Booming Sales of Alexievich’s Works: State Media Attributes them to China’s “Nobel Complex”

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Voices from Chernobyl — The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster: Is such reportage a foreign art that cannot be allowed to take root in China?

Amazon China’s sales of new Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s works in soared from nowhere to occupy the Number 20 ranking in less than 24 hours after she was awarded the prestigious prize, reports the Xi’an Evening News at Chinanews.com (作品销量). Nothing like this jump occurred when China’s own Mo Yan was honored with the same award, and analysts are scratching their heads to figure out why.

They note that winning China’s Mao Dun Literature Prize also kick-starts sales. For instance, sales of Ge Fei’s Jiangnan Trilogy (江南三部曲) increased 50 times in the month after he was honored, and Su Tong’s Yellowbird Story (黄雀记) 30 times. But Alexievich’s sales increased more than one-hundred fold, and her China publisher is rushing to get her Время секонд хэнд (二手时间, Second-hand Time) to bookstores within January 2016.

Interviewees for the article attribute her soaring sales to two factors: China’s “Nobel complex,” and the fact that her oral histories inspire readers to “contemplate reality.”

As in all of the articles on Alexievich I’ve read so far in the Chinese media, there is no attempt whatsoever to explore China’s own tradition of oral history reportage, or its current downgraded status. No published works or authors are mentioned; it as if the critics were discussing a form of art that exists exclusively outside China. For a look at some of those opinions, see Initial Reactions.

The article ends with an anonymous quote that appears to use a foreign commentator to sum up the state media’s take on Alexievich’s sudden popularity:

As one foreign media has commented, the huge disparity in the sales of Alexievich’s works in China before and after [winning the Nobel] reveals the Chinese reader’s ingrained worship of and yearning for the Nobel Prize. But this is irrational. Some people who don’t even know what Alexievich does for a living rushed to place an order for her books. “This is probably not what Alexievich nor the Nobel Prize [Committee] would wish to see.”

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