Who’s Afraid of Malala: “I Am Malala” and China’s Nobel Prize Complex

Malala Yousafzai will be speaking today in Oslo at the official ceremony where she will be awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, together with Indian children’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

Like people all over the world, people in Taiwan were eagerly reading her story, I am Malala, a year ago. In Chinese (我是马拉拉), if they wished. But the China version in simplified characters only became widely available this November.

How come?

Surely Malala's story would have sold well in China --- with or without the Nobel stamp of approval?
Surely Malala’s story would have sold well in China — with or without the Nobel stamp of approval?

As usual, you aren’t going to find out via the mainstream media in China. Ironically, several news items appeared lionizing the Sichuan People’s Press for its “timely” purchase of the rights to publish it in China, and its damn near herculean efforts to get it out to consumers by . . . end October 2014 (我是马拉拉 “四川造”).

Given that the China version is based on the Taiwanese one — same translator, 翁雅如 — translation time was not a major factor in the year-long discrepancy in publication times. The China edition was apparently polished by mainlander Zhu Hao (朱浩), but the article suggests that this was mainly to ensure place names, etc., were rendered according to PRC standards.

Was the delay due to joint venture publisher and rights holder Hachette Phoenix demanding a bigger price tag than China publishers were at first willing to pay? The timing of the announcement that the book would be published on the mainland in late 2014 — made just a few days after the Nobel Committee announced Malala Yousafzai as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate — suggests that the China publisher reckoned her autobiography would be a sure-fire best seller with the Nobel stamp of approval.

But there may be a darker angle to the delay. In an online discussion of the book’s delayed publication in China, at Paper Republic Beijing-based literary translator Eric Abrahamsen writes:

I do some work for the publishing house that actually bought the rights to this book (not Sichuan People’s Press, they are a just state-owned publishing partner).

The company bought the rights to the book about a year ago, I think shortly after they were sold in Taiwan. The project was sent “upstairs” for approval, which was swiftly denied. There things stayed until the Peace Price win – if the book weren’t released, the government would start looking pretty bad. It’s already imprisoned one Peace Prize winner, censoring another would be hard to explain . . .

Makes you wonder: Who in China is worried about the story of a fearless young Pakistani who took a bullet in the head as the price for promoting girls’ education?

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