I have spent the last two days meeting with goverment officials and Chinese publishers to discuss US - Sino publishing cooperation and participation in BEA. While each meeting is different what does remain quite similar is the practice of guanxi, or face. Essentially this means each meeting opens with an exchange of flattery and compliments about each others importance and significance. With that out of the way business is conducted.
However, a meeting with a major Chinese publishing VP took an interesting turn. After an official meeting, complete with photographer and much guanxi, we went to lunch in a private room on the 40th floor of a nearby building. I quickly learned the Chinese word for "bottoms up" as the VP repeatedly challenged me to down glass after glass of Great Wall red wine with him. The other 10 members of our party watched in delight as I paced him "bottoms up" to "bottoms up" - not wanting to lose any guanxi of my own. Things really got interesting when gifts were exchanged and one of my British friends presented him with a sampeling of good Scottish whiskey. Let's just say I left with a great relationship with this house, plenty of guanxi and the prospect of a very interesting meeting with the U.S. Commerical Consulate an hour later.
Today the Beijing International Book Fair opened and I was flattered to be an honored guest at the opening ceremony. This entailed signing a honorary guest book, a beautiful orchid and standing on a stage outside in the sun in 90 degree heat (yes, good choice on the black suit today). For an hour I sweated like never before as dignitaries gave speeches and dozens of cameras recorded the sheets of sweat rolling down my face and heat induced swoon. Ah, to be honored by the Chinese.
General observations from my time here in Beijing are too numerous to record, but I'll share a few from the first day of the book fair. Keep in mind that my observations and editorial are far from condescension in any way. In fact they serve as reminders of how little we understand about the Chinese Publishing community yet we are all striving to do business here.
In general when I look around the hall I see a lot of money spent by Western publishers wanting to do business, but conversations reveal that the actual commerce is still small and hard fought for.
- A quote from a Chinese publishing staffer in regards to how the government is changing its view towards the rest of the world and how it relates to its domestic publishing, yet the steps are still small, "The Chinese government is very good at using two things: guns and the written word for propaganda."
- I was sitting in the BEA stand and watched a very old Chinese man walking down the aisle leafing through a copy of the Complete Jewish Bible.
- Chinese women walking around in shimmering silver mini dresses with red sashes emblazed with Chinese characters and the term "e book". Part of the Caravan Project perhaps?
- A friend I made from the Chinese Institute of Publishing Science showing me how he is reading The Godfather on his mobile phone - I didn't look for a copyright.
Tomorrow I am to deliver a brief talk at the Chinese Institute of Publishing Science, continue with more meetings and then a visit to the Book Worm Bookstore. It's an Ex Pat oasis of English language texts that has been skirting Chinese import laws for some years (the books were imported as "furniture") but is now receiving more legitimate status. I can't wait to see an indy bookstore in China......
Event Director BookExpo America
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