Famed for publishing and incubating writers of original children’s literature, Aurora Publishing House has been in the book business since 1985. It was known as Yunnan Juvenile Publishing House until 1993.
“We have published many authors, including Cao Wenxuan, Gerelchimeg Blackcrane, and Shen Shixi, and we have a long tradition of nurturing and promoting under-30 authors,” says president Ji Tong, whose company stopped publishing teaching materials and textbooks in 2018 to focus solely on trade titles. To date, its catalogue offers about 400 titles, including picture books, puzzles/games, pop science titles, and reference books alongside its biggest category, children’s literature. Its bestsellers include Liao Xiaoqin’s Greening in Danxiang Village (from the Spring Tides and Childhood series) and Xu Ling’s Solve Little Troubles by Yourself (from the Come On, Xiaobugu! series), which have sold 72,000 and 60,000, respectively, last year.
In many ways, the company’s publishing program and activities are inspired by its geographical location in Yunnan, which is China’s most diverse province, both biologically and culturally. It is home to at least 25 minority groups (including Yi, Bai, Hani, Miao, Mosuo, Hui, and Naxi) and borders Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. This is also where China’s oldest and best-preserved ethnic village, belonging to the Wa tribe, is located.
Given the rich history and culture of this mountainous province, Ji believes that there are many stories to be told, and life experiences to be shared through those stories. “For this reason, Aurora Publishing House has always been focused on nurturing new talents from our own community,” says Ji, whose company established the province’s first studio for Yunnan authors back in 2019. “We publish fewer established authors since they have ample opportunities to showcase their works elsewhere. Our province’s uniqueness is also the main reason we launched a biennial 20-day experiential tour for children’s literature authors across the country in 2015.”
Ji says that the program “includes tours of tribal villages and schools at the borders, as well as discussion panels. Through experiencing the situations faced by children and families in these areas, we hope to inspire new ideas for publishing as well as fostering exchanges with our neighboring countries. Such cultural and educational networking is also a crucial element in China’s Belt and Road economic initiative, and we are playing our part here.”
Wu Ran’s Blooming with Happiness in the Dulong Area: Our Minzu Primary School, for instance, explores a remote high-altitude township near the border with Myanmar and its classroom experience. Another title, Wang Juchen’s A Letter to Shi Guang, relates the story of friendship between Chinese and Burmese children.
In recent months, shifting market trends and demands have seen Ji bringing in imported titles to enrich her catalogue. Last November’s Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair saw the launch of nine titles from Jim Smith’s Barry Loser series. “Two more titles have been signed, and we will translate about two per year,” Ji says. “We are now planning to invite the author to the fair next year.”
Ji adds that translations are meant to plug the gaps in the existing market. “This series, which combines quick wit and lots of silliness, is great for encouraging reluctant readers to start reading. And cultivating a good reading habit is even more crucial now that our nation’s education reform is emphasizing language capabilities, reading comprehension, information analysis, and logical thinking. Children need to read to widen their knowledge and become a citizen of the world as well, and not just to pass examinations.”
Another shift within the company comes in the form of a partnership with Belgium-based Clavis Publishing and the Beijing Yutian Hanfeng Books Company, which are collaborators in the Key Colours Competition China. “We signed a partnership agreement at the previous Frankfurt Book Fair,”
Ji says. “So for the 2021 edition of the competition, for which workshops will start this August and culminate with prize giving the following year, we will publish five of the winning titles.”
Ji will also collaborate with Clavis on creating original titles. “It will be our authors’ stories accompanied by their illustrators’ works,” Ji says. The latter “will bring high-quality illustrations into China while, at the same time, introducing Chinese stories to the rest of the world, since Clavis publishes in Europe and U.S. It marks a huge step in our ‘going out’ initiative—exporting products to overseas markets—and ‘going into’ different overseas markets with high-quality content.”