108. Chinese children’s books collected by Arvind Gupta

In September – which is also #WorldKidLitMonth – I came across the library of Arvind Gupta “The Toymaker” on archive.org, and was intrigued to find well over 50 Chinese children’s books in his collection.

Video of Arvind Gupta (2:22 mins) – see more on Youtube

Arvind Gupta (Ch: 阿尔温德-古普) is an Indian scientist, also known as “The Toymaker”. In 1978 he took a year’s leave to work with the Hoshangabad Science Teaching Programme, a grassroots village science teaching programme for children in the tribal district of Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh. While there, he developed low-cost /science teaching aids using locally available materials, inspiring children to explore the world around them, learn how things work, adapt them, and enjoy learning about science and scientific principles. He has written many books, his first being Matchstick Models and other Science Experiments (1987). I was intrigued to find in his collection on archive.org almost 50 books in the category “Chinese children’s books translated into English” and a few more listed under “Chinese”, including some Chinese children’s books translated into Hindi (and some duplicates). They were all published in Beijing in the 1960s-80s by the Foreign Languages Press, Dolphin Books, Zhaohua Publishing House, and New World Press, some of them having previously been printed by other publishing houses in China. I noted some books in the “Beginning Science” series.

I wondered if Arvind Gupta might have had a particular connection with China at some point, and he kindly answered my question and gave permission to quote him here:

AG: “In the 1980s I wished to read to my little daughter children’s books from various countries. I had collected all the Caldecott Medal books, books from England and the USA. The Russians had translated children’s books in various Indian languages and they were very colorful, beautifully printed and very affordable. That is the time when several Chinese children’s books were available in the Indian market, some of them in Hindi translation. I bought whatever I found for my daughter because they were very low priced. Also the Chinese children’s books had a unique style of illustrations with gentle water colors. Unfortunately with the collapse of Soviet Russia the lovely Russian children’s books dried up. One cannot find a single Chinese children’s book in the Indian market. This makes me very sad. I have never been to China. Wish someday I could visit it.”

So, Arvind Gupta didn’t have connections with China, but he did have the desire to read books from around the world to his daughter. Below are more of the Chinese children’s books that he bought for her in the 1980s.

The English language books are presented here in chronological order, followed by the books in Hindi. They allow us a snapshot of the Chinese children’s books that were available in translation in India at that time – the content, the design, illustration and fonts, as well as which stories, authors and illustrators were reaching international readers. These publishers published an impressive number of books translated into foreign languages – we counted 248 distinct titles in English published by the Foreign Languages Press,1950s-1980s – see Minjie’s list “Foreign Languages Press English Juvenile” on worldcat.org).

Chinese children’s books translated into English (Arvind Gupta Collection)

Click on a title below to see the whole book on archive.org.

  • Tracks in the Grass, by LIN Hongru 蔺鸿儒, illus. Cui Ruzhuo 崔如琢 and GAO Baosheng 高宝生 (1977) 《追踪》
  • Sister Double Happiness, by Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, illus. Gu Zengping (1977) 《双喜嫂》
  • At the Zoo, by LIN Songying 林颂英, illus. ZHAN Tongxuan 詹同渲 (1980) 《动物园》
  • The Wujing Well, by WEN Yi 闻艺, illus. HUANG Wei 黄炜 and CHANG Guangxi 常光希 (1981) 《吴井水》
  • Yellow Duckling Learns to Swim, by JIN Jin 金近, illus. LEI Shisheng and LIANG Yingxi (1981) 《小黄学游泳》
  • Pals in a Pencil Case, by ZHENG Yuanjie 郑渊洁, illus. MAO Yongkun 毛用坤 and HU Yongkai 胡永凯 (1982)《铅笔盒里的伙伴》
  • Two Little Kittens, FANG Yiqun 方轶群, illus. FENG Youxuan 丰佑瑄 (1982)《你喜欢谁?》
  • Two Lambs, by LI Shufen 李树芬, illus. JIANG Cheng‘an 姜成安 and WU Daisheng 吴带生 (1982)《黑羊和白羊》

  • Four Seasons of the Year, by TANG Lufen 唐鲁峰 and CHEN Huilian 陈慧莲, illus. He Yanrong 何艳荣 (1984) 《一年四季》
  • Eyes and Colours, by XU Fen 徐奋 and ZHUANG Youjuan 庄幼娟, illus. WU Jinglu 吴儆芦 (1984) 《眼睛与颜色》
  • Left and Right, by LI Zigan 李子干, illus. JIANG Weiyu 姜渭渔 (1984)《左右》
  • Mimi’s Eyes, by WANG Shiyi 王时一, illus. HU Yongkai 胡永凯 (1984)《咪咪的眼睛》
  • Little White Kitten, by MA Yue 马悦, illus. JIANG Cheng’an 姜成安 (1985)《小白猫》
  • Two Foolish Kittens,ed. and illus. ZHAN Tong 詹同 (1985) 《两只小猫》
Published in 1988

Chinese children’s books translated into Hindi (Arvind Gupta Collection)

Many thanks to Arvind Gupta for telling us about these books in his collection!

