Shanghai Book Fair 2017: A Sea of Books (Part 1)
By Chou Sing Chu Foundation
Held from 16 to 22 August 2017 at the Shanghai Exhibition Centre, the various commercial pursuits at this year’s Shanghai Book Fair (SBF) seemed to intensify its contradictory, yet complicated, cultural core. Going back to basics, we will use “books” to provide a footnote to this multifaceted yearly event of the Chinese book industry.
A Dialogue Between Tradition and the Contemporary
A Smith Ship Clock hangs on the wall in his home. Through this representation of the now defunct clock factory, Shanghai writer Jin Yucheng laments the passing of time in the Chinese clock and watch industries in Precious Objects: Stories of Chinese Literature and Art. Edited by Life Magazine, this book brings together 100 accomplished individuals from 20 different fields in contemporary literature and art to share their stories of cherished personal objects, and to bring the beautiful tradition of treasuring everything to this “consume and discard” era. It is no wonder that this book was one of the highlights at SBF.
This approach of examining the contemporary through the lens of memory was also expressed in the numerous themed exhibitions, which included The Commercial Press’ 120th anniversary exhibition. This year, the pioneering publishing company released several biographical publications such as The First 10 Years: Mao Dun at The Commercial Press and Zhang Yuanji: An Illustrated Biography. The Commercial Press’ exhibition, with the tagline of “Modern Chinese Publishing Began Here”, showed how publishing in China has remained in the vanguard over the past century and how the key idea of “innovation” appears to have originated from this Pearl of the Orient.
“Innovation” does not mean blind criticism of conventional thought and abandoning its essence. One important exhibition at SBF was organised in tandem with the publication of Days of Sun and Moon: A Selection of Images, Writings, and Comics from the Family of Feng Zikai by Shanghai Art and Literature Publishing House. Named after the book, the exhibition aimed to convey self-reflection on the inheritance of traditional culture.
Surges of Creativity Both Locally and Abroad
One of the early artists who attempted to bridge Chinese and Western aesthetics, the historical significance of Feng’s contributions to modern Chinese painting was obvious at this year’s SBF. For instance, East China Normal University Press published the My Father’s Drawings series, while in the “Hangzhou T.K. Culture & Art” area, Xiaofeng Book House sold a variety of merchandise related to Feng, such as reusable tote bags and postcards based on Feng’s Ahimsa Paintings, amply depicting the scholarly artist’s sense of compassion.
The approach of using cultural symbols to highlight local cultural identity was also seen in textbooks. Shandong People’s Publishing House reissued a series of “Classic Textbooks of the Republic of China” but this was perhaps more conventional. Shangyin Bookstore created the innovative “Republic of China Textbook Mahogany Gift Box”, giving new life to the first Chinese textbook for primary school students drawn by Feng and turning it into a widely popular product.
(Translated by Daryl Li)
Please look out for Shanghai Book Fair 2017: A Sea of Books (Part 2)