“Chinese Reading Inspiration for Adults” Presentation at the #Chinese #Reading and #Writing Festival

 

On February 27, I did a presentation for the Chinese Reading and Writing Festival organised by the Whitehorse Manningham Libraries. My topic was “Chinese Reading Inspiration for Adults”, where I shared some of my favourite Chinese-language books with the audience. I also talked about my own experience as a translator and a publisher of digital and print books. You can access a copy of my presentation in PDF format HERE (in Traditional Chinese & English).

I started out with an introduction of who I am, what I do, and how I am a firm believer in the Power of Words and how it can impact on individuals and communities to help making our world a better place. I am lucky to be able to enjoy books in both English and Chinese languages that are published both traditionally and independently and in both digital and print formats. Even better, i get to help emerging and established authors, literary agents and publishers to translate, publish and promote their titles in both English and Chinese Worlds. Sometimes I feel I am the most fortunate person in the whole world.

I then introduced three interesting Chinese characters, which can be arranged in different ways to express different ideas about books. See the image above, where the characters “book”, “read” and “good” could be combined in six different ways as you read them in each of the three rows and three columns:

“read – book – good”: Reading a book (or books) is good.

“like/love/enjoy – read – book”: I like/love/enjoy reading a book (or books). Here, the character “good” is used as a verb, instead of an adjective.

“book – good – read”: Make a book a good read.

“read – good – book”: Read a good book (or books).

“book – read – good”: (How to) read a book (or books) well. Here, the character “good” is used as an adverb, instead of an adjective.

“good – book – read”: A good book (or good books) for me to read.

Using these six combinations, I arranged my presentation into five parts. In the first part, “Reading is Good, We Love Reading”, I briefly discussed some of the results from the “Global Chinese-Language Reading Trends” web survey that I launched late last year. The survey is a direct result from my participation in the Foundry658 Accelerator, an intensive business program offered by the State Library Victoria and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) as part of the Victorian Government’s Creative State strategy.

Results of this qualitative survey show that, in terms of reading habits, Chinese-language readers share many similarities with their English-language counterparts. For example, in terms of reading formats, Chinese-language readers care more about what they read than how they read it. Up to 54% of those Chinese-language readers surveyed read both digital and print books, compared to 31% who only read print books and 15% who only read digital books.

Meanwhile, in terms of digital books, content matters. Up to 92% of Chinese-language readers consider diversity as the most important factor that influences their views about digital books, compared to only 8% who are affected by other factors such as price and interactivity.

Furthermore, Chinese-language readers, like their English-language counterparts, enjoy discussing and sharing good books. To do this online, 92% of Chinese-language readers require a user-friendly interface. Up to 85% of Chinese-language readers also require services that enhance convenience in conversation. These results are significant because there is currently no “universal” platform such as GoodReads in the Chinese World. Instead, it is up to individual publishing and/or distributional platform to host its own reader forum.

Finally, Chinese-language readers, like their English-language counterparts, are interested in keeping updated with the latest literary news (72%). While they enjoy communicating with authors and fellow readers, they also like sharing their reading progress and achievements as well as book reviews. Interestingly, there are as many Chinese-language readers who embrace the “sharing culture” (68%) as those who consider it crucial to have a moderated online environment (67%). This applies to readers of both Simplified Chinese (mainly in China) and Traditional Chinese (mainly in Taiwan and Hong Kong). However, Simplified Chinese readers appear to be more demanding in having some sort of online platform that will enable them (1) to communicate with international authors via translation and (2) to directly and conveniently contact their fellow readers.

In the second part of my presentation, “Read a Book Well”, I focused on reading and book reviewing. Being an occasional journalist, I used the 5Ws (why, where, when, what, and who) and 1H (how) to illustrate my views. I specifically pointed out that summarising a book, or writing about one’s feelings and thoughts after reading a book, is very different from reviewing and/or critiquing a book. I also mentioned my favourite quote: “It’s the story, not s/he who tells it”, a modification of Stephen King’s famous sentence “It’s the tale, not he who tells it” from his 1982 novella “The Breathing Method”. In mentioning that, I had three types of readers in mind. The first type of reader dislikes a certain author because they have read some bad reviews about the author’s book/s. The second type of reader refuses to know more about a certain author because they do not like a particular book by the said author. The third type of reader gives up on a book because the writing is raw or does not suit their taste, regardless of how innovative the story itself can be.

In the third part of my presentation, “Make a Book a Good Read”, I focused on writing and publishing. Using 3Ws+1H (why, who, when, and how) and 2Ws (what and where), I pointed out that the best time to publish a piece of writing is after one has it professionally assessed, edited and formatted. I also tried to emphasise the fact that in the Chinese World, independent publishing (or self-publishing) is still very much a derogatory term. This is in sharp contrast to the English World, where authorpreneurship is difficult yet somehow recognised and even respected.