Website: http://www.arvindguptatoys.com/

105. The Sino-Japanese War as Portrayed in Youth Literature

On 2 September 2020 there were solemn commemorations in China to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Sino-Japanese War (in Chinese: 抗日战争 kang Ri zhanzheng, or the War of Resistance against Japan). Fought over a span of eight long years from 1937 to 1945, the war upended numerous families, drastically altered the political course of China, and caused social and cultural ramifications that can still be felt three quarters of a century later. Minjie’s book The Sino-Japanese War and Youth Literature: Friends and Foes on the Battlefield (Routledge, 2016) is the first major study of how the Sino-Japanese War has been represented in books for young readers. Long overdue and packed with detail, this is a very important book. Minjie and I talked about it by email this week.

HW: What was the key focus and drive behind your research? What sparked your interest, and how did you approach it?

I studied how the history of the Sino-Japanese War has been reflected in books available to young readers in China. The study also examined how the same topic has been treated in American juvenile fiction as a comparison, as well as the potential role of oral family stories in shaping children’s understanding of history.

I can think of two pivotal moments that prepared me for the topic. The earlier moment was at breakfast time on an ordinary school day when I was young. As usual my dad had the radio on, its silver telescopic antenna tapering towards the ceiling because reception in rural China was not the best. As usual I was only half listening to the boring, and often incomprehensible news broadcast about the grown-ups’ world. There must have been some mention of “Japan,” “biological warfare,” and “war responsibility” by the newsreader, because Dad suddenly interjected angrily, “Your waigong’s (maternal grandfather) youngest son died of the plague spread by the Japanese germ warfare.” I was shocked. The international news struck so close to home, even though I had never met this uncle—who was infected and died as an infant in his mother’s arms—or heard of him before. The sinister nature of the murder, and the revelation that Japan had not expressed remorse or taken responsibility for the crime deviated from the cozy narrative of China-Japan friendship that I was familiar with to that point. As any Chinese can tell you, the common expression had been that the two countries were like close neighbors “separated only by a strip of water as narrow as a belt” (一衣带水的邻邦). We share the same written characters. Textbooks taught me that yes Japan invaded us, but both Chinese and Japanese people were victims of the Sino-Japanese War, the “Japanese militarism” (日本军国主义) being our common enemy. Story after story of how the Japanese aggressors were defeated by the Communist-led guerrillas and sometimes outsmarted by cunning Chinese children (see our earlier post on Little Soldier Zhang Ga) – to be honest, these depicted the Japanese army more like stupid, arrogant, and no-doubt crazy clowns than anything else. The news rattled me, revealing that there was more to the history of the Sino-Japanese War than I had considered. That morning of awakening was seared into my memory.

Hiroshima no Pika [The Flash of Hiroshima], by Toshi Maruki (Harper Collins, 1982) (image source: goodreads.com)

The second moment took place in graduate school. I was taking a doctoral seminar on children and culture, and reading an assigned picture book titled Hiroshima No Pika in the library. No sooner had I turned to the first page than I was shaken, less because of what was in the book than a sudden awakening to what was not in the American children’s literature I had seen. Up to that point I had been flattered by the effort of American publishers in producing exquisitely illustrated Chinese folktales. With a mixture of vexation and bemusement I couldn’t help noticing rudimentary cultural errors in some of those books, such as odd clothing and hair styles supposedly of premodern China, or random scratches in illustrations pretending to be Chinese characters. Any Chinese having received secondary education would have been able to spot those errors and offer suggestions for correction if only the publishers had bothered to ask. Hiroshima No Pika jolted my attention away from those details to a bigger picture. The ghoulish images of atomic bombing hit me: what stories about Chinese people’s experience during the Second World War had been told to children outside China? I had yet to encounter a title on that topic. In contrast, books set in the European theater of World War II and deeply moving works about the Holocaust, in fiction and nonfiction, were easy to find. They figure prominently among children’s book award winners and in recommended title lists. The atomic bombings are likewise a weighty topic in children’s books about Japan, including translated works that are honored by the Mildred L. Batchelder Award. In that moment, I became very aware that books for young readers give uneven treatment to different people’s experience during a historical event with a profound global impact. There was something suspiciously wrong about it and I felt an urge to understand why.

That’s my long-winded explanation of how I decided that a study of the representation of the Sino-Japanese War in children’s books was overdue. Little did I know, that quiet afternoon of leafing through a picture book would kick off several years of obsession with any publication about World War II. I combed through library catalogs and bibliographies, collected Chinese comic books, searched for entries in children’s magazines, photocopied pages from school textbooks, hunted out-of-print American children’s novels, and watched more movies than I can name about the Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War. In addition, I interviewed elderly women in my hometown, recorded their recollections of when the mountain town hosted the Zhejiang provincial government in exile until the end of the war, and compared their private experiences with what information was publicly available to youth.

