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August 18, 2009

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Something for everyone at annual festival for city's book lovers

TO many general readers, the annual Shanghai Book Fair at the Shanghai Exhibition Center is a chance to get discounted books and even catch a glimpse of celebrities.

The opening last Thursday saw sales of 3.47 million yuan (US$500,000) and 30,000 visitors. Up until yesterday, the total sales went beyond 10 million yuan, with more than 100,000 visitors.

More than 470 publishers with more than 100,000 kinds of books, 60,000 newly published, are at the fair.

The fair, which ends tomorrow, features nearly 300 seminars, celebrity sections and other events in order to attract visitors of all ages.

But some have found this year's fair "too commercialized."

"I hope they have discounted tickets for students and old people," says 70-year-old reader Shen Guobin, who considers the 20-yuan ticket reasonable.

"It's not that expensive, but I'll still feel better with a discount for old people. Plus, it could also prevent ticket scalpers at the entrance," the old man adds.

Dozens of scalpers kept asking those in line at the ticket boxes to buy half-priced tickets. The retired teacher Shen also found the merchandise vendors at the fair "degrading the level of the event and annoying" and many events "distracting because they are not quite related to the books or to culture."

However, other readers such as 31-year-old IT consultant Larry Zhu find such events quite enjoyable.

Working in a nearby office, Zhu drops by with some colleagues during his lunch break and never expected to see a magic show at the fair.

"I heard there are also dance performances and a section to learn how to make chinaware, which are quite surprising to see at a book fair.

"We all thought the book fair was just to get discounted books and to see celebrities, but it seems more fun with these events," he says.

With the large crowds, most events are filled with visitors. Four kinds of authors were highlighted at the fair - popular Internet writers, well-established traditional authors and scholars, comic book writers and authors of all kinds of practical/professional books.

Net writers

Dozens of young women were lining up at Wu Xuelan's desk, books in hand waiting for the writer's autograph.

Wu, better known as Liulianzi, is among the hottest Internet writers in China. The Zhejiang Province native came to the local book fair with her newly released book "Finale of the Harem," the 7th book in her series "The Harem: The legend of Zhenhuan." The series was a big hit online before it was printed and published.

Net novels have been gaining momentum over the past two or three years, sometimes even outshining mainstream literature. Many young people and students prefer unknown Net writers to the big names.

The "Harem" series, a typical Net novel, has sold more than 1 million copies after gaining great popularity since its debut on the Internet, according to an employee of Chongqing Press, the book's publisher, surnamed Zuo.

"I don't see many differences between the mainstream literature and Net literature: they just rely on a different medium," says Zuo.

An attractive plot is the selling point of Net novels. With vivid, classic languages, the series depicts a chaotic life of an imperial concubine.

A junior high school Chinese teacher, Wu masters classic Chinese writing and history.

Young people make up the majority of readers for Net novels, thanks to their convenient and frequent access to the Internet. Most of the fans of Wu's book are young women born in the 1980s who admire the strength and wisdom of the heroine in the story - a royal concubine who tries her best to reach the crown as queen.

"I'm deeply drawn to its plot and language. It leaves more to the imagination than a TV series, and is easier to read and more attractive than traditional novels," says 22-year-old fan Jessica Liu.

Fans of Net novels tend to pay more attention to the book itself rather than the writer, as most of them know little or nothing about Wu. It is a common case for Net writers due to their grassroot origins.

The writers seem to accept and enjoy that situation.

"I've never thought of becoming a full-time writer, that would be dull. Writing on the Internet is a way of expressing myself. Once I turn off my computer, I'm nobody but a teacher," Wu says.

Wu is currently busy fashioning the book into a script, which is to be made into a TV drama.

Comic strips

Comic strips at the book fair vary from traditional Chinese xiaorenshu (children's books), to modern ones that adopt Japanese comic styles, like "Little Embarrassments in Work" by Zuo Jun, better known by her pen name Gezizuozuo.

The comic strip she is promoting at the fair was serialized in a business magazine, CBN Weekly, and later became a book.

Her work highlights the fun aspects of ordinary daily life.

"This book is inspired by my own experiences. You can find lots of my colleagues in the pictures," says the Shanghai native as she draws a cute bunny on a book for a fan.

Her next release will be about her happy marriage, aiming to depict a typical marriage life of couples born in the 1980s.

In her mid-20s, Zuo quit her well-paid job as a designer in a publishing house to focus on drawing cartoons.

"I would rather become an otaku (those who stay at home and get addicted to their hobbies) and paint. I have never deliberately planned anything; things just come to me naturally," Zuo says.

Fans of Zuo's comics range from office workers to primary school kids.

"I really like her pictures, lively, relaxing and funny. Her book is very popular among my classmates," says a 16-year-old fan.

Traditional xiaorenshu also have their place at the fair.

Chinese comic strips date back to the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and have been popular since the 1920s.

But, due to the invasion of Japanese comic strips, Chinese comic strips began to fade in the 1980s.

In order to rebuild China comic books' standing, Shanghai People's Fine Arts Publishing House is holding a promotion activity in which, after reading for 15 minutes, the reader can get a book for free.

The event is proving popular with everyone from young children to middle-aged men and senior citizens.

Mainstream literature

Many famous contemporary writers of mainstream literature are at the Shanghai Book Fair to promote their books and attract readers.

They prefer the print media to the Internet when they publish their new works.

Nowadays, electronic writing, such as Net and cellphone novels, has been a strong competitor of the mainstream literature.

Mainstream writers are often well-established celebrities - most readers have heard of their names even if they never read their books.

Wang Xiaoying and Qin Wenjun, two of the best contemporary women novelists, also attended the book fair to sign and promote their new novels. Both are native Shanghainese and neither fear competition from Net novels.

"I got my literary inspiration from classic texts like 'A Dream of Red Mansions' and I never read Net novels. I don't hold any objections to new types of literature. Such forms have increased connections between authors and readers which will improve the quality of the work," says Wang.

Wang's new novel "Changjie Xing" ("Walking Along the Long Street") is about a young woman's psychological growth toward maturity.

The story happens in the traditional longtang (alleyway) in Shanghai in the 1970s, a time when the nation was undergoing great changes.

Qin is a famous children's book writer known for the best-selling book and movie "Nansheng Jia Li" ("Schoolboy Jia Li").

This year she has brought a selection of her best children's stories, including "The Poor Girl Xinxiang and the Rich Girl Keren" and "Jia You Xiaochou" ("A Clown At Home").

"'The Poor Girl and the Rich Girl' story is my daughter's favorite. In fact, I wrote this story to cultivate my daughter's reading habit because she used to be a cartoon addict and I was not happy about that," says Qin.

She attracted many children to her event and she encourages them to read more rather than getting overwhelmed by the Internet.

Practical books

As people are under more and more pressure in modern society, many books are brought out to help people solve their daily problems, with subjects such as personal investment plans, how to educate kids and how to deal with office policies.

Such practical books are often on the best-selling list. Their authors, often experts in different fields, also received a warm welcome at the book fair.

Wu Xing-wen, a Taiwanese publisher, brought a series of books on children's education written by three experts on educational psychology.

"The main attraction of these books is that they combine educational theories with real-life experience, for the authors are very experienced and have treated many cases of psychological disorder in children," says Wu.

It is also a main reason behind the popularity of most practical books - real cases combined with theories. The combinations make the books easier to read and understand.


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