China’s soft power push at Delhi Book Fair

New Delhi Book Fair

There is no boundary when it comes to cultural interaction and ideas. India and China, the two Asian giants, are looking to widen the arc of understanding, as the large Chinese presence at the New Delhi Book Fair shows.   

China is the guest of honour at the Delhi Book Fair – part of a larger soft power initiative to bridge the gap between the two Asian giants through culture and literature. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a small step, as a Chinese proverb says, and the process of acquiring a deeper knowledge of each other is a journey without full stops.

There is a general atmosphere of ease and friendliness at the China Pavilion at the fair where hundreds of books in Mandarin are displayed. These include Chinese translations of many iconic Indian thinkers, writers and philosophers, opening up new windows into each other’s culture and worldview.

Zhao Yani of China National Publications Import is upbeat about possibilities.  She believes that the two cultures are more interwoven than it appears and due to different ideologies, the two countries have chosen different paths of development. “Endeavours such as the book fair bring the two countries closer on an informal basis and brings the people together.  This is as soft power initiative which would go a long way in improving the relations between the countries,” says Ms Zhao, who is on her second visit to India.

Rejecting stereotypes about the much-touted rivalry between India and China, she says refreshingly that there has been an increase in the interest about cultures of each country. “In the last one year, China has sold the copyrights of at least seven books dealing with Chinese history, culture and society to the Indian publishers which shows that the two countries are ready to accept each other.”

Political biographies about Indian leaders are also finding an audience in China. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been the subject of many commentaries in the Chinese media. Cashing in on this curiosity, the biography of Modi, authored by Tarun Vijay, a BJP MP and journalist, has been translated into the Chinese. The book entitled “Incredible Emergence of a Star,” has evoked much interest in China.

The over 200-strong Chinese delegation at the fair comprises representatives of 81 publishing houses and organisations and 9 authors. Hundreds of books showcased at the pavilion encompassed a wide variety of subjects. There were additional frills thrown in that included a display of traditional Chinese garden style, a showcase of paper making, publishing and printing in ancient China.

Some leading Chinese publishers represented at the fair included the People’s Publishing House, Beijing Publishing Grong China Education Publishing and Media Group Limited. The publishing ventures of Tsinghua University, Peking University, the China Renmin University and Beijing University Normal University Press were also represented at the fair.

Cultural Bonding

This focus on culture and literature is set to widen the arc of understanding between the people of India and China.  Agrees Liang Li, Director of China Water and Power Press: “More communication is needed between the two counties as it would improve the relations and lead to better understanding between the two sides.” He was a tad bit disappointed with the turnout at the Chinese Hall but was positive about the broader trajectory of India-China relations.

China and India have taken important steps towards strengthening cultural ties in the last few years. Vice President Hamid Ansari launched the Encyclopaedia of India-China Cultural Contacts in Beijing on June 30, 2014. During his visit to India, China’[s President Xi Jinping jointly announced with Prime Minister Modi to celebrate 2015 as the Visit India Year in China and 2016 as the Visit China Year in India to enhance tourism and people-to-people between the two countries. Looking ahead, soft power diplomacy is set to play a bigger role in the evolution of relations between India and China, which continue to shadowed by a long-standing boundary dispute. The spotlight on culture was telescoped during PM Modi’s visit to China in May 2014. He started his maiden visit to China with a trip to Xian, the home of the legendary Terracotta Warriors, and witnessed, along with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, a captivating joint performance of yoga and Tai-chi at the legendary Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Mr Modi has also opened a Weibo social networking account to reach out to Chinese netizens directly.

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