Friends and Foes on the Battlefield (战地恩仇记, 1943) by Huang Shiying is the earliest lian huan hua work I found that describes the fall of Nanjing and the infamous massacre that ensued in December 1937. Thanks to the suggestion of Professor Betsy Hearne, my dissertation advisor, I used its title phrase as the subtitle of my book to honour Huang’s pioneer work.

Pearl S. Buck’s novel Dragon Seed (1942) is the earliest English-language novel that is set against the backdrop of the Nanjing Massacre. The book was cautiously recommended for senior high school students and older young adults at the time of its publication, apparently because of its frequent portrayal of violence and rape. Its movie adaptation in 1944 stars Katharine Hepburn and was nominated for two Oscars. The novel was also translated into Chinese and adapted into lian huan hua during Republican China.

HW: How difficult or easy was it to do this research?

I encountered several challenges in collecting source materials. Paradoxically the amount of Chinese children’s reading materials about the Sino-Japanese War was overwhelming but they were also not straightforward to locate. The reason was because children’s books were not assigned granular topical headings in Chinese library catalogues, and no bibliographies focusing on the particular subject existed. Eventually I accumulated more primary sources than I could do justice to in one study, even with my inexhaustive search. So my second challenge was to narrow down my scope of investigation. I decided to analyse stories in the format of lian huan hua (heavily illustrated story books or comic books) as well as the most widely circulated juvenile titles.


I went through every single copy of lian huan hua on this table at the Yunhe County Public Library, searching for stories about the Sino-Japanese War.

My third challenge came when I tried interviewing the elderly women in their seventies to nineties in Yunhe, Zhejiang. I grew up speaking the dialect of my hometown (Mandarin Chinese is technically my second language) and I didn’t imagine I would have any problem communicating with locals. But the elders could barely understand my questions, because the vocabulary and syntax of my dialect had been irrevocably “corrupted” by the Mandarin Chinese I acquired from school—much like, sadly, how my Chinese is corrupted by English. Fortunately, my mom was with me when I called on the elders. She paraphrased my questions into more colloquial dialect so that the interview could go on. She also had to explain to me some of the archaic words that the women used to describe the old way of life. One winter we visited a village that was perched on the top of a mountain where a key battle between the Chinese and Japanese army took place in August 1942. The village was so secluded that my mom couldn’t understand the dialect there either. Fortunately, my next-door neighbour could follow some of it and he translated a bit for me from my audio recording. It was a both humbling and fascinating experience.

HW: More recently, you worked collaboratively on the Japan-Korea-China Peace Project books that we featured in an earlier post – how did the group come together to work on this?


The Japan-China-Korea Peace Picture Book Project series

David Jacobson told me about the Japan-China-Korea collaborative publishing project and invited me to comment on Chinese works. The project published a series of picture books created by authors and artists from the three respective countries and made the titles available in all three languages, intending to promote a shared understanding of the history of the Pacific War and an appreciation for peace among Chinese, Japanese, and Korean children. (I happened to have one volume from the series already, thanks to my old obsession.) Having read hundreds of stories about the Sino-Japanese War for my previous research, it was easy for me to fit the three new Chinese picture books into a larger landscape and point out how they reflect shifting trends in thematic concerns, gender portrayal, authorship, and relationship between family history and storytelling.

Kudos to David’s leadership, network, and coordination, he managed to put together a team of four contributors with various combinations of expertise in Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean, translation, publishing, education, and children’s literature. Together we composed two review articles, which introduce the series to English-language readers and feature a selection of seven titles from the series. Reiko Nakaigawa Lee from Hong Kong, Jongsun Wee from the Midwest, and David and myself from two coasts each brought our own unique skillset, background knowledge, and insight. We consulted other colleagues for extra information and benefited from your editorial suggestions for finalizing the writing. This was truly a collaborative work, leveraging all kinds of skills that cannot realistically be found in any single super brain.

We learnt that members of the Japan-China-Korea Peace Picture Book Project, coming from the three countries, had to negotiate challenging disagreements among themselves. There was a little bit of irony there—eager to present children with uniform messages that could transcend historical enmity, national borders, and language barriers, the adults uncovered clashing ideas about the history of war from the deepest of their own convictions. It proved to be a rewarding—though at times painful—experience. Those who have been the most open to making room for other people’s inputs and opinions are rewarded with the widest resonance for their creations. The four of us were tackling only a modest task—commenting on the fruition of the project. Hailing from four distinct cultural backgrounds, however, we too had to confront our own blind spots and stay open to new information and perspectives contributed by others. We passed the draft among us for easily over two dozen times, rewriting and finetuning, before everyone was happy with the final version.

HW: What has been the impact of your research so far?

