Australian writer Claire Scobie’s Secrets of Travel Writing published as Chinese ebook

Traditional Chinese travel writing is more like today’s travelogue, but with a more “evocative” nature, when viewed according to Wikipedia’s definition of travel writing and its most common sub-genres. Because Chinese people have traditionally valued stability more than freedom, those who traveled far away from home in ancient times were often political dissidents, economic refugees, and victims of natural catastrophes and/or manmade disasters such as war. Considering themselves as being in physical, emotional and psychological exile, when these people did write, the focus of their writings had often been to reflect upon men’s position in Nature. The emphasis was never Nature itself, but how men could learn from Nature to educate and improve themselves.

Since the Ming Dynasty, or the mid-14th century, Chinese travel writing had become increasingly similar to today’s travel journal with a “narrative” nature. Scholars and poets wandered through the land purely for artistic pleasure, and their writings were often descriptions of not only various aspects of Nature’s beauty, but also the unique customs, practices, cuisines, mannerisms, beliefs and even myths of local people. These writings are studied today as factual records of what Chinese life had once been in all corners of the land.

Fast forward to the 19th and the 20th centuries, when China became divided between those who aspired to science, freedom and democracy and those who believed in centralized political, economic and cultural dictatorship. Eventually China was split in two, and both sides had shut their doors to keep their citizens from traveling overseas. In Taiwan there was the Martial Law, which, in the name of national security, enforced censorship and denied the people of their rights of assembly, free speech and publication. In China there had been the infamous Cultural Revolution, in which everything was destroyed to make way for the birth of a new Communist society under constant, rigid and government-authorized surveillance.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s the people in Taiwan prospered and began to desire overseas travel. However, the only Chinese travel writing they had then was produced by those studying overseas, married to Westerners or working as diplomats in other countries. The government lifted the Martial Law in 1987 and the nation’s gate was thrown wide open, with an average of five million people each year rushing out of Taiwan to see the world in the early 1990s. Travel writing boomed as people started recording, discussing and sharing what they saw, felt and thought, and the trend continues today.

China officially adopted an Open Door Policy in 1978 to promote foreign trade and economic investment. However, it was not until 1991 that Chinese citizens were allowed to participate in organized journeys to a handful of Southeast Asian countries. In 1997, the government finally permitted foreign touristic travels for personal pleasure, and the Chinese outbound flood had begun. According to China Travel, 38.6 million Chinese citizens ventured overseas in the first half of 2012, a nearly 20-percent increase over the same period last year. It is estimated that Chinese tourists will make 80 million overseas trips by the end of 2012, and that number will increase to 100 million by 2015.

So this is the era of travel writing for the Greater China, not only by established and emerging travel writers in Taiwan and China, but also by international travel writers. In Taiwan, Marco Polo Press, Inc. was established in 1998 to promote travel literature, and has since published hundreds of books in this genre by renowned authors such as Peter Matthiessen, Alan Booth, Tim Macintosh-Smith, Paul Theroux, Jan Morris, Stanley Stewart, Gavin Bell, Orhan Pamuk, V.S. Naipaul and Octavio Paz. The (in)famous Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert, was considered the book “most enjoyed in Taiwan in 2010”.

And the Internet has further enabled authors across the Greater China to publish their travel experiences via blogs and online forums, and a number of them have since found opportunities to publish their works as physical books. While there are some excellent travel writings that are “evocative” in nature, there is no doubt that many authors are still trying to figure out how to turn their travel journals, records and diaries into well-organized, enjoyable and even inspiring travel writings with a distinct literary value.

Under these circumstances, the translation and publishing of Australian writer Claire Scobie’s Secrets of Travel Writing as an ebook in both Traditional Chinese (for readers from Taiwan) and Simplified Chinese (for readers from China) is a significant achievement. Described as a “travel writer’s toolkit to success”, the 10-step ebook gives readers an insider’s edge to travel writing in print and online. Readers will learn how to pitch, where to sell their works, and how to create must-read travel stories. More importantly, from conducting research to knowing their market, from generating ideas to composing the actual story, from revising and editing to promoting their work, and from establishing a network of contacts and pitching to their ideal publications — this book teaches readers not only how to write travel stories, but also how to write.

In translating this book, which Claire has originally written and published in electronic format via her Red Lily Press, I have acquired her permission to insert the URLs of some of the most popular travel websites, online forums and blogs in the Chinese world. While Secrets of Travel Writing already features a good collection of useful travel websites, as well as a series of excellent travel writings and anthologies, these are for English-language readers. Therefore, I think it is necessary to include in the book some Chinese content that specifically targets local Chinese readers.

Finally, here is a brief introduction to Claire Scobie, author of Last Seen in Lhasa, winner of the Dolman Best Travel Book Award in 2007. Claire writes for The Daily Telegraph and The Observer, and is a contributor to The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sun-Herald and Marie Claire. She lives in Sydney, teaches travel writing workshops, and is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers. Currently working on two new books, a novel and a second travel memoir, she is completing a doctorate degree in creative arts.

For more information about Claire Scobie’s Secrets of Travel Writing as a Chinese ebook, please click here.

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