(This article was first published on Southern Weekend, September 5, 2019.)
According to relevant statistics, In 2018, the fixed price of children's books reached about 23.5 billion yuan, accounting for 26.2% of the total, and the year-on-year growth rate exceeded the overall growth rate of China's book market. In the first half of 2019, the fixed price of children's books accounted for 27.38 percent of the total, with the proportion rising steadily. (A Vision China Photo)
"Under normal circumstances, the market has an invisible hand that pushes a lot of young people to write for kids, then why do the works of sixty-year-olds like us still stick around here?"
"An excellent book for children must has a story that appeals to children. If you just want to tell them some dogmas, they will reject it."
Zheng Yuanjie is 64 years old now, with eyebrows beginning turn to white. His weight dropped from 100 kg to about 80 kg, and his blood pressure dropped from 180 to 115. "This is the blood pressure of astronaut's," Zheng Yuanjie proudly told to the reporter of Southern Weekend. "I have put these experience into my books to tell kids what are the enemies of our brain and what are friends."
His childhood friend as an astronaut nutritionist had told Zheng that boiled egg is the most nutritious food. He did the experiment on himself and found it to be consistent with expectation, so he included it in his books for children. "Parents told me that their children started to eat boiled eggs since reading my books."
Zheng Yuanjie's readers span from the generation of 1970s to the 2010s, and the monthly King of Fairy Tales, which was contributed by him alone for 34 years, has sold more than 200 million copies. Now, the stories of Pipilu, Luxixi, Shuke and Beita start to influence the fifth generation of young readers.
Zheng Yuanjie's own stories are as popular as his fairy tales: he dropped out of primary school in grade 4, for his teacher punished him by saying "I am the most worthless person in the class" for 100 times; He have supported a monthly by himself alone, and had reached a monthly income over 10,000 in the mid-1980s and possessed a private car with Beijing's 100th license plate; His son, Zheng Yaqi, dropped out of primary school as early as he had did, then he wrote a series of textbooks with more than four million words by himself to teach Zheng Yaqi at home, and his son completed the six-year-term course in three years...
For more than 30 years, Zheng Yuanjie has gone to bed at 8 p.m. and got up at 4:30 a.m. to write. "There are no interviews and no other activities during this period, so it can ensure my regular writing."
In the late 1990s, Zheng Yuanjie started to write novels for his first group of readers who had stepped into colleges. By the time his seventh novel was published,
the serializing had to be terminated because its a/dult content was criticized by the media. In 2010, he wrote a blog to claim that his 13 unpublished novels, including The Elephant of Hatred, could only be published in the era 100 years after his death.
Today, his completed and unpublished works still keep increasing. "I am writing every day, and a large number of new works have not been brought out for the reason that my works have been fed up with all kinds of infringement. Is there any way to get these people to stop staring at me? One way is to stop publishing what I write. Now, I focus most of my daily time on protecting my intellectual property, which is also life."
Because the roles in his works are maliciously registered as trademarks by others, Zheng Yuanjie has tried every ways to safeguard his rights but usually encounter a brick wall. In 2017, Zheng Yuanjie, as the national anti-piracy ambassador, was invited to deliver a speech entitled "Seven Deadly Sins toward Originality" at the summit intellectual property forum held by the state council. When talking about trademarks and trade names, he said: "There is never relevant information on the official website of trademarks. I didn't know anything untill a new shop with a Pipilu trade mark or trade name appears in the street. Why did I always failed to open the webpage? It's because the stuffs in charge of the network collude with the staffs at the agency companies so that can only the agency companies log in the website."
He even spoke bluntly to the leaders present: "can anyone of you open the China official website of trademark in five minutes and successfully log in? Impossible." The leaders were shocked to hear this, and a few days later, the state trademark office invited him to a conversazione to hear his opinions and suggestions on trademark rights protection of famous literary characters.
In April 2019, Zheng Yuanjie withdrew from the annual best-seller list of children's book authors, after which he was mocked by weibo users for not being listed. On April 19, zheng Yuanjie posted a weibo massage to claim that he refused to be listed on his own initiative after learning that the list of children's book authors had been stripped from the main list of all Chinese writers this year. He also criticized Cao Wenxuan, the winner of the Hans Christian Andersen prize and the third author on the list, for "selling children's books on campus".
A restaurant registered to use the Pipilu catering trademark in Zhengzhou, Henan province, and Zheng Yuanjie righted the protection for 14 years. In 2018, the national trademark review and adjudication board declared the restaurant's trademark invalid.(Photo by Visual China)
"How come they haven't been replaced by young people?"