I honestly am not sure. Besides my four very nurturing and patient dissertation committee members, plus four studious readers who published reviews of my book, I don’t know who has read my research! It is the first book-length study of the representation of the Sino-Japanese War in literature for youth, and it covers a lot of material. I hope fellow scholars will find my big-picture analysis of the Chinese and American titles a good starting point for further investigations; and my discussion of the highly contentious/divisive history of war crimes in youth-oriented literature doing justice to the complexity of the issue. Chinese lian huan hua, a hugely popular and influential reading format, had received not much scholarly attention before I conducted my study, which may help future researchers with popular culture of 20th-century China. Kids used to carry the booklets around and were scolded by teachers when caught reading them in class. This was before the days of mobile smart phones or even home television sets in China.

To my personal satisfaction, I found answers to the questions that had shaken me, first when I was a school girl on that dreary morning many years ago; and second when I was overcome by a sense of betrayal about children’s literature as I stared at a picture book about atomic bombing through bleary eyes. (Did I mention that I ended up being in tears in the library that day?) The research dismantled my own dichotomous view of the war, exposed my misconceptions about the history, and told me where I got them. What I cherished most was the conversations I had with those elderly women, who lost a mother, or a daughter, or a brother, during the bubonic plague as part of the biological warfare. My biggest reward from conducting the project was the opportunity to witness their courage, grace, and tenacity, and to preserve their experiences in writing. It makes me smile to think of the three eldest women, whose photos and stories I reproduced in the book. All have since passed at old ages.

Interviewees Gao Caiqin, Mei Xiunü, and Wang Jingju in the fall of 2007. They were young women between sixteen and thirty years old when their town was targeted by the Japanese biological warfare.

HW: What are you working on now?

Having had to sift through thousands of comic books looking for war stories, I understand the tremendous value of cataloguing and matadata work in helping researchers find what they need. My main work is organizing the East Asian collection of the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University, preparing the materials for use by children’s literature scholars from around the world. The perk of working at Cotsen, which has the finest collection of Chinese children’s books outside of China, is the opportunity to meet awesome Chinese children’s authors, translators, and researchers, and collaborate on projects. You and I just finished drafting an overview of Chinese children’s literature in English translation for The Palgrave Handbook of Chinese Language Studies, tracing the transnational migration of Chinese children’s texts to a surprisingly early era of the late Qing dynasty.

Having been that little girl whose perception of self and of the world was so heavily influenced by the children’s section of my hometown library, I maintain my interest in examining children’s literature as a source of information about history, politics, science, etc. for impressionable young minds. Over the years I have presented or written about how children’s books impart explicit or implicit information about Chinese culture, the Cultural Revolution, human sexuality, gender roles, disability, and moral standards. I am always open to the next topic that sparks my curiosity!

104. Chinese children’s literature in Italy – interview with Paolo Magagnin

Paolo Magagnin is Professor of Chinese at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. He is also a translator and promoter of Chinese children’s literature. We’re delighted that he agreed to be interviewed, to tell us about his work, his experiences as a translator, and the expanding world of Chinese children’s books in Italy! We’re also pleased to post this interview in September, which is #WorldKidLitMonth.

HW: Please tell us about yourself. What would you like our readers to know about you?

PM: I am a professor of Chinese at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, where I have been teaching for a decade. I am lucky enough to be able to translate Chinese fiction, however occasionally, as a way to take a break from my teaching duties and to “stay in shape” as a translator. I have translated a few novels, short stories, and novellas by Xiao Bai 小白, Xu Zechen 徐则臣, Chen He 陈河, A Yi 阿乙, Zhu Wen 朱文 and a few other contemporary fiction writers. Unfortunately, translation is not highly valued in the Italian academia, where it is often seen as little more than a pastime – or worse, a distraction from “serious” research. Because of this, I do not translate as much as I used to or would like to anymore, but still jump at the opportunity whenever I can. I am currently working on the translation of Shuang Xuetao’s 双雪涛 short story collection “Moses on the Plain” 《平原上的摩西》. However, what may be of most interest to the readers of the blog is the fact that I have translated two of Cao Wenxuan’s 曹文轩 most successful books, Bronze and Sunflower 《青铜葵花》and The Straw House 《草房子》。

Girasole and La Scuola dal Tetto di Paglia, the Italian editions of Bronze and Sunflower, and The Straw House, both by Cao Wenxuan, translated by Paolo Magagnin (image source: Giunti)

HW: How did you come to translate Cao Wenxuan’s Bronze and Sunflower?

