Fang Weiping

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-23 8:30-10:30 Room I

Speaker: Fang Weiping (China)

The Rise of Picture Book in Mainland China

Fang Weiping

I. Background

Only about a decade ago, in the publication circle and children’s literature circle in China (in this article, China is referred to as mainland China), picture books didn’t become a publication phenomenon and creation hot point concerned about by people. Although people came to know some facts about the prosperous creation, publication, and reading situation of picture books in foreign countries (overseas) through various channels, people have showed concerns and engaged in the creation, publication, and promotion of picture books only in recent years.

There’re several reasons for the development of picture books in China.

First, thanks to the rapid development of Chinese economy, gradual formation of middle class, and increase of the income of urban and rural residents, the picture book market has possessed a big potential consumption group with some consumption power, as the consumption of picture books is at the high end of consumption of printing reading materials.

Second, with the gradual development and maturity of China’s picture book publication and printing industry, people are also looking for new printing types and picture book market. About three years ago just on the eve of the International Children’s Day, when some newspapers and magazines talked about the prospect of China’s printing industry, they used this kind of title as “Picture Books: The Last Cake of China’s Printing Industry”, and “Picture Books: New Favorite of Printing Industry”.

Third, social common understanding in the “age of reading pictures” and reading psychology support. Undoubtedly, the thrive of picture books is the logical result of creation, publication, and reading in this so-called “age of reading pictures” in which graphics and images are one of the main reading content in this era.

Fourth, from the inside of China’s children’s literature circle, the concept of picture books and the loss of the creation integrity have to be faced and remedied under new literary horizon and creational background. Picture books themselves possess unique aesthetic charm and tremendous artistic space.

II. Introduction by Translation and Use for Reference

Let’s look at some internal causes for the thriving of China’s picture books. In recent years, children’s publishing circles at home and abroad have continuously conducted communications and exchanges. Especially more and more people from China’s children publishing circle have gone abroad to take part in children’s book fairs and conduct copyright transactions. In addition, thanks to frequent exchanges between the children’s literature circles from Taiwan and mainland China, the publishers, creators, and distributors of Children’s literary works in mainland China have had clearer and more profound understanding about the artistic features and commercial potential of picture books. In recent years, more and more publishing houses in China, especially some publishing houses of teenagers’ and children’s literary works have made the translation and publication of foreign picture books as one of their top concerns. Thanks to the establishment and implementation of this publishing strategy, many excellent works of picture books from abroad and Taiwan, China have been published very frequently in mainland China just in a few years.

In 1999, Chunfeng Art and Literature Publishing House published ten picture books created by Janosch from Germany and translated by Pi Pi, including Oh, Beautiful Panama, Litter Tiger, Here is Your Letter, I’ll Cure You, and Baby Rabbit—No Fool At All. About 10,000 volumes were printed for this set of books in the first printing. It seems that these books didn’t arouse expected market response after they’re published. But for the professionals, they began to feel the artistic charm of picture books, while they were somewhat disappointed and complained. After a short period of time, at least among insiders, Janosch’s works became models of picture books repeatedly discussed and enjoyed by people.

Afterwards, 21st Century Publishing House successively published picture books series from Germany in 2000, including picture books series of Michael Ende and the colorful crow series; published “Tokyo Pig” series in six types created by Yadama Siro from Japan and translated by Peng Yi in 2002. In the same year, Shanghai Translation Publishing House published five types of picture books including The Cat in the Hat, 1+26 Cats in the Hat, and What Did I See etc. created by Dr. Seuss from US and translated by Ren Rongrong. Since 2002, the Children’s Fun Publishing Co. Ltd. of Peoples Posts and Telecommunications Press have successively published Dick Bruna picture books series created by Dick Bruna from the Netherlands and compiled and translated by the Children’s Fun Publishing Co. Ltd.. So far, 50 types have been published, including Rabbit Miffy series. Nanhai Publishing Company published works from US Shel Silverstein, including “The Giving Tree”, “The Missing Piece”, and “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” in 2003; and published The Lovely Little Younger Brother of Mouse series written by Yoshio Nakae from Japan, drawn by Yukiko Ueno from Japan and translated by Zhao Jing and Wen Jizi in 2004. Tomorrow Publishing House published eight types of unlettered books created by Monique from Switzerland and ten types of pocket elaborate works—picture books (foreign volumes) in 2003, and published four types of Little Princess Grows Up Picture Books series created by Tony Ross from UK and translated by Yu Zhiying. From 2003 to 2004, Nanjing Normal University Publishing House successively published 30 types of Kindergarten Early Reading Books Series, all of which are created by writers and painters from foreign countries or Taiwan, China. In 2004, People's Literature Publishing House published two types of Little Elephant Babel series created by Jean De Brunhoff from France and translated by Yi Li; Carrot Seed written by Ruth Krauss from US, drawn by Crockett Johnson and translated by Da Zhi. In the same year, China Children Publishing House published 23 types of The Tale of Peter Rabbit series created by Beatrix Potter and translated by Wu Qing and Chen Shu. Also in 2004, Jieli Publishing House published 7 types of Arrow series created by Crockett Johnson from US and translated by Sun Xiaona; A Cat with 10,000 Lives created by Wikipedia from Japan and translated by Tang Yaming.