Southern Weekend: the boom in the children's book market still seems to be dominated by works left over from the past. Do you think there are new excellent original children's literature emerging in the market?
Zheng Yuanjie: my feeling is that there is almost none, with a word to describe is "fault".Now go to the bookstore, including the online bookstore and the traditional physical bookstore, almost a few people, are about sixty years old.I'm 21 years old. I'm 30 years old and I'm writing fairy tales.If you go to a bookstore now, there are few young writers in their twenties who write children's literature.
In fact, with the advent of electronic publications, the sales of traditional books have fallen sharply, while the sales of children's books have increased rather than decreased. The message here is that there is still money to be made from writing children's books.Under normal circumstances, the market has an invisible hand to push many young people to write for children. In the history of all mankind, there is no country or nation that has been worse from generation to generation.Why haven't they been replaced by young people?
think one of the important reasons has to do with publishing houses.The children's book market probably started 20 years ago and one way to sell it was to go into schools. If the school can underwrite twenty thousand books, the publisher can get you the writer.Since the invention of this model, the sales of some children's books have gone up in a bubble. I have come up with a name "zombie bestseller", which children do not like to read. If it arrives on Sunday night, it will sell about 100000 books from Monday to Friday. What's the concept of 100000 books? There are many kinds of books in mainland China every year. 90% of the printed books are less than 1000, while 100000 are sold in a week, and 200000 are sold twice a month. The division of labor is very detailed, for example, the publishing house pays for the travel, the bookstore pays for the accommodation and meals, the writer gets royalties, and the school sometimes gets rebates.
These schools recognize only famous writers, and if you send a writer who is famous, who has won some international prize, and who is willing to underwrite the book, but if the publisher recommends an unknown young writer, the school will refuse them. As a result, young writers do not produce books, and if they do, publishing houses do not operate in schools. Therefore, I think our young children's literature writers have a great relationship with entering school and selling books. I met some foreign children's writers when I was abroad, and they had never heard of this, and they said that children's writers should go to school and talk to children about reading and writing, but they should never go to school and sell books.
Now, you go to Xinhua Bookstore, the bookcase of Zheng Yuanjie's, Cao xx's, Yang xx's books, which authors are more than sixty years old people, this situation is not happy at all.
Southern Weekend: the market may also be looking for the next king of fairy tales and wondering what kind of direction he will guide in fairy tale writing.
Zheng Yuanjie: Let me put it this way. If the ministry of education effectively stops selling books in schools, within three years, many children and young literature writers will appear.There are many drawbacks to this, not least the loss of interest in the first book, the strangling of young writers, the erosion of teachers, and the strangling of a healthy market for children's books.If this thing could been stopped, many of the excellent young writers would have come up with books of quality, but now with fame.
"Children should have their own choice."
Southern Weekend: It's been months since the last debate about selling children's books in schools. What do you think about it now?
Zheng Yuanjie: No, it seems to have changed.A famous writer named Hong Feng said that his daughter had been forced by her teacher to buy a book by a children's book author, but the author had not come to the school. I think it's important to leave children's choices to themselves while they read.
Compared with the various rankings, the tax bill is the most accurate, and he still can not come out so far. After the list was published, you didn't refute the rumor and were willing to use this figure to promote future book sales, which is also a bubble
I think the education department should do something, it can do it, but it hasn't done it yet.The timing of this interview is also very interesting. It is the beginning of the school year for students. The first two months are the peak period for entering the school and selling books.Normally, they would have started now, and publishers of children's books would have been "busy".
Southern Weekend: Which is more conducive to the improvement of children's literary literacy, the choice by themselves or the recommendation by experts and scholars?
Zheng Yuanjie: I think parents should check the gate first. Interesting books that parents read when they were young can be recommended to their children, which is safer.Books recommended by teachers and experts can also be read, but I think the standard still depends on whether the child likes it or not.A good children's book must have a story that appeals to children. If you just want to tell them something, they will reject it.
In this era of sound and light, children love words, and the first book is the most important. If the first book attracts him, he will read the second, and even if the second one does not like it, he will feel that the book that attracts him exists. If the first one is a meaningless book, it is possible for him to stay away from written books for life. Although you don't have to choose a book, you should always be careful with the first one. The harm to children of "zombie bestseller" books is that they are likely to be their first book, affecting their lifetime of reading.