PM: I reckon this is one of those mysteries that often occur in the translation world. In September 2014, totally out of the blue, I received an email from the director of the children’s series of Giunti, one of the top publishing houses in Italy, and surely the biggest in terms of literature for children and young adults. She told me they had recently purchased the rights to the book, and that “my name had come up” while they were looking for a translator. She asked me if I was interested in taking the job, and I quickly said yes despite the tight deadline – only 4 months – which fell right in the middle of a busy semester and a research trip to Beijing. I had only translated three novels by then, and I was anything but an established translator from Chinese. To this day, I do not know in what circumstances and thanks to whom “my name had come up”, but it was the beginning of an extraordinary, and sometimes rocky, journey. As far as I know, no Chinese-language children’s book had been previously translated into Italian at that time, so Cao’s novel was a first. I think that, by choosing to embark on this project, the publisher took a leap into the (almost) unknown. A French edition, Bronze et Tournesol, tr. Brigitte Guilbaud, was available (Giunti sent it to me as a reference, naively hoping I would base my own translation on it). The rumour mill had probably been running for a while in the international publishing world, and your English translation  was probably already in the works. Moreover, Cao’s reputation was already growing as a  candidate for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, which he eventually won in 2016. So this whole thing was the result of a mix of fortunate conditions. I am happy I was at the right place at the right time – although totally unsuspectingly.

Bronze et Tournesol (French) and Bronze and Sunflower, by Cao Wenxuan, translated by Brigitte Guilbaud (French) and Helen Wang (English)

If I can spend a few words on the translation itself, I will point out that translating Cao was a great training ground. Before that, in my brief experience as a translator, I had never fully realized what was at stake, or had to discuss or justify my choices, or been required to work with a very specific model reader in mind. But then, especially with Bronze and Sunflower, I had to outline an extremely detailed translation project. Most importantly, I was confronted with all the constraints that are inherent in the genre. Some of these constraints were objective, as I had to ponder my lexical and syntactic choices so as to fit the age group that the publisher wished to address – I was told at the outset that my readers were expected to be between 10 and a very optimistic 15, but Giunti eventually settled for 11 (as marked on the book’s webpage). Some other constraints I felt were simply made up and preposterous, which caused me to start more than one fight with the series director and the editor. For instance, I fiercely objected to the choice to delete some of the numerous lyrical, bucolic passages (which, I was told, were unusual and would cause young Italian readers to lose interest), as well as the postface, and to systematically replace my colourful expressions and idioms (which I inserted for the sake of both the pleasure of reading and the readers’ stylistic education) with more commonplace (borderline dull) ones. A few of my demands were met, many others were not. I had my fair share of distress, but all in all, the whole process really helped me grow as a translator and become more fully aware of my role, of my power and of its limits.

HW: Could you tell us more about Chinese children’s books that are now available in Italian?

PM: Compared to the French and the Anglo-American market, the Italian publishing world has always been conservative and narrow-minded when it comes to the literature of the Sinosphere, including literature targeted at children and young adults. Since Bronze and Sunflower was published, and especially after Cao won the Andersen Award, however, Italian publishers began to be slightly more alert to Chinese-language children’s books. A couple years after Bronze and Sunflower (2015), Giunti asked me to translate The Straw House (2018) and another very talented colleague was asked to translate Ximi (which will hopefully be available in bookshops soon). Having said this, the Italian situation is still far from satisfying, and interest in this literature has not boomed as it has in other markets. I tried to use what little bargaining power I have to promote a few texts that I considered were worth publishing, but so far to no avail. For example, I tried to interest Giunti in Lin Man-chiu’s 林满秋 The Ventriloquist’s Daughter 《腹语师的女儿》, providing your English translation as reference. But, I was told the story was too dark and disturbing for the audience they had in mind.

However, picture books are an entirely different story. The most striking example is Taiwanese writer and illustrator Jimmy Liao’s 几米 amazing works. Thanks to the tireless and passionate endeavours of translator and agent Silvia Torchio, they have been published in Italian since the early 2010s by a few forward-thinking Italian publishing houses, notably Edizioni Gruppo Abele, Terre di Mezzo, and Camelozampa (incidentally, the latter was awarded the BOP – Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers of the Year prize at the 2020 BCBF). Jimmy Liao’s latest Italian translation, Gatti come noi (Mi manchi, dove sei?) 《遗失了一只猫》 (A Cat Went Missing), was published a few months ago.


Gatti come noi (Mi manchi, dove sei?) 《遗失了一只猫》 (A Cat Went Missing) by Jimmy Liao, tr. Silvia Torchio (image source: Terre di mezzo)

One picture book that I was pleasantly surprised to see translated is Xu Lu’s 徐鲁 L’erba magica di Tu Youyou. La scienziata che sconfisse la malaria 《神奇的小草》(Tu Youyou’s Miraculous Herb). The scientist who beat malaria), translated by Beatrice Masini, illustrated by Alice Coppini. The book gives the life story of Tu Youyou 屠呦呦, the first Chinese woman scientist to be awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine in 2015. Indeed, in the Italian market, books popularizing science for young readers are an ever-growing sub-segment.


