I went to Reading Central Library a week ago with husband and son. At the ground floor there were 8 shelves of Chinese books. I did a quick glance and found out the collection is more of martial art epics, which I am not interested. A big collection of romance, of which I am not interested as well, except for the collection by writer Yi Shu. Manchester Central Library used to have a bigger collection, but I never took two floors up to have a look at them.
For English books, I know the difference between what books Malaysian and Singaporean read, versus English and Americans. I can even tell which authors appears to have home ground advantages for some of their books. I am ashamed to know, I don’t know what the Chinese between mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan read. When was the last time I read a Chinese book? Perhaps in 2004 when I bought some from Beijing Book City?
China has one of the three great book publishing industries in the world. Along with the UK and the US it publishes around 200,000 new titles and new editions a year, well ahead of the nearest rivals, Japan, Russia and Germany. It is by far the largest publishing market by volume – officially about 6bn units a year, but many more when pirated copies are taken into account. In terms of value the market will probably amount to around £4-5bn in 2007, which would put it fourth in the world – behind the US, Germany and Japan and ahead of the UK. If you take purchasing power parity into account it is second only to the US. Beijing Book City, for example, employs about 700 people and carries 230,000 titles on the shelves. Amazed?
My husband borrowed some books in French. He said it is not good to forget the language you had learnt and was proficient in it in the past. In my case, that would be Mandarin. The point is: it is unbearable to think you become “unfluent” in your mother tongue, that you now begin to think English in your mind, rather than Chinese when you articulate your thoughts. It is perhaps even strangely unacquainted if I were to pick up a Chinese book now and begin to read them. I would question myself why the protagonist had to be so longwinded? why is he/she kept holding on to the past? Why does he / she shied away from expressing his / her own feelings? Why do they have to be so compliant? etc. etc…. Too wishy-washy, too dramatic, think too much. The chinese language would slow the reading speed, etc. etc.
But then the beauty of the language, the thoughts behind what people of my ethnic think, the oriental wisdom about life, sometimes the implicitness of hidden feelings and romance; no English books may surpassed.
Maybe I should read Chinese books again. Like knocking on the doors and visiting a long forgotten acquaintance or friend. Although it may start off with initial awkwardness or faux pas, before long I am sure we will be talking like old friends again.