In recent years, Shanghai Children Publishing House has cooperated with Taiwan Hsin Yi Foundation to publish many excellent picture books works from foreign countries and Taiwan, China, including articles written by Sam McBratney from UK, drawn by Anita Jeram, Guess How Much I Love You translated by Mei Zihan, Crocodile and Dentist created by Taro Gomi from Japan and translated by Taipei Shangyi Publishing Department, My Grandpa will Find a Way created by Phoebe Gilman from Canada and translated by Song Pei, The Runaway Bunny written by Margaret Wise Brown from US, drawn by Margaret Wise Brown, and translated by Huang Yu, Rosie The Hen Went for a Walk created by Pat Hutchins from US and translated by Taipei Shangyi Publishing Department, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie written by L. J. Numeroff from US, drawn by F. Bond, and translated by Ren Rongrong, Spit the Seed created by Li Jinlun from Taiwan, etc. Since the end of 1990s, the pictures books series created by Taiwan’s writer Jimi including Then The Moon Forgot, Metro, A Fish With Smile, and Turn Left Turn Right have been popular in mainland China for a while.

The above incomplete publishing list has indicated that in the publishing period at the turn of the century, the Chinese children’s literature circle and publishing circle have demonstrated high enthusiasm for the introduction by translation and publication of overseas picture books. Driven by this enthusiasm, many excellent picture books from foreign countries and Taiwan, China have been introduced to the readers in mainland China. Readers then have the opportunity to read a lot of excellent picture books, and have begun to accept the modern concept presented by picture books, and gradually cultivated and accumulated their reading habit and experience in picture books. As far as creators are concerned, these excellent works have brought them much excitement and enlightenment. People have felt the most classic artistic forms and charm in picture books, and identified the most unique imagination and fun brought about by the combination of words and pictures. In other words, for Chinese picture book creators, to read these excellent picture books is not only an “appreciation” but also a “study” process.

III. The Rise of Original Picture Books

As one type of publishing and creation, the creation and publishing of picture books or would-be picture books have started many years ago in the history of China’s children’s literature. However, as one type of self-conscious creation and publishing behavior whose scope has been formed, and as a kind of literary phenomenon concerned by readers, the thriving of originally created picture books is obviously a new creation and publication landscape at the turn of the century. Attempted by the social cultural atmosphere in the “pictures reading time” and enlightened by overseas picture book works, China’s creators and publishers have demonstrated their strong curiosity and impulse for the artistic domain of picture books. As a result, a group of originally created picture books have entered into people’s reading horizon by unprecedented intensity.

In 1994, New Buds Publishing House published four types of Big Head Son Stories Series written by Zheng Chunhua and drawn by Shen Yuanyuan. In 1996, Petrel Publishing House published 10 types of Little Crocodile Books Series jointly created by several writers and painters. In 2000, Beijing Children Publishing House published four types of Li La Er Stories Series written by Mei Zihan and drawn by Zhao Xiaoyin. In 2001, Zhejiang Children’s Publishing House published six types of A Silly Wolf Stories series created by Tang Sulan. China Children Publishing House published six types of 10 Minutes Before Bed—2-4 Years Old stories books in 2003, and eight types of Dudu Bear stories series in 2004. Tomorrow Publishing House published ten types of pocket elaborate picture books works—China volume in 2003. China Renmin University Press published six types of Show Care to Life picture books series in 2003, including four types of A Little Mole’s Potatoes picture books series originally created by Xiong Lei and Xiong Liang. Jiangsu Children’s Publishing House published 20 types of I’m So Great picture books series for the growth of children, including A Sparrow in the City, You are Still Young, Magic Umbrella, The Fat Pig Catches Cold, Let Me Send You Home, He is Somewhat White, Naughty Child Horror Heart, It’s Raining, The Cat in Different Hairs, and Goodbye, Old Peng jointly created by several writers and painters.

In 2006, 21st Century Publishing House published The Morning Market of Lotus Town created by Zhou Xiang. This is an originally created picture book full of strong watery region atmosphere and human relation to the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River, from materials drawing, articles skill, and pictures drawing. Maybe we can feel a comparatively mature picture books creation concept and creation method from this picture book.

In the meantime, some newspapers and magazines have begun to attach more importance to the creation and recommendation of picture books. Some researchers have also devoted their enthusiasm and talent to the research and reading guidance of picture books.

However, in terms of each procedure like creation, publishing, and promotion, there’re some dissatisfaction. For instance, regarding theme selection, theme design, and stories conceiving of picture books, the idea is narrow and story telling is in old fashion. Lacking creative talents of both literature and drawings, original picture books are far from satisfying in terms of combination of pictures and words, especially the story telling function of pictures. Besides, the readers group of picture books should be further cultivated, and the dissemination of picture books should be expanded.

Compared with many countries and regions, mainland China is still in the starting period regarding the creation, publishing, and promotion of picture books. However, we can strongly feel the enthusiasm demonstrated by the people for this cause. We hope and believe that such enthusiasm would bring us unlimited artistic imagination and cultural creativity, and broad prospect of creation, publishing and dissemination of China’s picture books. All these will benefit our children, benefit ourselves, and benefit our tomorrow.