Xu Lu’s 徐鲁 L’erba magica di Tu Youyou. La scienziata che sconfisse la malaria 《神奇的小草》(Tu Youyou’s Miraculous Herb. The scientist who beat malaria), tr. Beatrice Masini, illus. Alice Coppini  (image source: editorialescienza)

Finally, I’d like to mention a bold experiment made by the publishing house associated with a platform devoted to Chinese-Italian cultural exchange, Cina in Italia. They have recently made available Bai Bing’s 白冰 picture book L’albero di ombrelli 《雨伞树》(The Umbrella Tree), translated by Giulia Carbone and illustrated by Li Hongzhuan 李红专. It is interesting to see this as a partially bilingual edition with an overtly educational twist, as it features a section that encourages children to learn a number of Chinese characters and to practice their writing. There are many other examples of successful and enjoyable Chinese picture books that are currently available in Italian, but I will limit myself to these few examples. As for the relative predominance of this genre, I assume it is generally perceived by publishers as being more easily marketable compared to other forms of children’s literature (especially novels, short stories being sort of taboo in the Italian publishing industry), not to mention that the costs of translation are significantly lower!


Bai Bing’s 白冰  L’albero di ombrelli 《雨伞树》(The Umbrella Tree), tr. Giulia Carbone, illus. Li Hongzhuan 李红专 [image source: cinainitalia]

Anyway, I do not think the success of picture books lies in the fact that they make for “easy” reading, which seems to be what most publishers look for. If you take Jimmy Liao’s works, for instance, the topics and feelings they portray – loss, death, loneliness etc. – are undeniably as deep and “difficult” – and more often than not, deeper – than those that can be found in more “serious” children’s fiction. Hopefully, in the next future, the growing interest for picture books will boost the introduction and circulation of other works: they could act as a reassuring market foundation for publishers, and as “gateway” books for young readers, once they are ready to move on to more complex and more articulate forms.

HW: You’ve also examined the translation process in a very professional and scholarly way. However, I (and many of our readers) am not trained in translation studies, theory or linguistics. Could you tell us about what’s involved, what are some of the key things you look for?

PM: When you look at it through the prism of translation, children’s literature is a miniature world that allows you to engage in virtually endless reflection, and to do so from a multitude of different perspectives. In this sense, children’s books are a real treasure trove for us scholars of translation. Of course, the typical aspect one can analyse is the textual level: the translator’s lexical and syntactic choices, the handling of registers, the translation of proper nouns etc. However, if you have an interest in the economics of translation, you can also investigate children’s books as products on a market that possesses a number of distinct characteristics. For example, if you are interested in sociological dynamics, you can examine the complex network of agents, scouts, sponsors, publishers, editors, translators, and institutions that work together – or despite one another – to select the texts to be translated, and which influence the mechanisms of translation. Or you might want to explore the psycho-linguistic aspects of translated children’s literature, its importance for the literacy and literary education of foreign readers, its significance for cross-cultural communication etc. Of course, all these aspects and approaches are by no means unique to children’s literature. However, here they are characterized by a set of unique features and a much higher degree of differentiation, because of the specific nature of the stakeholders involved, the multiple genres that fall within the umbrella category of “children’s books”, the clearly separate age groups of the readers that different books address, and so on.

As for my own work as a scholar, the aspects of children’s literature that intrigue me the most are the same ones that I was – and still am – confronted with as a translation practitioner, with a twofold focus. On the one hand, I carry out research on the manipulation of translation manuscripts by publishers and editors. Textual adaptation in its various, more or less ethically correct forms, is a widespread practice in the translation of children’s books – and, as I said above, I experienced this phenomenon first-hand. More generally, I focus on the linguistic and translational policies, as well as on the ideological factors that govern Chinese children’s literature in translation. On the other hand, I also have a sociological interest in the politics of promotion and reception of children’s books, with an eye to the role of Chinese official and non-official players (governmental bodies and sponsors, critics, and academics), the work of foreign publishers and agents, and the impact of literary awards. In this sense, the “Cao Wenxuan fever” is a textbook example of how literary exchanges can be scrutinised from a sociological perspective, shedding light on the dynamics at play in the circulation of literature – which is not limited to children’s books.

HW: Has your interest in Chinese children’s books influenced your colleagues and students? 

PM: Quite a few of my colleagues were interested in children’s literature, either as translators or scholars, long before I even considered trying my hand at it. If anything, it was their interest that influenced me! But the impact of my work, however limited, is definitely more visible when it comes to my students. When I started using examples from children’s books in my translation courses, and then posting news and articles related to Chinese children’s fiction on my semi-institutional Facebook page, I quickly noticed this struck a chord with them. MA students started contacting me with surprisingly clear ideas about what they wanted to do for their thesis. Unsurprisingly, many of them were interested in Cao Wenxuan, but others were looking for authors and books that were less widely known. Since then, I have supervised some very interesting and well-argued pieces of research: eg, on the narrative of difference in Cao’s Ding ding dang dang 《叮叮当当》series;on the perception of Tang Sulan’s 汤素兰 stories by children of different age groups; on the narratological and semiotic implications of the translation of picture books, and so on. All of these students were very highly motivated. Some of them, driven by a strong desire to undertake a career as professional translators of children’s literature, even started sending out resumes and translation samples to publishing houses. And it was an extremely proud moment when the In Altre Parole translation competition at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair 2018 – China was the guest of honour country that year – was won by a former student of mine!

