China’s 2020 education reform, set to affect nearly 400,000 elementary and secondary schools nationwide, is making changes ranging from less homework and fewer standardized exams for primary schoolers to a more employment-oriented education system for the older kids. It will find schools administrators, teachers and parents seeking new types of reading, learning and teaching material and resources—those that would help them to achieve the reform objectives, which are to boost student creativity, practical abilities and personal growth. For publishers, local and overseas alike, this opens up new opportunities for direct imports, translations and co-publishing deals.

“This is about having a quality-oriented education system with less examination pressure in order to foster new generations of creative and critical thinkers. Kids, from a very young age, are now encouraged to read for pleasure and broadening their minds, and not solely for passing their exams,” says Li Xueqian, president of CBBY (Chinese Board on Books for Young People), which represents more than 30 children’s book publishers, 200 children’s newspapers and magazines, and numerous children’s book authors.

“Young Chinese parents, armed with higher disposable income, also have a much different understanding of education. There is now a stronger emphasis on preschool education for those aged five and lower, where early reading and reading for pleasure play a major role. This has significantly increased the number of titles in market for those aged 6 and below,” adds Li, pointing out that sales of preschool books in 2013 hit 48 million copies, higher than it had ever been before.

In 2012, the Chinese children’s market—populated by 300 million children below 16 years of age—expanded by 34% even as its overall book market grew only 11%. The children’s segment, heavily represented by translations, remains the brightest and hottest spot in its book industry. But it is no longer a one-way street. French multimedia company, MediaToon, for instance, has collaborated with Chinese illustrators on a series of comics for the European market. China Children’s Press and Publication Group and Jieli Publishing House have sold original Chinese illustrated books to European and Asian markets. China Educational Publications Import & Export Corporation Ltd is set to launch a sci-fi series in the U.S.

“The new policy allowing two children per family—if one of the parents is an only child—will add about 30 million newborns in the next three to five years. So the children’s market in China will continue to expand, and given that this segment is relatively new, there are plenty of opportunities for both overseas and local publishers to explore and grow. First movers naturally will reap the business advantages,” says Randy Wang, senior project manager at Reed Exhibitions, organizer of the China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair (CCBF).

“Most Chinese publishers still want to buy rights from overseas. Big publishers especially prefer stable strategic partnership with like-sized foreign counterparts. Smaller and mostly private houses, on the other hand, are simply hungry for good content from any country, and they have a great read on local preferences and market demands,” adds Wang, who is looking forward to the next edition of CCBF, set to run from November 20 to 22, at a new venue at the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center.

While last year’s inaugural CCBF was a major success with participation from more than 150 publishers from 14 countries, Li of CBBY wants to see more publishers especially from the U.S. taking part and be more active in the Chinese children’s market. “The changes in our education system would require a lot of good and tested teaching materials, graded readers, story books and activity-based content—all of which the U.S. publishers have in abundance. I would like to invite all American children’s publishers—education and trade—to come and join us this November, and foster more collaboration with their Chinese counterparts.”

Presently, 41 Chinese publishers, representing more than 50% of the children’s market, will be at CCBF 2014. Nearly 250 exhibitors—including Children’s Books USA—and 6,500 trade visitors are expected to attend. The first day of the event coincides with the International Children’s Day, and various activities with UNICEF and other charitable organizations to protect children’s rights and promote reading will be held.

More information on CCBF, which is supported by State General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (formerly GAPP), is available at

With reporting by Diane Roback.