After all these years, children's tastes have not changed much. I have been writing for more than 40 years, and the sales volume has been increasing year by year, which shows that children's reading tastes are almost the same. Once they like it, they will see it from generation to generation. The first readers are after 70, and now they are all the fifth generation.
Southern Weekend: What's the bottom line for you other than selling books on campus?
Zheng Yuanjie: Intellectual property. Trademark and trade name infringement on me is very serious. It is so serious that more than 1000 trademarks and trade names have been registered maliciously. It will take at least three years for each trademark and trade name to succeed in safeguarding their rights. No writer, like me, faces such a large-scale piracy of books, especially trademarks and trade names. There is a pharmaceutical company in Nanjing called "Nanjing Shukebeita Pet Products Co., Ltd." which is used to produce rat food. I have been defending my rights for one year and haven't solved it yet. In fact, businesses like this can come to me to cooperate, even though I need authorization.
On July 11, 2018, the national trademark review and Adjudication Board declared the "halogen West" trademark invalid. The reason is that the main reading part of the trademark of "brine West" is the same as the calling of the protagonist name "Luxixi" in my fairy tale works, and there is no obvious difference in meaning. The application for registration as a trademark violates the socialist public moral standards of honesty and credibility, damages my legitimate rights and interests, destroys the public order and good customs, and easily causes consumers to "brine West" The origin of the goods used in the trademark "Luxixi" has been misidentified and has a bad social impact.
I have memorized the whole of the trademark law, and almost no lawyer can argue me down in court.I also want to publish a book called "Zheng yuanjie court statement", which records the court statements I participated in each case. These statements appear in the form of telling stories, which are also very literary. When I was in court, many lawyers read according to the script, which was very boring, totally different from the TV series. I also want to change the situation of the court through these cases and make it more interesting for the judges to sit there. There are two categories of people in my circle of friends, one is lawyers and judges, the other is diplomats. The judge often will say " where is the evidence?", I also form this habit, the family said into the mosquito, I will say "where is the evidence?" Look at the article I wrote in April about selling books on campus. It was full of evidence from beginning to end. The chain of evidence was complete.After contacting the diplomats, I learned to say the right words in the right place and at the right time, and then leave without delay.
"It's only people like me who change, it's the most convincing."
Southern Weekend: You have always been regarded as a punk in education, doing educational experiments on your own children. Are you still critical of exam-oriented education at this stage?
Zheng Yuanjie: Now I have changed a little. This change doesn't mean that exam oriented education itself has changed. In fact, it has become more serious than when my child was a child. The reason for the retrogression is not necessarily the education authorities, but that this generation of parents is really not as good as the previous parents, who have caused the stagnation of education reform.
But I also have changes. Where did the changes come from? From Zheng Yaqi. I usually get in touch with the employees of his company and find that some of them are excellent, some of them are not very good. I am thinking how to select the best talents. Later I asked a lot of people. When they were young, they read my books, including Liu Qing, Didi's president, a vice president of Huawei, and so on. They came to the conclusion that the most convenient way to keep the bad people out is to watch and learn Calendar. You may have listened to me and thought, how did Zheng Yuanjie become like this now? It really works. Especially for 211 and 985, I also made a fool of myself, reciting 185 and 250. In order to remember this number, I also changed the password lock at home to this number. Why are such people better when they enter the company? They struggle and work hard at the age of 16 to 18, which is good for his life. If he gets a good degree, he needs to sacrifice playing time and find a way to learn. If he can't find a way to get a high score, he probably can't find another way.
Southern Weekend: Can we understand that you're still critical of basic education, but you're starting to support higher education?
Zheng Yuanjie: I'm not supporting, but when they are 16 to 18 years old, they should know how to struggle. So from this matter, my idea has changed. Only people like me can change, which is the most persuasive. So I think when children are 16 years old, they should try hard to get a good degree, which will help you to find a job. Especially for children who have no background at home, they must work hard. My original intention of writing is to encourage and respect those who are not good at learning. In fact, most of the people I met who read my books when I was a child are also bullies when I grow up.
Southern Weekend: Because of your attitude towards exam-oriented education in the past, many people criticized your anti-intellectualism. What do you think about it?
Zheng Yuanjie: I never said that knowledge is useless. Although I only went to primary school for four years, I read a lot of books. Zheng Yaqi's problem is not about exam oriented education, but about unqualified teachers. Teachers are more important than schools. In fact, he also read a lot of books later. He went to work as a director, read a lot of related books, and also worked as a director and producer. As I grow older, I come into contact with many people and things, and my views will change.