HW: It’s wonderful to learn how the interest in Chinese children’s literature in growing in Italy, and I hope we can look forward to featuring some of your colleagues and students in the future!

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103. The Top 10 Bestselling Children’s Books in China in July 2020

The long summer holidays are a great time for reading, and, we hope, for reading for pleasure. The following list, the Top 10 bestselling children’s books in China in July 2020, is taken from the bestseller lists published on openbook,com.cn. Some of these books (1, 2, 3, 6, 10) have been on the bestselling lists for years (see my notes for Aug 2014 and Aug 2015), the top 2 are translated from Japanese (1) and English (2), and four of these titles are available in English editions (1, 2, 3 excerpt only, and 6).

The Top 10 Bestselling Children’s Books in China, July 2020 (image source: openbook.com.cn

Details of the ten books are given below:


1. [日] 黑柳彻子, [日] 岩崎千弘 : 窗边的小豆豆 (南海出版公司, 2018) ISBN 9787544288590 // Tetsuko KUROYANAGI, illustrated by Chihiro IWASAKI, translated into Chinese by ZHAO Yujiao 赵玉皎. Translated into English by Dorothy BRITTON: Totto-chan, Little Girl at the Window. Read about this book on Wikipedia.

2.  [美] E.B.怀特 : 夏洛的网 (上海译文出版社) ISBN 9787532767373 // E.B. WHITE and Garth WILLIAMS (illus.), Charlotte’s Web, translated into Chinese by REN Rongrong 任溶溶. Read about this book on Wikipedia.

3. 曹文轩 :  曹文轩纯美小说系列.草房子 (江苏凤凰少年儿童出版社) ISBN 9787534618727 // CAO Wenxuan, The Straw House [excerpt, bilingual book]. Read about this author, who was the first author from China to win the Hans Christian Andersen Award, on Wikipedia.

4.  任溶溶 : 中国幽默儿童文学创作.任溶溶系列.没头脑和不高兴 (注音版) (浙江少年儿童出版社有限公司) ISBN 9787559706522 // REN Rongrong: Mr No-brain and Mr Not-happy [not available in English]. Read about this author, who is also the most highly respected translator of children’s literature in China, including Charlotte’s Web (no.2, above), on Wikipedia.

5.  北猫: 米小圈脑筋急转弯 (第2辑) – 智慧者游戏 (四川少年儿童出版社有限公司) ISBN 9787536593749 // Bei Mao : Games and puzzles for clever people [not translated into English] — This games and puzzles series is a spin-off of the very popular Mi Xiaoquan books about the escapades of the young boy Mi Xiaoquan and his friends at school sometimes described as China’s equivalent of The Diary of the Wimpy Kid series.

6.  曹文轩: 曹文轩纯美小说系列.青铜葵花 (新版) (江苏凤凰少年儿童出版社) ISBN 9787534633362 // CAO Wenxuan and Meilo SO (illus.), Helen WANG (trans.), Bronze and Sunflower. Read about this award-winning book on Wikipedia.

7.  杨红樱 : 笑猫日记 (26) -幸运女神的宠儿 (明天出版社有限公司) ISBN 9787570802357 // YANG Hongying, Diary of a Smiling Cat series, no. 26, The Lucky Goddess’s Pet [not translated into English]. Read about this very popular author on Wikipedia.

8.  北猫 : 米小圈脑筋急转弯(第2辑)-密码大发现 (四川少年儿童出版社有限公司) ISBN 9787536593756. [Another games and puzzles book spin-off of the Mi Xiaoquan series, written and illustrated by Bei Mao. See no. 5]

9.  张乐平 : 三毛流浪记 (彩图注音读物) (少年儿童出版社) ISBN 9787558900648 // ZHANG Leping : The Adventues of orphan San Mao [not translated into English]. Read about this much-loved author and his his three-haired character San Mao on Wikipedia.

10.  沈石溪 : 动物小说大王沈石溪.品藏书系.狼王梦(升级版) (浙江少年儿童出版社有限公司) ISBN9787534256301 // SHEN Shixi : Dream of the Wolf King [not translated into English]. Read about this author, “China’s king of animal stories”, on Wikipedia.

102. To Catch a Fish – by Zhang Wei and Zhang Honglei

The gorgeous cover of a new picture book caught my eye recently: “To Catch a Fish” 捉鱼去 written by Zhang Wei 张炜, illustrated by Zhang Honglei 张弘蕾, and published by Daylight Publishing House (Tiantian chubanshe 天天出版社). 


“To Catch a Fish” 捉鱼去, by ZHANG Wei 张炜, illus. ZHANG Honglei 张弘蕾, Tomorrow Publishing House 天天出版社, 2020 [image source: amazon.com]

In the book, six young children (5 boys, 1 girl) show us five different ways to catch a fish without a fishing net. They stir up water to make the fish come up for air. They pick long grass and push fish through the water. They dam the stream and catch fish in a basket. They use bait to lure the fish to where they can catch them, and they make holes for the fish to hide in. We learn that fish like to swim in narrow stretches of water, close to the bottom of creeks and streams, and like to hide in holes. At the back of the book three pages give details of six types of fish found in Chinese lakes and rivers.

