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Shaanxi shows the write stuff
2019-08-05 
Visitors look through new books at the National Book Expo in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, on July 27. The four-day event attracted 412,000 visitors.[Photo provided to China Daily]

The 29th National Book Expo held in China's northwest, highlighted local literary legends, national history and the sciences, Mei Jia reports in Xi'an.

The undoubted star of the 29th National Book Expo, which was held in Xi'an, Shaanxi province, from July 27 to Tuesday, was writer Jia Pingwa.

He drew a big crowd of fans, with his name being called out wherever he turned during the four-day event.

The Shaanxi native says, with a local accent, that he is working on a new novel with urban settings and themes.

"Most of my stories are about villages or villagers around the Qinling Mountains, or the differences in thought between generations of Chinese people throughout a century… I've been living in the city for decades. It's time to look at city life," the 67-year-old author said at a readers' meeting organized by the Writers Publishing House at the book expo.

"I insist that a writer stays connected (with society), while still enjoying some solitude and keeping a certain distance from the hustle and bustle," he said at another event, where he was presented with an "honorary writer" award by the People's Literature Publishing House.

With his native village and his mother being his constant inspiration, Jia says he burst into tears upon a recitation of excerpts from an article about his mother on the first day of the expo.

With a total 150 writers in attendance, the book expo attracted 412,000 visitors to more than 500 events. Enthusiastic readers purchased 512,000 books, totaling 21.9 million yuan ($3.17 million).

"The expo has the largest exhibition area and the largest number of exhibitors in the history of national book expos," says Cheng Ningbo, director of the provincial Press and Publication Bureau.

Cheng also says one highlight was the special area inside the main hall that presented 159 titles as publishers' summaries and presentations of the country's achievements over the past 70 years.

Chinese author Jia Pingwa attends a signing event at the book expo.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Xi'an paves the way

Focusing on the theme of the Silk Road, the expo set up a booth to showcase books from 34 countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.

An international forum on bookstores was also titled Silk Road, during which, a report was released that shows China, India, Germany, Spain and France are the top five countries that have the largest number of bookstores, among some countries that traded along the ancient Silk Road.

Former United Nations official, Michael Worbs, as well as Russian Bookvoed's founder, Denis Koto, and Turkish Kirmizi Kedi bookstore group's CEO, Murat Bahadir, attended the forum and shared their views on the running of physical bookstores in the face of the growing trend toward e-books.

Chinese author Jia also addressed translations of his books. In recent years, there has been a growth in the translation of Jia's body of work, which since the 1990s, has continued to grow with a new novel being released every two or three years.

Besides his frequent use of Shaanxi dialect in his novels, he says, "I'm afraid it's not easy to translate my texts, because of the cultural elements, and also the language style."

Canadian translator Dylan King is working on Jia's Qin Qiang (The Qinqiang Opera).

[Photo provided to China Daily]

"I first thought the dialect might be the problem, then it turned out to be the quoted opera passages," King says.

Jia says he's often taken translators to experience Shaanxi culture, as a way of helping them. Now, he has numerous titles translated into several different languages.

"Shaanxi is where my roots lay. I remember at the beginning of my writing career, I wrote everything I observed. I was at a loss then. By returning to my old home, I began to find my own way of writing."

The late authors, Chen Zhongshi, known for White Deer Plain, and Lu Yao, known for Life, also hailed from Shaanxi-further evidence of the province's strong tradition of raising and nurturing writers and artists. Their books were also highlighted at the expo.

Wu Mengchuan launched the fourth novel of her "flower" series, Wei Zi's Spring, about violence against teenagers. Centering on three young people with troubled backgrounds, the novel tells the story of their experiences of growing up.

"Her language is beautiful, and she can really think and write from a young person's perspective," Jia said at the release, showing support for his fellow Shaanxi writer.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

History, heroes and more

The children's section was among the most popular areas at the expo, unsurprising perhaps when one considers that China is currently the reported second-largest market for children's publishing. It was common to see children reading, and their parents lining up to purchase books for them.

Many new releases for children and teenagers focused on classical culture and the sciences.

A chief scientist of China's moon probe project, Ouyang Ziyuan, presented the Chinese Children's Encyclopedia of Space, a set of four volumes-which he took the lead in compiling-addressing the vastness of the universe, China's space exploration and views on the solar system.

Following hot on the heels of the inscription of the Archaeological Ruins of Liangzhu City in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, on the UNESCO World Heritage list, Zhejiang Children's Publishing House launched an illustrated book, 5,000 Years of Liangzhu Kingdom, which was coauthored by Liu Bin, a member of the team working at the site.

Meanwhile, children's literature writer Tang Sulan presented the story of Zhang Haidi, the inspirational speaker and author who has been a paraplegic since early childhood.

"My secret to pulling youngsters' attention back from the digital world is simple: to tell them simply good stories of people who achieved great things," Tang says.

The book is the latest title to be released by the Chinese Heroes project of which the publisher, Jieli Publishing House, is a participant.

[Photo provided to China Daily]

Real good stories

To promote the habit of reading, the expo arranged book donations to libraries and reading rooms in rural communities.

To honor those who have been devoted to reading and helping others get the chance to read, 10"reading figures of the year" were announced.

Among them is Guo Hengxun, known as the "diary king" of Yangcheng town in Shanxi province. The 76-year-old retiree has been writing diaries nonstop for 61 years.

"I used 300 brushes and 150 pens in those years," Guo says, adding that his diary is up to 30 million words in 1,100 volumes.

Reading is Guo's biggest hobby, as well as an opportunity for self-improvement.

However, to Xiang Minzhi, from the mountains of Luxi township, Hunan province, books offer him-and others-the chance of a better life.

Xiang lost the use of his legs after birth and dropped out of school in fifth grade. The occasional reading of a newspaper opened up his world. He would crawl 300 meters on his hands to borrow books and learn to read using a dictionary.

Gradually he began to write, and occasionally gets paid for his articles. He donates the money to the upkeep of the Mingzhi Library, which he helped to establish in his village in 2016. Under his guidance, the library has become a popular spot among the local children.

"We have more than 5,000 books and five kinds of newspapers in our collection. The library, on average, welcomes 20 readers every day," Xiang says.

"I found a new goal and I have self-confidence, thanks to reading. What I'm doing is fun, too," he says.

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