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China Daily

Focus> Life & Art> Content
Tuesday, March 05, 2019, 11:37
New world of books
By Mei Jia
Tuesday, March 05, 2019, 11:37 By Mei Jia

Books, With Love, a play about the ups and downs of a publishing house over the past 30 years, debuts at the Moby Theater in Beijing. The play tells a story of four young people and their choices in the publishing industry in China. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

A publishing house in China has found a creative way to celebrate its achievements over the past 30 years since its founding-through a stage play.

"I see myself and my career reflected in the play, though I have only worked with the press for three years. The play is retrospective and enlightening, showing where the publishing house comes from and where it is going."

Dong Chao, editor of China Democracy and Legal System Publishing House

The play about the publisher debuted last week at the Moby Theater in Beijing, drawing cheers and tears from the audience.

Books, With Love (Zhi Duan Qing Chang) is a production of China Democracy and Legal System Publishing House and Moba Drama.

Sun Yue, who works for Moba Drama and is the play's director, says in preparation he spent months talking to a large number of employees of the publishing house that his company partnered with for the project, to get to know their personal stories of the past three decades, including from some former employees.

Before the play was written, Sun says he was concerned about the future of the publishing industry, especially with the relevance of print declining in the high-tech information world.

"Where is publishing headed?" is a question he says he asked himself earlier.

The play presents answers, he adds.

"It is not a chronicle retelling of the publishing house's history," Sun says.

"It is a story of four young people and their choices in 30 years in the publishing industry that touched me, and will touch many more."

Shang Hui, who is from a digital media company affiliated to the China Publishing Group, wrote a poem to express her excitement after watching it.

"It is bittersweet," she says of the play.

Like many other similar publishers, China Democracy and Legal System Publishing House was established in 1989 as an affiliate of the General Office of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, with Deng Rong, youngest daughter of Deng Xiaoping, as its first president.

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In the past 30 years, the press has survived changes in the market economy and fulfilled its duty to the NPC; expanded its business and tried to face the challenges presented by digital and online development; and succeeded in transforming itself, as it is no longer associated with the NPC and has turned from a non-profit institution into a publishing company under the China Publishing Group, says Liu Haitao, the president of the press.

The 90-minute play offers glimpses of such moments in its evolution, mixing both victories and challenges, Liu says, adding that the play is also a reflection of other Chinese publishers' experiences.

It was Liu's idea to tell the story from the perspectives of two young couples. And it seems to have worked.

In the storyline, two colleagues fall in love during an overnight assignment to print and release the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests, when it was first passed in 1993.

The play shows the wife becoming busy in the press' circulation work while still burdened with household duties. Meanwhile, the husband becomes an editor who works on adding value to traditional publishing or new forms of publishing. But since both of them have little time for the family, the couple's marriage faces a breakdown and they file for divorce.

Books, With Love, a play about the ups and downs of a publishing house over the past 30 years, debuts at the Moby Theater in Beijing. The play tells a story of four young people and their choices in the publishing industry in China. (PHOTO / CHINA DAILY)

Also in the plot, a rising info-tech tycoon attends a record-breaking book release, and talks about the threat from online books to traditional publishing, while another young woman quits the press to join this IT company.

"I see myself and my career reflected in the play, though I have only worked with the press for three years. The play is retrospective and enlightening, showing where the publishing house comes from and where it is going," says Dong Chao, editor of the press.

Liu, the president, says there were days when printed books from his company sold in millions of copies, like those by writers Qian Wenzhong and Yu Dan. But such days are gone.

"IT companies may have taken over some of the platforms, but we still have the patience to be a good content provider," Liu says.

"In a time of offline-online integration, publishing is all about producing content, whether in printed form, social media posts, videos, audio books or interactive ones," Liu adds.

Sun, who works for the drama company, says what moved him is seeing how publishing is updating itself with time and technology.

"The publishers tell me content is king. Creating content is creating value. From that viewpoint, I feel reassured about my own creation of such original plays. I will focus more on the reality of the current situation," he adds.

At the end of the play, the "scholarly editor" husband of one couple talks with a scientist about a small portable device to turn printed text into audio content, and the kind of voices that can present them in a way which is closer to real voices and the types of stereo effects to be used. The reference is to an actual product designed by a lab the press set up in 2018 to explore what high-end technology can do to help traditional publishing.

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"To present content in various forms is our emphasis now," Liu says.

The integration with other cultural businesses is seen as a new feature of publishing in China. The debut of the play itself is a clear signal of that.

"We won't stop with this debut. The play might be on show again, it could be turned into a television series or a movie or even be turned into a book," Liu adds.

Contact the writer at meijia@chinadaily.com.cn

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