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December 30, 2011

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Translated books make a mark in publishing industry

IT was a good year for publishers in China. Total sales of the publishing market increased 6.2 percent from January to November compared to the same period in 2010, according to a recent survey by OpenBook, which analyzes the Chinese publishing industry.

The Chinese publishing market has witnessed many best-sellers in various fields from popular science to tomb-raider fiction in the past year. Various translated books have also had an impact on the market this year.

Over the last few years, many popular translated works such as the Harry Potter series and works by Haruki Murakami (author of "Kafka on the Shore") have generated big profits for publishers. This has pushed Chinese publishers to pay increasingly attention to acquiring the copyrights of potential best-selling foreign books.

Only a few years ago, it was still normal for the Chinese translation of a popular foreign book to be published a few months or even a few years later, with a copyright fee of a few thousand US dollars, according to an industry insider. She also tells Shanghai Daily that the fierce competition among Chinese publishers have pushed up prices - in extreme cases to US$500,000 or more. This is very expensive for the Chinese market, where a single book often sells for around 40 yuan (US$6).

On the other hand, the competition offers Chinese readers more translated books to choose from.

Shanghai Daily picks 10 best-selling and influential translated works from 2011. Some are new translations of world classics including the first authorized Chinese version of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

The list is in chronicle order of the publishing date in China.

1. The Cricket in Times Square

Written by George Selden

Illustrated by Garth Williams

Translated by Fu Xiangwen

Published in January

The famous illustrated book tells a simple and warm story of a cricket from the countryside who is accidentally taken to New York. There, the cricket meets a mouse and a cat. The three run into accidents one after another, in which they help and receive help.

According to OpenBook's survey, children's books had the biggest sales increase in 2011, up 12.8 percent from January to November compared with the same period in 2010. The book was last published in 1998 and this new translation came at a golden time for children's literature in China. It is currently the No.1 best-seller in the children's book category on

2. The Original of Laura

Written by Vladimir Nabokov

Translated by Tan Huijuan

Published in March

"The Original of Laura" has remained significant among fans of Nabokov since the author died in 1977, especially because he required the uncompleted work to be destroyed in his will. Instead, the novel, written on more than 100 library index cards, was locked into the bank. For many years, fans and literature critics have speculated about who Laura is, until the author's son decided to publish the book in 2009.

Controversy about whether the book should have been published against the author's will or whether it was good enough have surrounded it since 2009. The Chinese version provides Chinese readers a chance to join the discussion. Leaving the controversies behind, the Chinese version, published in English and Chinese, is quite loyal to the original. It even includes pictures of the original library index cards where Nabokov wrote the story.

3. Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory

Written by Peter Hessler

Translated by Li Xueshun

Published in May

The book records the experience of its author, a foreign journalist in China, who got a Chinese driver's license in the summer of 2001 and drove around the country during the next seven years. In the book, he objectively follows how a farmer and his family start a business, putting a human face on rapid changes and economic development taking place in China.

The book's Chinese version became an immediate hit upon being published in May, recommended by many famed Chinese scholars, intellectuals and celebrities. For many Chinese readers it was a unique experience to find familiar and unfamiliar details about their nation through the eye's of a foreigner.

4. One Hundred Years of Solitude

Written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Translated by Fan Ye

Published in June

The non-linear multi-generational story follows the development of the Buendia family and the town of Macondo, which the family's patriarch founded.

It was one of the most influential literature works for Chinese writers in the 1980s and 1990s, filling Chinese literature journals with a lot of similar short stories and novels. It was a shock for many to realize there was never an authorized Chinese translation of the book this June, when the first authorized Chinese version was published.

The publisher made "the first authorized" version a key point in promoting, a successful strategy that made the book an instant hit. News and discussions also surrounded its copyright charge, said to be close to US$1 million, which scared away most Chinese publishers.

5. Decision Points

Written by George W. Bush

Translated by a group of amateur translators from

Published in August

The Chinese translation of the former US president's autobiography claimed to have no changes from the original. More than 300,000 copies, a very successful number, were reportedly sold.

6. Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea

Written by Carl Zimmer

Translated by Tang Jiahui

Published in August

The popular science book contains a detailed and easy-to-understand explanation about evolution on the earth. It also tells how the theory was resisted by religious forces, was long believed to be true by other scientists and finally won mainstream acceptance.

The book's Chinese translation stands out in the market among hundreds of pop novels.

7. The Secret Supper

Written by Javier Sierra

Translated by Xiao Baosen

Published in September

This Spanish historical thriller depicts a deadly game of wits between Leonardo da Vinci and Father Agostino Leyre, an expert on the interpretation of secret messages, surrounding da Vinci's masterpiece "The Last Supper." Sierra visited China in December for the book's promotion and gave lectures about his research. The success of the book exemplifies how increasingly more visits of foreign writers to China boost sales of their books here.

8. Steve Jobs

Written by Walter Isaacson

Translated by Yu Qian and others

Published in October

The biography of the late Steve Jobs, considered one of the most innovative and influential persons of the century, is a best-seller around the world and it is no exception in China, where the products of the company he co-founded sell extremely well.

The book's translated version is a successful case where a Chinese version of a best-selling foreign book is released on the same date as everywhere else. On its debut on October 24, Shanghai Book City on Fuzhou Road alone sold out all 1,800 copies within hours.

By now, the book has sold close to 2 million copies on the Chinese mainland, making it one of the best-selling books of the entire year.

9. 2666

Written by Roberto Bolano

Translated by Zhao Deming

Published in November

The apocalyptic novel was written in the last five years of the author's life. The manuscript was rescued from his desk after Bolano died in 2003.

It depicts the unsolved serial murders of Ciudad Juarez, the Eastern Front in World War II and the breakdown of relationships. The difficult work became a surprise hit when it reached stores in November, selling more than 1,000 copies within the first three days of release - very rare for a long serious literature work like this.

10. You Don't Belong: Pasts and Futures of Indian Cinema

Published in December

It is a compilation of essays and papers on Indian cinema, the first of its kind in Chinese, although the Bollywood movies have been popular around the world for a while.


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