Pavilion boasts China's invention of print (News Feature)
By Jean-Baptiste Piggin Oct 13, 2009, 12:36 GMT
Frankfurt - China arrived Tuesday at the Frankfurt Book Fair with impeccable bragging rights: it invented printing first.
As a special display at the fair in Germany explains, an inventor named Bi Sheng devised the world's first moveable type system about 1,000 years ago.
China is guest of honour this year at the Book Fair, the world's biggest trade show for book publishers.
When the five-day event begins on Wednesday, visitors will be able to take out time from inspecting new e-books, paperback novels and textbooks to contemplate China's long history of print.
Bi's moveable type, made of fragile clay, was impractical in 1040, but Korean printers came up with something better: metal type. It was to take 400 years before a European, Johannes Gutenberg in about 1440, had the same idea a few kilometres in the city of Mainz, just south-west of Frankfurt.
The Chinese cultural display occupies one of the glass-walled pavilions that make up Frankfurt's congress and fair area.
Giant blocks of clay type on the floor and a 10-metre white shroud hanging from the ceiling are the centrepiece of the display.
'It's like a piece of paper floating in the air,' the designer, Li Jiwei, explained to reporters.
Surrounding his art installation are glass cases showing replicas of early calligraphy and printing, including the first Chinese writing from about 5,000 years ago.
The history timeline includes the introduction of industrial-scale western printing to China in the early 20th century, the published works of Mao Zedong and a counter covered with digital reading devices with Chinese books in the displays.
The Chinese are sending about 100 authors and up to 900 officials, performers and other helpers to promote Chinese culture at the Fair and have funded translations of Chinese literature into German.
Some 255 Chinese publishers are sharing a government-sponsored stand in the part of the Fair where commercial publishers meet to line up international book sales. Chinese pianist Lang Lang was due to play at a concert later Tuesday marking the fair opening.
In the run-up to the fair, German media focussed on how China censors books. Last month Beijing tried to prevent two dissidents appearing on a podium in Frankfurt to discuss Chinese literature. Beijing officials walked out when they showed up anyway.
During the fair, book industry professionals are hoping to find out more about China's latest advances - in the online publishing business.
The internet outshines all other media, including television, in China, reaching 300 million people, the biggest national contingent in the world-wide web.
A shake-up that has yet to come in the west is already hitting traditional book publishing in China, where analysts say book readership is stagnating at 20 million to 30 million people.
In 2007, the latest year with complete data, Chinese publishers brought out about 135,000 new titles. But the print runs of most of their books are relatively short.
The notable area of growth is in online novels, which teenagers like to download and read on mobile phones.
Lu Jinbo is one of the authors who is feted like a popstar. Lu, 34, has set up his own literary agency to subcontract the work of writing so-called chicklet literature, a soap-opera-style genre which reflects the worries and obsessions of teenaged girls.
Western publishers would dearly like to copy that business model.
'China will soon lead the world in quantity terms in online book publication,' forecasts Luc Kwanten, a former US academic who has spent several years in the business of finding Chinese publishers for western books.
Successful bookselling via mobile phone is likely to translate later into success in print, the analysts say, pointing to one of Lu's hottest authors.
After she gained China-wide success with personal advice tracts for the chicklet business, she branched into print.
Four million of her print books have sold so far in traditional bookshops.