During the Beijing International Book Fair (22nd - 26th August), The Bookseller spoke to Lucas Dietrich, international editorial director at Thames & Hudson, whose remit is to produce titles with appeal to the Chinese market. Here he discusses the publisher's reasons for focusing on such content.
Can you describe your role at Thames & Hudson?
My title is international editorial director. I have been commissioning books on a range of subjects at Thames & Hudson, from design and architecture to lifestyle and travel, for about 25 years. While Thames & Hudson has always acquired books for the international markets, the ‘international’ aspect of my title was added about five years ago, as part of a dedicated effort to enhance our editorial activities across Australasia region.
How do you come up with content that appeals to the Chinese market?
It would be difficult to say that we ‘devise content for the Chinese market’. I would prefer to think of our evolving perspective as one that is developing a sensitivity to the subjects and manner of presentation most appropriate to an already mature market and culture. Whereas in the past there may have been a received view that ‘foreign’ markets had a perennial appetite for Western subjects, it seems clear to me, even at some remove, that whatever lessons Western culture might have once offered these readerships, there is far greater confidence now in their own contribution to global culture. One reads a lot about China’s ‘soft power’: one way we have witnessed this is in active interests of Chinese authors, producers and publishers to learn from Western publishers’ experience in publishing and promoting their culture to international audiences.
What types of content are relevant to the Chinese market?
All content is relevant to the Chinese market, but we seek out projects that will have relevance not only for the Chinese market but for all our international markets, as has been Thames & Hudson’s mission since it was established 70 years ago. Two forthcoming titles illustrated this: next spring we will release a book on contemporary Chinese architecture. This is in itself a fascinating subject because of the breathtaking speed with which buildings are going up and cities being transformed and should be of interest to anyone interested in our built world, but it is also interesting because the selection of architects in our publication are all women, a clear demonstration that some of the most accomplished architecture in the world is being produced by Chinese women architects. This is something to celebrate within that country and to be appreciated around the world.
The second project is a hugely ambitious illustrated volume on the Silk Roads. Everyone should be aware of the vast infrastructure project China has been developing under the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. The soft-power piece of this is the country’s desire to be at the centre of the cultural exchange along these historic routes, in the past and for the near future. The book was commissioned with this very much and mind, but mindful not to offer a Western perspective, we have commissioned a team of contributors from along the entire route, making the book itself an embodiment of the very cross-cultural exchange the book celebrates. We expect the approach to appeal to the Chinese market while avoiding the trap of being either Western- OR China-centric.
What have been your biggest successes in this area?
Undoubtedly one of our biggest successes recently, not only in Asia but internationally, has been Chineasy, an innovative and fun book on learning Chinese characters devised by ShaoLan Hseuh. This has given us two, reciprocal insights: first, there is huge interest in China and Chinese culture around the world, and when packaged in the right way a book, as ShaoLan puts it, ‘break down the Great Wall’ between East-West cultural and linguistic difference. Second, Chinese audiences are open to how their language and culture might be presented from a modern, Western perspective. It is this reciprocity we seek in all of the publications we commission for the Asian markets.