, 33, cuddles her son at a corner of the fair, reaches for a book, opens it and begins reading softly. Her son's eyes are glued to the drawings.

"I came here alone in 2015, but have brought my son every year since," she says. "There are picture books from all over the world and my son likes them a lot."

Only four years old, Liang's son has read more than 300 picture books.

A book sales report by Chinese e-commerce giant showed sales of children's literature was the highest among all book categories on the its website in 2016, taking up over 30 percent of the total. Sales of picture books ranked second at 20.2 percent.

A similar report from, China's major online book retailer, had the same result. Of its 14 billion yuan (about 2 billion U.S. dollars) book sales last year, 26.5 percent came from children's literature, another 18.7 percent were from picture books, yearly growth of over 37 percent.

The burgeoning Chinese picture book market has lured publishers from every corner of the globe. This year's fair has attracted more than 2,500 exhibitors from 89 countries and regions, with overseas exhibitors accounting for 58 percent.

It has also set up an "international childhood education hall" for the first time, comprising picture books, illustrations as well as textbooks.

The picture book exhibition displays over 10,000 books in 13 languages, a feast for Chinese parents that attach great importance to early childhood education.

Experience from developed countries showed when the per capita GDP exceeds 5,000 U.S. dollars, the picture book industry booms. In China, the per capita GDP surpassed 8,000 U.S. dollars last year.

Tiia Stranden, a Finnish publisher, came with her peers in Sweden and Denmark, bringing picture books from Northern Europe.

"I know that a lot of our Finnish publishers have their children's picture book copyrights [to China] sold out already. So it's amazing to see how the demand has grown," she told Xinhua. "My experience was that the Chinese publishers are interested in all the titles, so there is demand for a big variety of children's books and picture books."

Li Jia, from Lelequ, a company that specializes in publishing children's books, says Chinese parents were looking for picture books that can help build good emotional intelligence for their children, rather than simply delivering knowledge.

"Everything a child may encounter from making friends in kindergartens, to the topics that parents may find awkward explaining, such as divorce and sex education, are included in the picture books," Li says. "It has become an important communication channel between kids and their parents."

With more imported picture books coming, Chinese publishers are also working to make original Chinese picture books.

According to Li, all of their earliest publications were imported, but now almost 30 percent are Chinese originals, with some even entering overseas markets.

In September last year, Lelequ published a pop-up picture book "Havoc in Heaven," based on the story of the monkey in Chinese classic novel "Journey to the West".

Opening each page unfolds life-like characters depicted in the book, in rich colors and vivid detail. Lelequ wants the book to become an ambassador to introduce traditional Chinese culture to the world.

"The book consists of over 300 parts, each manually pasted, so it is pricy. Our team put a lot of work into the drawing. For instance, the color of the clouds came from the renowned Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes. It is very classic," Li says.

At 329 yuan, the book is indeed expensive. But many Chinese parents believe that the money is worth it.

"I spend thousands of yuan on picture books every year. A picture book that sells at about 100 yuan is acceptable to me, but some books are delicate and innovative, and I will buy it for my son even though it may be costly," Liang says.

A traditional Chinese version of "Havoc in Heaven" is on sale in Taiwan, and English and French versions are under discussion.

"We have published another three-dimensional book 'Chinese Spring Festival,' and its copyright has been sold to many countries. We are very proud," Li says.

Stranden says she had never seen a Chinese picture book in Northern Europe before 2016, but knows one was published in Sweden last year.

"When we promote Finnish literature outside Finland, of course you cannot go only one way. I think with more Finnish picture books getting exported to China, then the other way will also happen," she says.