In the fourth part of my presentation, “Good Books for Me to Read”, I talked about how lucky I am as a translator and publisher, to be able to assist authors all across the world to publish and promote their writings as digital and/or print books in the Chinese World. Here I provided eight of my favourite examples, including four books by English-language authors (that I have translated to Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese) and four by Chinese-language authors:

In the fifth and final part of my presentation, “Read Good Books”, I recommended a series of books, including:

  • Australian author Bryce Courtenay and the Chinese-language editions of his books The Power of One, April Fool’s Day, The Family Frying Pan, and Tania (in two volumes).
  • Australian author Colleen McCullough and the Chinese-language edition of her The Thorn Birds.
  • Australian author Marcus Zusak and the Chinese-language edition of his The Book Thief.
  • Australian Chinese author Li Cunxin and the Chinese-language edition of his Mao’s Last Dancer.
  • Australian Chinese author and illustrator Shaun Tan and the Chinese-language edition of his The Arrival.
  • Australian Chinese author Gabrielle Wang’s Little Paradise, which is yet to be introduced to the Chinese World.
  • Chinese-language biography of Hong Kong author Jin Yong, as well as the English-language editions of two segments of his book The Condor Heroes.
  • Taiwanese author Wu Ming-Yi and the Chinese-language and English-language editions of his book The Stolen Bicycle.
  • Taiwanese author Wu He and the Chinese-language and English-language editions of his book Remains of Life.
  • American Chinese author Li Zongyi and the Chinese-language and English-language editions of her book On Whom to Lean: The Life Stories of the War-Torn Generation of Chinese Americans at Rossmoor.
  • Chinese author Liu Cixin and the Chinese-language and English-language editions of his The Three Body Problem series — The Three Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End.
  • American Chinese author Ken Liu and his English translation of contemporary Chinese science fiction authors in two anthologies — Invisible Planets and Broken Stars.
  • American Chinese author Mei Fong and her One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment, which is yet to be introduced to the Chinese World.
  • American author Rob Schmitz and his Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road, which is yet to be introduced to the Chinese World.
  • American Chinese author Leta Hong Fincher and the English-language and Chinese-language editions of her Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China.
  • American author Stephen Platt and his Imperial Twilight: The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age, which is yet to be introduced to the Chinese World.

After my presentation, there was the usual Q&A time, and I was humbled by some very good comments from the audience. Perhaps the most interesting feedback was regarding Australian Chinese author Li Cunxin’s Mao’s Last Dancer. Although this book is extremely popular in Australia, some of the Australian Chinese members of the audience have never read it and do not consider it to be of much value. However, they are now interested in reading this book, because I specifically pointed out how different it is from many of the other books I have read that are written by diasporic Chinese authors, especially those from China.

In Mao’s Last Dancer, one cannot find the vague and often politicised term that is “the West”. Whenever Li writes about his travels around the world as a ballet dancer, he always focuses on individual countries, regions and/or cities and his unique experiences there, instead of seeing one city as representing a whole country or considering one country as the equivalent of “the West”. This is in sharp contrast to many other overseas-based Chinese authors who often write about America as “the West” and the opposite of China as “the East”. More importantly, what one sees in Mao’s Last Dancer is Li’s love for his family, a universal theme. This, in my view, is why this book is so popular in Australia. This theme also distinguishes the book from other books written by overseas-based Chinese authors who are well-known for their stories of the Cultural Revolution, the bond feet and mistreatment of women, the abuse of human rights, the journey from rags to riches, the “model minority”, the “generation gap”, the “racial discrimination”, etc.

To conclude this very long report, I would like to acknowledge the great support from Dr Wing Yi Chan, Creative Event Planner of the Chinese Reading and Writing Festival, and the Whitehorse Manningham Libraries, organisers of this event. Without my being invited to give a presentation at the festival, I would never have had the opportunity to meet Melanie Cheng, author of Australia Day, which I reviewed in my essay “All in That Space: On Asian Australian Writers“. Nor would I have been interviewed by SBS, Australia’s leading multicultural broadcaster, to talk about my experience as bilingual writer, translator, reader, reviewer, journalist, independent scholar, and publisher of digital and print books in Chinese and English languages. But that would be a story for another occasion.

It remains my hope, and that of many members of the audience, that the Chinese Reading and Writing Festival can become an annual event. We have so many unique voices within the Australian Chinese community, a diverse, vibrant group that is keen to work with all the other cultural groups to make our country a better place. Indeed, Australian Chinese as a community is as multicultural as Australia is as a nation. To assume Australia Chinese has one voice or is under any single source of influence, whatever that refers to, is simply wrong.

 

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