Class trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair

November 9th, 2009 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment »
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Members of the MSc in International Publishing Management recently attended the Frankfurt Book Fair. Shiqin Zhang reports on his experiences:

Working for a Beijing-based education publisher for years, I have been to the Beijing International Book Fair several times. The fair offers me a good opportunity to learn about the trends and gaps in the market. At the London Book Fair in 2009, again I not only researched my field and attended a number of lectures, but met some friends with Pearson Education and HarperCollins. Pearson Education even invited me to work with them over the summer. I accepted the offer and learnt about what “international publishing” is really like. What could the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair offer to me? I was very much looking forward to it.

This year the Frankfurt Book Fair was of special significance to us: China was the Guest of Honour country. After its successful show at the 2008 Olympics, China was under the spotlight of world media again in Frankfurt. Under the auspices of the department, we decided to go to the fair to support, witness and learn about this event.

The Frankfurt Book Fair is about literature, art, and culture. Among the 1000-strong Chinese delegates, quite a few of them are modern Chinese authors. Some of these authors delivered lectures at Frankfurt University, and shared with the audience what effects the transformations within Chinese society are having on their creative process. They even invited us to reflect on what it means to write in the context of Chinese modernity. At the fair, a show featuring the best of Chinese art and culture was preformed twice a day. Traditional Chinese music, lion dance and Peking opera could be enjoyed. It was such a great delight to see leading Peking opera artists Yu Kuizhi, Li Shengsu and others there. Language can be a big problem, as these artists speak no German, but the meaning got across to the audience through their fantastic performance. There were lots of cheers! The western audience seemed very interested in Chinese culture.

However, these were just some of the snapshots. I came to Frankfurt not to enjoy our Chinese culture, but to look at how the western people view Chinese culture and if the Chinese side presents it in a proper way. China has long been weak in soft-power influence of the sort that the U.S. and Europe achieve through their prominent roles in media and arts. I believe China saw the fair as a good way to promote its clout overseas. My impression is that it would be better if these events were presented in a way that is more relevant to the western people. In other words, it’s better to involve them than to tell them.

My colleague in Beijing told me about the launch ceremony of three new books by our company, so I invited two of my classmates to join. It was the first of the three books and the author is formerly the Vice Premier of China. Also participating were several senior officials from China, the OUP president, as well as the executives of our company. The ceremony lasted about 40 minutes. No beer or any other drinks were offered to us, and it was quite a disappointment.

In addition to these events featuring China, I also visited some stands collecting information regarding law publishing in Central and Eastern Europe in preparation for our group presentation. When I told them my purpose, the staff in those stands were very helpful. Also I went to research the reading device to see if there is a digital future in China for the foreseeable future, which I shall cover in my final report writing.

What I was particularly impressed with was the exhibition hall for TV and Film. Actually, in addition to the book and film industries, representatives of the creative industries of photography, games and design also found their way at the book fair. Some of the issues facing the publishing world require people to think beyond the boundaries of the industry and into the neighbouring sectors for solutions. Now is the time for us to rethink and reposition in the midst of changes.

Possibly because of prohibitive prices of luxurious hotels and the ongoing credit crunch, a cross-section of the publishing industry stayed in the hostel I chose. I met publishers from the States, journalists from the UK and rights people from China, and it is always nice to talk with people from the industry. But the bigger surprise is to hear western people speak Chinese. Outside the book fair, we were stopped by a friendly German. “Do you speak Mandarin Chinese?” When we said yes, he seemed very eager to practise his Chinese with us.

What lovely people they are! What a wonderful city! See you again.