Acclaimed author Zhang Wei launched the Chinese edition of his autobiographical novel From the Juvenile to the Youth (2012) on Monday ahead of the release of the novel's foreign language versions. Over the next two years, 26 novels by Zhang - who won the 2011 Mao Dun Literature Prize for his decade-long, 10-volume work On the Plateau - are expected to be published in several languages, marking another milestone in Chinese literature's foray overseas.
The novels will be published by Publish On Demand Global (PODG), an American private publishing house.
Liu Jiangkai, a visiting research fellow from the Chinese Literature Overseas Dissemination Research Center at Beijing Normal University, acknowledged more needs to be done for Chinese literature to flourish abroad. "Although more Chinese authors are having their works published in foreign languages, Chinese writers are still in a marginalized position on the world literature stage," he said. "The lack of good translators and efficient support from the government hinders Chinese authors from promoting their books abroad."
Exporting Chinese literature
Chinese literature was first actively promoted abroad by the publishing house Foreign Language Press, which was founded in 1952.
According to Liu, most Chinese books promoted abroad are translated into English and French. The main target market of such books is Western countries, along with other countries that share close cultural ties with China, he noted.
"Chinese literature is mainly exported to European countries, such as England, and Asian countries that share cultural links with China, such as South Korea and Japan," said Liu.
Since Mo Yan became the first Chinese author to win the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, more contemporary authors from the country have been "thrust into the spotlight," said Qiu Huadong, deputy editor-in-chief of publishing house People's Literature.
"Mo Yan's success has promoted the publishing of books not just by Chinese authors, but contemporary literature as a whole to the world," said Qiu,
Appealing to foreign readers
Zhang, 57, might not have a Nobel Prize to his name, but he nonetheless stands out as an important figure in contemporary Chinese literature. He cemented his reputation with The Ancient Ship (1987), which he penned aged 28.
"Zhang's standing in Chinese literature is an important reason we decided to publish his books overseas. The fact he is a winner of the prestigious of Mao Dun Literature Prize also boosts our reputation as a publisher," said Song Bo, deputy CEO of PODG.
Qiu said Zhang's novels will be embraced overseas in their foreign language editions because, much like Mo Yan, Zhang blends foreign and traditional Chinese writing styles, ensuring his literary appeal transcends cultural barriers.
"Mo Yan is greatly influenced by Columbian author Gabriel García Márquez. In terms of Zhang's writing, he combines both idealism and realism. Readers can find traces of both German romanticism and Chinese traditionalism in his writings," said Qiu.
Speaking to Metro Beijing, the author himself said he held reservations at how well his books would be received overseas.
"Translation is a difficult task. If the standard of translation proves unworthy, I will never allow the translated books to be published, regardless of any signed agreement," he said.