Zhang Wei is an award-winning author, and writes for both adults and young readers. His adult books include The Ancient Ship 《古船》, September’s Fable 《九月寓言》and On the Plateau 《你在高原》. His children’s books include the Life on the Peninsula 半岛哈里哈气 series, The Young Boy and the Sea 少年与海, and In Search of the King of Fish寻找鱼王.




The Life on the Peninsula 半岛哈里哈气 series (2012) is about a boy whose father has been banished to a peninsula, and who describes the noisy wildlife there, [image source: sina.com]




The Young Boys and the Sea 少年与海 (2017) is about three teenagers on the beach, who go to explore the forest to find out whether the monsters in the forest are as bad as the stories they have heard about them. [image source: dongjing.com]

king of fish



In Search of the King of Fish is a story based on an old folktale and full of traditional Chinese customs. [image source: chinawriter.com.cn]



Zhang Honglei has illustrated several books including the Chinese edition (2018) of Elena Fernandez Prados’ Economics through Everyday Stories from around the World (2016)

Zhang Honglei (1)

《环游世界读经济》(Economics Through Everyday Stories Around the World), by Elena Fernandez Prados, illustrated by Zhang Honglei, 2018 [image source: Dangdang.com]

When I first saw the cover of “To Catch a Fish”, I immediately thought of the famous Huxian peasant painting 户县农民画  titled “The Commune’s Fishpond” 公社鱼塘 by Dong Zhengyi 董正谊, published by Renmin meishu chubanshe, 1973.

commune's fishpond

The Commune’s Fishpond, painting by Dong Zhengyi, 1973 [image source: Chineseposters.net [BG E13/353 (Landsberger collection)]

An exhibition of Huxian peasant paintings toured Europe in the mid-late 1970s, and this painting was available as a poster and a greetings card in Guang Hwa Bookshop in London (thanks to Mary Hinton, formerly a librarian at the British Museum for this information! She says “I’ve always loved this image for its dynamism and vivid colours. So many fish leaping in the net!”). For more about the touring exhibition and its reception, see Emily Williams,“Exporting the Communist Image: The 1976 Chinese Peasant Painting Exhibition in Britain”, New Global Studies vol. 8 (2014): 279-305.

101. Lizzie Marshall compares stories about wolves

Lizzie Marshall recently completed her PhD ‘The Wolf in the Story’: Wolves as Outlaws and Speech-stealers in Old English Literature. Of course, there are wolves in Chinese children’s literature too! When we heard Lizzie was reading Shen Shixi’s novel Jackal and Wolf, we were keen to know how wolf stories compare. We were delighted she agreed to an interview! And that she has written a longer blog post about Jackal and Wolf on her website Words on Wolves.  Continue reading

99. Interview with Shih-Wen Sue Chen

Shih-Wen Sue Chen teaches children’s literature at Deakin University, Australia, one of a very small number of universities which offers a major in children’s literature in the BA program. In her “Children’s Literature Around the World” unit, she introduces Chinese children’s literature in translation to her students. She has an impressive list of publications – see her staff page at Deakin University, where she is Senior Lecturer in Writing and Literature. Her most recent book is Children’s Literature and Transnational Knowledge in Modern China – Education, Religion, and Childhood, published by Palgrave Macmillan, 2019. We are delighted that Shih-Wen Sue agreed to an interview with Amy Matthewson, who shares a common research interest in race relations and the representation of China and Chinese people in English-language popular publications. Thank you both very much for this interview! Continue reading

98. Children’s Books in China, 2017-2020

Publisher’s Weekly produces an annual summary Children’s Books in China. We featured the 2017 and 2018 editions in an earlier blog (no. 66). Here are the editions for 2019 and 2020. These industry reports are researched and written by Teri Tan, who has an impressive list of publications with Publisher’s Weekly. Continue reading

97. I Want To Be Good! Nicky Harman tells us about Huang Beijia’s novel

Nicky Harman is one of the most versatile and enthusiastic translators of Chinese literature, and a few months ago we were delighted to hear that she had been commissioned to translate Huang Beijia‘s 黄蓓佳 much-loved novel I Want To Be Good! 《我要做好孩子》. Huang Beijia is a well-known author in China, with many books to her name, and was China’s nominated author for the Hans Christian Andersen Award this year. At long last, she is being translated into English! Thank you, Nicky, for agreeing to be interviewed! Continue reading

96. Frogs and Tadpoles

Bibbit Jumps, written and illustrated by Bei Lynn 林小杯, will be published in English by Gecko Press later this year. It’s a delightful book about Bibbit, a frog who loves to jump, and his little sister, who’s quite a lot braver than him. Of course, both of them were once tadpoles, and then grew into frogs. Continue reading