Books and tea culture unite countries
2017-09-18, GUAN XIAOMENG

The Land of Tea, or Rui Cao Zhi Guo, by Chinese writer Wang Xufeng saw its Bengali version launched on Aug 24 by Sampark Publishing House of India during the Beijing International Book Fair, and the Hindi translation is nearing completion.

The book was first published by Zhejiang University Press (ZJUP) in 2001 and was chosen as one of ZJUP’s export selections of the Belt and Road Initiative titles to coincide with the national campaign which is in full swing. 

The Belt and Road series covers more than 100 disciplines including archaeology, arts, religion and law of the countries involved in the initiative, in more than 10 languages such as English, Spanish, Russian, Turkish and Bengali. 

Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative is the China-led plan to build a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along ancient trade routes.

Sunandan Roy Chowdhury, publisher at Sampark, said his press used to be influenced by the West. Now it is starting to look east, especially to Turkey, Pakistan and China.

“We are tapping China as we share the same culture, such as love for tea. Through books we can build peace between the two countries as we both are lands of tea.”

The writer and tea culture scholar Wang Xufeng won one of China’s top literary awards, the 5th Mao Dun Literary Prize awarded in November 2000, for Trilogy of Tea and Man, her novel about the history of a family tea business in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang province. The Land of Tea further testifies to the varied roles of China’s tea culture.

India has 22 recognized languages, and Bengali and Hindi are two of the most popular apart from English. 

Chowdhury said one of the challenges is translation. “The Bengali translator will translate this book from English and may not know Chinese.”

Likewise, there are few Bengali speakers in China. According to a study released last year by the Ministry of Education and the State Language Commission, more than 40 languages are spoken in the countries along the Belt and Road routes, however only 20 of them are taught at Chinese universities, with students enrolled in a Bengali major numbering less than 50 in 2015.

But for Chowdhury the language barrier is not a problem. “Sampark means relationship or contact in Hindi. We are building relationships through books.”

And he seems to know how to get Indians to buy the book. “We have blown up the images, as the book has many beautiful paintings and photos. And then we plan to hold an art exhibition based on this book to attract more publicity and more readers.”

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