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Understanding China
A series of bilingual books on China's development make their U.S. debut
By Yu Shujun | NO. 24 JUNE 14, 2018
A reader poses with a stuffed panda toy in front of a poster of introducing the Understanding China series at the CIPG booth during the 2018 BookExpo America in New York on June 1 (WANG TONG)

China has achieved incredible growth since it adopted its reform and opening-up policy 40 years ago. What exactly is going on in China? What is the secret behind such rapid development? How can a rising China get along with the rest of the world? For U.S. readers who are eager to find answers to these questions, a series of new books may hold the key. At the 2018 BookExpo America (BEA) held in New York from May 30 to June 1, the first selection of Understanding China, a series of books telling the stories of contemporary China, was presented to U.S. readers for the first time since their publication in April.

"Telling the stories of China, the Communist Party of China (CPC) and China's communication and interaction with the rest of the world through a series of books is the best way to help those who care about China acquire new knowledge and gradually allay the suspicions of those who have doubts about China," said Zheng Bijian, head of the editorial board of Understanding China and President of the China Institute for Innovation and Development Strategy (CIIDS), in a message to the series promotional event at the BEA, one of the largest book fairs in North America, on June 1.

The event was co-hosted by the CIIDS, the China International Publishing Group (CIPG) and the Berggruen Institute, an international think tank. The series was jointly planned and compiled by the CIIDS and CIPG, and published in both Chinese and English by CIPG's Foreign Language Press, which also published Xi Jinping: The Governance of China. The selection presented at the BEA consisted of 15 books in Chinese and seven English versions.

Zheng said in his message that the series expounds on Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and the path taken by China since the reform and opening up over the past 40 years, especially the important decisions the CPC Central Committee has made, major advances it has carried out and new trends and challenges it faces in leading the Party, the country and the army since the 18th CPC National Congress in 2012.

Hu Kaimin (middle), Dawn Nakagawa (left) and Shi Xiaojin sign three-party cooperation agreements on co-publishing the series overseas, at the CIPG booth at the 2018 BookExpo America in New York on June 1 (COURTESY PHOTO)

Motivation

While foreigners are curious about the world's second largest economy, "misgivings about the country abound," wrote Zheng in the preface to the Understanding China series. "All kinds of theories such as the 'China Threat,' the 'Collapsing of China,' the 'Thucydides Trap' and the 'middle income trap' have been directed toward China," he said. That is why the CIIDS joined together with the Chinese People's Institute of Foreign Affairs and the Berggruen Institute's 21st Century Council to hold two Understanding China conferences in 2013 and 2015, according to Zheng.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping sat down with foreign participants at the 2015 conference, Zheng explained in his message, he said that to understand China requires two-way communication and that China should tell its own stories. Xi also said that as China continues to develop, he always reminds himself of the country's history by answering the questions: Where have we come from and where we are going?

"In fact, these questions have also been asked by the international community for a long time, which is when the idea of compiling the Understanding China book series came to me," said Zheng.

Dawn Nakagawa, Executive Vice President of the Berggruen Institute, said at the event, "For far too long, we have let ideological differences blind us to our common future and the benefits of working together. Indeed we have very different political systems, each with pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses. If we listen to each other and are willing to learn from each other, perhaps it would benefit both of our governance systems."

For seven years the Berggruen Institute and the CIIDS have worked together to deepen understanding and strengthen connections between China and the world, said Nakagawa. In 2016, CIPG, the CIIDS and the Berggruen Institute started working together to plan the series of books.

Compelling stories

Hu Kaimin, Deputy Editor in Chief of the Foreign Languages Press, said in his address that the books were written by the most renowned Chinese experts in various fields, with each focusing on one aspect of today's China.

As a leading Chinese thinker and strategist, Zheng is one of the authors. In his book, Zheng shares his views with readers on China's role in economic globalization. Others include veteran Chinese writer and former Culture Minister Wang Meng, who explains the Chinese way of thinking; former IMF Deputy Managing Director Zhu Min, who highlights the Chinese economy; and Ma Huateng, founder and CEO of Chinese tech giant Tencent, who details the changes the Internet has brought to Chinese society.

Zheng said that he strongly recommends the books because of the objectivity of their content and vivid and concrete descriptions in their writing style. "The writers do not exaggerate the achievements China has made, nor do they shy away from questions that China faces," Zheng explained. "And the books are not simply the authors' academic works, but include stories, which are easy for readers to understand."

Hu added, "In terms of topics and expressions, the books take into full consideration foreign readers' focuses and way of thinking, and the English translations try to meet their reading habits."

Hu was also confident that the series "will be accepted, loved and valued by more American readers and friends in various sectors, and will provide a wealth of information and profound insights for the international community in understanding Chinese culture and choices and adapting to the development of China."

Future plan

At the event, a co-publishing signing ceremony was also held with representatives from the Foreign Language Press, the Berggruen Institute and the CIIDS, where it was agreed to jointly publish the book series overseas. The Berggruen Institute will look for international publishers for the books, while Hu said that world-renowned scholars and politicians are going to be invited to write books on the theme from their unique perspectives.

Nakagawa expressed her hope that the Berggruen Institute will continue its cooperation with its Chinese counterparts on both the conferences and the books, and will help make the series an international success. According to Zheng, the book series will be accompanied by television specials and videos.

(Reporting from New York City)

Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo

Comments to yushujun@bjreview.com

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