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Korean Books Sought by Chinese Readers






During the three years of China’s import ban on Korean content that began in August 2016, Korea’s export of general books was significantly hit. However, for complete children’s book collections, picture books, educational materials, and comics, Chinese publishers omitted imprints and left out the nationality part of the authors, not bringing a stop to the import of copyrights. It was because the demand was high. Around September last year, beginning with the Beijing International Book Fair, Korean books’ export to China enjoyed eased regulation across books for adults and children, continuing the recovering trend.



Import of Korean Books


The restriction on issuing ISBN on Korean books triggered by the THAAD incident was eliminated from 2019, and since then, marking the nationality of Korean writers and imprints has recovered to a normal level. There are many possible reasons for this.
First, for the recovery of the Korea-China relationship, President Xi Jinping’s visit to Korea was set for the first half of 2020. This was seen as a green light for the content industry, including publication, the anticipation of game, movie, and TV drama. Even though the schedule was postponed to the latter half due to COVID-19, the two countries’ relationship is interpreted to be not going back to the pre-THAAD level.
Second, copyright import from the US came to a deadlock due to the US-China trade war that began in 2019, and Korea rose as a substitute.
Third, as the movie “Parasite” by director Bong Joon-Ho released in 2019 won a globally prominent film award, Chinese people sent compliments to Korea and the number of Chinese consumers that used “binge-watch Korean movies” services increased after the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, with a successful defense against the pandemic, the country’s trust and preference for Korea improved, which seems to have greatly influenced copyright export to China.
Fourth, the cultural industry of China has been emphasizing that imported books are from Korea by putting Korean titles on the cover, which is just the opposite of the sentiment where they wanted to eradicate the name Korea during the time under the THAAD influence. This also proves that there was a significant change in how they treat and work with Korea.



Publication status in the Chinese market


Popular Korean books translated and exported to China from the second half of last year are as follows:


General Books

Kim Ji Young, Born 1982 (Cho Nam-Joo, Minumsa)


Cover of the Chinese Edition


Published in September 2019, Kim Ji Young, Born 1982 hit the first rank in literature after it was announced it would be adapted into a movie in October. This is the best record a Korean book has achieved in China – the first printing recorded 40,000 copies with 25,000 for the second printing. In particular, it is said that many Chinese fans of Kong Yoo read the book just because he starred as the main character in the movies “The Crucible”, “Train to Busan”, and TV drama “Goblin”. It is thought that the publication of the translated version and the release of the movie meshed together and led to a more significant readership of the book. Also, it was the first time for Korea, the authors, and China to realize that the so-called feminism-style novel is empathized with by East Asian readers, including Japan and Taiwan.


Fate of Moon Jae In (Moon Jae-In, Bookpal)


Cover of the Chinese Edition


The autobiography of president Moon Jae-In was published during his visit to China in 2018 with the title “Ming Yun” meaning “fate” in Chinese, but its sales increased from 2019, and soared following the outbreak of COVID-19. As of May 2020, the book climbed up to seventh in the category of autobiography of Dangdang Online Bookstore; it is analyzed that Chinese people’s anti-Korea sentiment that aggravated during the THAAD incident recovered rapidly after the cooperation of the two countries in overcoming the pandemic where president Moon Jae-In’s leadership stood out.


I Want to Die but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki (Baek Se-Hee, Heun)


Cover of the Chinese Edition


Selling a million copies in Korea alone, I Want to Die but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki became a bestseller in Taiwan drawing massive attention from readers between 2019 and 2020. Its Chinese edition was published in April this year and ranked sixth in psychological development. With the fourth printing underway; followed by Japan and Taiwan, it was published only three months after signing a contract in China. The book is a detailed record of the writer who received more than 10 years of psychiatric therapy, who seems okay on the outside but is festering inside, just like the mental disorders modern people commonly experience. As the book is about an ordinary person’s story that can happen to anyone, it is thought to have drawn empathy from Taiwanese and Chinese readers.


Mom’s Apology (Lee Yoo-Nam, Denstory)


Cover of the Chinese Edition


Choosing the promotional phrase “The reality of K-Drama “SKY Castle”,” the book talks about a 10-year story where the author, a school’s principal and a successful educator at work, becomes a failed mother. She is shocked when her 12th-grader son declares to leave school followed by her 11th-grader daughter a month later. It covers how the three fight and make up with each other in the future. It ranked sixth in children’s education in only a month of its publication, drawing empathy from many teachers and parents. As education is a common issue in East Asian countries, a TV drama “SKY Castle” was also a great hit in East Asian countries, including China when it was aired in 2018. It provided a valuable opportunity to look back on the one-sided test-based education pursued in each country.


