Popularising Vietnamese publications to world readers

October 2, 2017 | 09:30 am GMT+7

The introduction of Vietnamese books to world readers has proven itself as an effective way to promote the land and people as well as the country’s literature and arts. However, the work has seen modest progresses over the past years despite efforts made by Vietnamese publishing houses, translators and writers.



Visitors at an book fair on Vietnamese literature (Source: VNA)

In early 2017, the Department of Publishing, Printing and Issuing under the Ministry of Information and Communications reported that Vietnamese books have been mostly exported to Europe (UK and France) and Asian countries such as China, Japan and the Republic of Korea while the African and American markets have not yet been reached in regards to Vietnamese publications.
The department also noted a huge difference between exports and imports of the publishing sector in 2016 when the country exported 400,000 copies of books, 6.8 million newspapers and magazines, while it imported more than 41 million copies of books, 8.6 million newspapers and magazines at the same time. This trade deficit leads to consequence that in spite of Vietnam’s efforts to step up its international integration process, Vietnamese books have still been absent in the reading list of the world readers.
For many years, how to popularise Vietnamese books to the world market has been not only the concern of those working it the publication sector, but also the hope of Vietnamese writers and translators.
In 2002, Vietnam Writers’ Association hosted the first conference to promote Vietnamese literature abroad. The participation of 25 translators from 22 countries at the event showed encouraging sign of international friends’ interest in and willingness to popularise Vietnamese literature. The second conference was held eight years later, attracting 108 international participants from 34 countries across the globe. The third event, took place in 2015, and was attended by more than 150 international delegates from 43 countries and territory worldwide.
Thanks to the conferences, a number of Vietnamese publications have been translated and published abroad, including the ‘Nhat Ky Trong Tu’ (Prison Diary) by President Ho Chi Minh, which has been published in Canada, Czech Republic, and the Republic of Korea; and works by acclaimed Vietnamese poets Nguyen Du, Ho Xuan Huong, and Nguyen Trai have been introduced to readers in France, the US, Poland and Sweden.
In the same effort, Vietnamese publishing agencies have also taken measure to reach foreign markets with Tre (Youth) Publishing House having gained remarkable achievements.
In 2011, the publishing house released the English version of Vietnamese children’s book ‘ Vua Nham Mat Vua Mo Cua So’ (Open the window, eyes closed) by Nguyen Ngoc Thuan and introduced this book to the world market through websites, book fairs, and souvenir shops for foreign visitors to Vietnam. The work was then translated into Swedish and published in the European country.
Following its success, the publishing house continues releasing the bilingual version of books by Vietnamese most favourite authors, historical books, and Vietnamese folk fairy tales, targeting Vietnamese people living abroad as well as foreign readers in a bid to attract their interest in Vietnam.
As another successful example, in 2012, Chibooks – a new face in Vietnam’s publishing sector at that time, signed contracts with nearly 20 contemporary Vietnamese writers, who have authored nearly 100 literary works, to become their official representative of eight to ten years and to introduce their works abroad. The publishing house has also translated brief introductions of the books, writers’ biography, and articles reviewing the publications while closely coordinating with their partners in the host countries at meetings between Vietnamese writers and foreign readers, and book signing events. Chibooks’ professionalism and long-term vision is necessary in working with foreign partners in regards to working on copyright.
Another channel contributing to the popularisation of Vietnamese books to the world is the silent effort of Vietnamese and foreign writers, translators, and cultural researchers. They have served as “cultural ambassadors” who have introduced outstanding Vietnamese literary works abroad by utilising their personal contacts and influence.
The Vietnamese Literature Bookcase was launched in France in 2012 as an initiative of Dr. Doan Cam Thi, a Vietnamese – French researcher, lecturer and translator. Under the programme, more than 70 works by Vietnamese writers, such as Nguyen Binh Phuong, Vu Dinh Giang and Phan Hon Nhien, have been translated into French and published in France amongst the Francophone community.
Other notable ‘matchmakers’ of Vietnam literature and the world readers are translators Zhu Yangxiu and Tian Xiaohua from China, Ahn Kyung Hwan from the Republic of Korea, and Montira Rato from Thailand. Tian Xiaohua has exerted her effort to convince a prestigious Chinese publishing house to publish a short story collection, which groups stories by 21 Vietnamese contemporary authors. The collection has gained positive appreciation from Chinese readers. Tian Xiaohua has also planed to translate and introduce more Vietnamese literary works to people in her country.
Although the popularisation of Vietnamese publications abroad has gained encouraging results, a number of shortcomings and difficulties have also emerged. The lack of a strong team of translators, the absence of a functional agency in charge of advertising Vietnamese literature, along with the low budget for promotional campaigns have been listed as the main reasons.
Reality has also showen that many opportunities have been unexploited since Vietnamese publications have not yet met strict requirements from many international publishing houses, who agree to buy the copyright of a book if only it has recorded tens of thousands of copies. Meanwhile, Vietnamese publications are often sold at around 1,500 to 2,000 copies a year at the domestic market.
By popularising Vietnamese populations to world readers, we have simultaneously advertised Vietnamese culture to international friends. However, how to effectively introduce Vietnamese literature to the world requires efforts not only from publishing houses or individuals, but also from functional agencies and the entire publishing sector in general.