"I was created by the vastness of the land"
Southern Weekend: From the perspective of classical literature, how do you think children's literature can be improved?
Zheng Yuanjie: In fact, children's literature does not need to be in line with adul/t literature. If we look at adul/t literature, there will be no concept of children's literature. In fact, subconsciously, this question indicates that adul/t literature is more advanced by default, but it is not. I have little contact with children's writers, but with adul/t writers. Some adul/t writers might have thought that before, but now some of the people I've come across don't. For example, Su Tong and Mai Jia are very sincere people who will not say anything against their will.
Southern Weekend: How do writers of children's literature judge and weigh the values they convey in their work?
Zheng Yuanjie: I think the fundamental values are equality, compassion, justice, respect for others, don't take property that is not your own, etc.My family is very equal, they never beat me, which is very rare. In fact, their identity is not very good. My grandfather is a traditional Chinese medicine. He was killed during the cultural revolution. My grandfather is a rich farmer. My parents can't raise their heads in the unit. They taught me from childhood that all people are born equal and should respect each other, not label and discriminate against others. This kind of education is very strange. I read an analysis article on Weibo a few days ago. Zheng Yuanjie has no experience of receiving foreign education. How can he write such works and values? Later he came to a conclusion: China is rich in land and resources. I also responded to his micro blog. It's the vast land and abundant resources that made me.
When I realized that the distribution volume of the works was large, the values that I conveyed to the children should be correct. Secondly, I also hugged the grass and beat the rabbit, and told them some other things, such as paying attention to safety, eating, etc., which were my own experiences. This is also the responsibility of children's writers. After you know some correct scientific knowledge, you should integrate it into the story. All of my things are personal experience. After doing experiments on my own, I will prove that this is correct, and then I will tell the outside world.
Southern Weekend: Some of your work spans decades. Does the content adapt to the characteristics of different eras?
Zheng Yuanjie: Things written 30 or 40 years ago still sell a lot. Sometimes the publishing house will argue with me, such as changing BB machine to mobile phone. I don't need to say that. According to this, dream of the red chamber has changed so much that the carriage has to be changed to Benz. In fact, it is not necessary to let children know these changes and the real situation of communication in that era. When reprinting, they let me see the previous things. I often say, ah, is this really what I wrote? Sometimes I would like to sigh that the real good things were written when I was young. When you are young, you will feel the world is fresh and curious about many things. The same thing triggered me to write a work when I was 20, but today I see it doesn't necessarily inspire me.
Southern Weekend: Now many scholars will also study your fairy tales, and divide your creation into stages and types, rising to the level of academic theory, such as "lively school" and realism, etc., what do you think of this matter?
Zheng Yuanjie: Everyone has to eat and find something to do.
"What if it changes through my limited influence?"
Southern Weekend: In addition to being a fairy-tale writer, you have become more involved in the discussion of public issues in recent years. Why these changes?
Zheng Yuanjie: I think after some people become famous, many things have been done by others, such as vehicle inspection, paying water and electricity fees in the bank before and so on. I have to do all these myself. I think this is life. When I went to inspect the car, I found that the vehicle was "slaughtered" like this in the inspection yard. I would call for these things in my works, and finally led to the new inspection regulations.
For example, according to the trademark law, if a trademark has been registered successfully for more than five years, it can no longer be protected. However, if an infringing trademark has been registered in Zhengzhou for 14 years, I have successfully protected my rights. All the law making will have forward-looking "pocket clauses" that put all possibilities into the pocket clauses. So I studied the trademark law and found that the eighth item in the first paragraph of Article 10 is the pocket clause, which is "against the socialist morality and customs, against the public order and good customs", and is not limited by the five-year inability to safeguard rights. I put forward this clause when safeguarding rights, but no one has ever used it since the trademark law came into effect, and finally it was used unprecedented. In the future, this regulation can also be used for infringing trademarks after five years.
I have done a lot in the whole process. I have investigated whether the trademark office is a person who checks the trademark, whether it is an outsourced or a civil servant, how much is the registration fee per year, how many bubbles are there, how much is the malicious rush? It has changed a lot now. On the one hand, these public events inspired me to write, on the other hand, what if I changed through my limited influence? Doesn't that benefit a lot of people?
I don't speak about news events. Only the things that I have experienced are accurate. I will not say the things that I have not experienced. There are too many fake news reports. I don't eat second-hand food. Every case I give is my own experience.
Southern Weekend: It has been almost ten years since you left the Chinese writers association. Has your life changed in the past ten years?