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Comics revive childhood memories of classical novel

Updated: 2013-11-11 08:46
By Li Xiang ( China Daily)

Comics revive childhood memories of classical novel

A reader holds a comic version in French of Romance of the Three Kingdoms in Paris on Thursday. The edition of the novel, one of the great classics of Chinese literature, is priced at 89 euros ($119) for the complete set of 30 volumes. Li Xiang / China Daily

Childhood memories came flooding back when I recently saw the comic book version of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, one of the greatest classical novels of Chinese literature, on the shelf in a Parisian bookstore.

Reading the pocket-sized, hand-drawn picture book (known as xiaorenshu in Chinese) used to be one of my favorite pastimes as a kid in the late 1980s, at a time when activities that were fun for children were very limited.

The book I saw in Paris retains the original pictures drawn by Chinese comic masters in the 1950s, most of whom have since passed away. The only difference was that the story has been translated into French.

Nowadays in China, where young people are glued to iPads and portable video games, the once-popular comic books inspired by literary classics are sought-after only by nostalgic collectors who want to keep an important part of their childhood memories alive.

Comics revive childhood memories of classical novel

Li Xiang

But the book has been given new life in France, thanks to French publishing house Les Editions Fei, founded by a Chinese woman named Xu Gefei, who is passionate about introducing classical Chinese novels to French readers in the form of comic books.

What is particularly notable is that the French version is the first overseas edition of Romance of the Three Kingdoms comics. Never before has there been an authorized translation into a foreign language published overseas.

The publication combines the execution of a brilliant idea with great effort by Xu, who made it a reality. Comic books in France have enjoyed a solid fan base, not just as part of popular culture but as a legitimate artform. The comics industry in France is the world's third-largest, after those in the United States and Japan. Using her wisdom, Xu found the perfect combination of a popular artform with Chinese traditional literature.

"Many French have a special interest in Chinese culture, but they often find it difficult to grasp when they go deep into it. The comic book is a very straightforward and modern way that can be more easily accepted and understood by French people," said Stephane Feuillas, a Sinologist and professor at University Paris-Diderot.

France can be exclusive when it comes to preserving its national and cultural values. But, at the same time, the country is also very inclusive. Its resistance to homogenization has helped preserve cultures and art forms that might have been endangered by the rules of market-driven commerce and globalization.

Priced at 89 euros ($119) for the complete set of 30 volumes, the success of the Chinese comic books has yet to be tested by the market, and by readers.

Nicolas Henry, translator of Romance of the Three Kingdoms comics, said the characters in the Chinese classical novel are no strangers to young French people, since many youths are fans of a popular video game adapted from the novel.

"If they know that the characters in the video game are in fact from the Chinese literary classic, I bet they'll love to read the original story," he said.

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