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Readers of leaders

Xing Yi
Updated: Oct 29,2014 8:57 AM     China Daily

The Chinese-language version of South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s autobiography is popular across many of China’s bookstores.[Photo by Kuang Linhua/China Daily]

APEC leaders’ biographies are selling well in China before the heads of state come to Beijing for the key Asia-Pacific meeting next month, with books on Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean President Park Geun-hye topping the list.

More than a dozen books on Putin—he hasn’t written an autobiography—are selling well at Beijing Xi Dan Books Building, one of China’s biggest book stores. More than 60 titles on the Russian leader, such as Putin’s Iron Fist, Putin: Perfect Man in Women’s Eyes and The Charming King Putin, come up in searches on the country’s biggest online bookstores, such as amazon.cn and dangdang.com.

Most biographies portray Putin as a strongman—masculine, decisive and versatile.

He Is Born for Russia—the best-selling book on Putin—has sold over 250,000 copies since its 2012 publication. The book is by Zheng Wenyang, who has also written biographies of Barack Obama, Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela.

“I didn’t expect my book to be a best-seller at first since there are many books about Putin out there,” Zheng says.

“I think it’s because my biography of Putin is more comprehensive and objective than others.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin is always a hot topic for Chinese readers. [Photo by Kuang Linhua/China Daily]

The sources of Chinese admiration for Putin are complicated, says Zheng Yu, a researcher on Russia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

But one point stands out: “Many Chinese think our country’s diplomacy is too weak. So Putin’s strong stance against Western countries has made him an idol among Chinese.”

Another reason books about Putin sell well in China is that China and Russia share an amicable relationship.

Earlier this year, a collection of works on Putin, including his election manifestos, public speeches and answers at news conferences from 2012 to 2014 was published a week before he attended the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia in Shanghai on May 20.

In 2008, when Putin had just finished his second term as Russian president, a collection of writings by him from 2000 to 2008 were published by China Social Sciences Press.

The publication of collected works by foreign leaders is very rare in China—only works by Lenin and Stalin were published as collections at the peak of the closest ties between China and former Soviet Union in the 1950s.

It wasn’t until after Park was elected in 2012 that the Korean leader became a source of fascination for Chinese readers. All of the roughly dozen books about Park found in China’s major bookstores were published after she became the country’s leader. The most popular is the Chinese-language version of her 2007 autobiography Despair Trains Me and Hope Moves Me, published by Yilin Press in 2013.

Biographies of APEC leaders can be easily found at Beijing Xi Dan Books Building, one of China’s largest bookstores.[Photo by Kuang Linhua/China Daily]

Tian Zhi, director of Yilin Press’ foreign literature branch, who was in charge of introducing Park’s autobiography, says the publisher had been considering publishing the book before 2012.

“We didn’t know whether Park would win the election, but we found the book very inspiring,” Tian says.

“Park’s life journey moves us and conveys a lot of positive energy.”

Park recounts her early years of living in Chong Wa Dae, the Korean president’s executive office and official residence, coping with her parents’ assassinations and her quest to save South Korea from economic depression in 1997.

Her autobiography sold more than 500,000 copies in China and made the “25 Good Books in 2013” list compiled by China Central Television and China Book Review in April. Park’s was the only book on the list by a foreign leader.

Tian says it was easy to procure the copyright because Park was happy to promote understanding between China and South Korea. She wrote a preface for Chinese readers in Yilin’s version.

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