<Summer Outside>


<The Lee Ji Hye Game>

<In Fact, I am an Introvert>

Chinese Editions of Summer Outside, Soji, The Lee Ji Hye Game, In Fact, I am an Introvert


Books already published five to ten years ago including A Recipe for My Daughter (Hangyeorae) by Gong Ji-Young and poem collection All Your Fault (YG Entertainment) by Lee Jong-Suk and Na Tae-Joo are popular as well. For example, Sometimes, We Need Serious Loneliness (Kim Jung-Woon, Book 21), Summer Outside (Kim Ae-Ran, Munhakdongne), The Contrail (Kim Ae-Ran, Munji Books), and Soji (Lee Chang-Dong, Munji Books) were added to the bestsellers’ list. Recently, as female literature is greatly spotlighted in China as well, The Lee Ji Hye Game, the board game version of Kim Ji Young, Born 1982, is firmly keeping its place on the list for two months of its publication. It also signed an imaging (video) copyright with a famous film producer recently in China. In addition, the new work of Nam In-Sook, a renowned writer for self-development of females in Korea and China In Fact, I am an Introvert (Book 21) has printed its 4th edition in Taiwan with a clear target audience and expansive topic, drawing great anticipation from Chinese readers even before publication.


Children’s books in China

Big Kids Math Board Books (Chunjae Education Inc.) Series


Cover of the Chinese Edition


Published during the time when THAAD was a hot issue, Big Kids Math Board Books Series created a great sensation in China with bright and lively pictures, a well-made and fun story, and abundant knowledge. It has kept its place within the top 10 in Dangdang Online Bookstore ever since it was published in April 2018.


Math Thief series of the Chinese Edition


On top of this series, Korea’s representative educational comics including the Surviving (Mirae N), Treasure Hunt (I-Seum), and Math Thief (Seoul Media Group) series are continuing the uptrend along with the publication of follow-up series.


Meanwhile, in terms of Taiwan, as the country did not have a political issue with Korea, books of many fields including literature, humanities, practical guide, self-development, language, and children are steadily making their way into the Taiwanese market. The hottest work in 2019 was Kim Ji Young, Born 1982, followed by I Want to Die but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki, and Hackers TOEIC (Hackers), showing the power of K-Books by standing firm on the bestsellers’ list. Also, recently published My Fraud-like Cancer Life (Wongjin Thinkbig) and I Thought Everything Would be Alright When I Grow Up (Force) are receiving good responses from Taiwanese readers.


<Kim Ji Young, Born 1982>

<I Want to Die but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki>

<Hackers TOEIC> series

Bestsellers in Taiwan: Kim Ji Young, Born 1982, I Want to Die but I Also Want to Eat Tteokppokki, Hackers TOEIC series


<In Fact, I am an Introvert>

<My Fraud-like Cancer Life>

<I Thought Everything Would be Alright When I Grow Up>

In Fact, I am an Introvert, My Fraud-like Cancer Life, I Thought Everything Would be Alright When I Grow Up



Further Prospect


The Chinese publication market’s demand for Korea’s movie and TV drama-related books, women’s literature, psychological self-development books, children’s books, and life-style books will remain unchanged. Yet, it seems as if literary titles are showing a sluggish record. Understanding literature hinges on good translation. The improved quality of translation is a good sign, and for books that received a positive response from Taiwan ahead of their export to other countries, Chinese publishers brought in almost the same translated manuscript. It seems that Taiwanese translators are better translating the atmosphere and sentiment of the Korean capitalist society in terms of literature and self-development into Chinese. The regulation on Korean books is said to have been fully lifted from 2019. However, the Chinese government is trying to promote its domestic publication market by broadly controlling copyright import from other countries, including Korea. Due to the lower number of approved ISBN for Korean books, publishers must go through a stricter verification and review to offer a contract. Still, price competition is not as fierce or tough as it used to be before THAAD. It is expected that the Chinese market would have a greater demand for Korea’s high-quality books in the future.


* Korea’s Other Bestsellers Exported to China since 2019


1. Broad and Shallow Knowledge for Intellectual Conversation (Whalebook)
2. Parasite Scenario & Storyboard Book Set (Plain)
3. The Winner of the Golden Apple Award The Skirt That Spreads to the End of the World (Gloyeon)
4. The Winner of the Bologna Children’s Book Fair A Shadow (Bandal)
5. Fruitful Mother-Child Communication (Hanbit Life)
6. Science Tells You The Answer (Darakwon)
7. My Secret Home Cafe (Recipe Factory)
8. Easy Philosophical Books for Children (Daekyo) series (partly contracted among 10 books)
9. Evolution of Insects in Cartoons (Hanbit Biz)
10. Ecology of Dinosaurs: Comics (Hanbit Biz)
11. Hair Washing Book (Borim)
12. We, Two, Together! (Borim)
13. Dad’s Mine! (Borim)
14. Catch Catch (Borim)


* Korea’s Other Bestsellers Exported to Taiwan since 2019


1. The Butt Referee (Purple Cow Kids)
2. The Butt Olympics (Purple Cow Kids)
3. The Man I Killed Returned (Macaroon Books)
4. The Last Event (BIR)
5. A Week Without Courage (Changbi)
6. Nobooks Family and a Book Restaurant (Munhakdongne)
7. Why Do I Want to Buy It When They Mention It? (Book 21)
8. Talking Nice Brought Me Nice People (Ssongbooks)
9. Do Not Say Things To Yourself You Would Not Say to Others (Whalebook)
10. World Ghost Adventure (Kyelim Books)



Written by Jung YeonHye (Head of Linking-Asia International Culture Communication Inc.)


Jung YeonHye (Head of Linking-Asia International Culture Communication Inc.)

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