Cablegate: Simplified-Character Chinese Books in the Taiwan Market

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1. Summary: From surreptitious back-alley distribution to yearly
import figures approaching two million volumes, the distribution in
Taiwan of books from the Mainland featuring simplified Chinese
characters has grown considerably in the two decades since the end
of martial law. Relaxation of restrictions by the Taiwan
authorities has been the main driver in this growth, helped along by
competition among Taiwan bookstores and demand from (limited)
sectors of the book-buying public. Lower prices and broader
selection (especially of books translated into Chinese from
languages other than English) appeal to certain consumers in Taiwan,
as well as to professors selecting texts for university students.
Some local book dealers expect that the number of imported
simplified-character Chinese books will continue to grow in the
years ahead; others see vestigial official restrictions, the
comparatively narrow appeal of such books, and the growing strength
of the RMB as constraining factors. End summary.

2. Public selling of simplified-character Chinese books was banned
in Taiwan before martial law was lifted in 1987. As a result,
bookstores secretly selling simplified-character Chinese books hid
out in small alleys near the universities; more often,
simplified-character Chinese books were sold by street vendors to
familiar customers only. Starting in July 1987, the Government
Information Office (GIO), replacing the then Taiwan Garrison General
Headquarters, took on the job of governing Taiwan's publications.
According to the guidelines issued by the GIO then, there were only
two channels through which simplified-character Chinese books were
allowed to enter Taiwan, both involving much red tape and tight
restrictions. Local book dealers could apply with the GIO on a
case-by-case basis to import these books. The general public and
academic institutions could base their requests on research needs
and apply to the GIO, also on a case-by-case basis, to buy and
import simplified-character Chinese books into Taiwan.

3. (SBU) With the rapid boom of China's economy, more and more
simplified-character Chinese books were introduced into Taiwan in
the early 1990's. These books first appeared in book shops and
stalls around Taipei's National Taiwan University, Taiwan's premier
university, in a secretive and loosely organized network, and
gradually gained clout in Taiwan's book market. The 2002 opening of
the "Askfor" Bookstore (Wen Jin Tang Shudian) in Taipei, Taiwan's
first special bookstore for simplified-character Chinese books,
finally made simplified-character Chinese books available to the
general public. The Askfor Bookstore adopted a modern publicity
approach to selling simplified-character Chinese books: issuing
press releases and widely distributing fliers. Its bold publicity
style aroused widespread criticism and interference from the DPP

4. In February 2002, the GIO confiscated several thousand volumes of
simplified-character books at Askfor on the grounds that these books
violated government regulations. The GIO also banned the selling
and display of simplified-character books at the February 2003
Taipei International Book Fair. This drove the sale of
simplified-character books back underground. However, public
protest, especially from scholars, led to a movement seeking to
"legalize" the sale of simplified-character Chinese books in Taiwan.
On July 8, 2003, the Taiwan authorities partially lifted the
restrictions, allowing academic books from China with simplified
characters to be exhibited and sold in Taiwan. However, to protect
Taiwan's publishers and the publication of traditional-character
Chinese books and to avoid creating a "gray market," the Taiwan
authorities retained their restrictions on simplified-character
versions of books that had already been published in Taiwan or were
about to be published in Taiwan.

5. Both the quality and quantity of simplified-character Chinese
books sold in Taiwan have grown significantly in the last three
years. In September 2006, the second "Cross-Strait Book Fair,"
generally viewed as the biggest book fair between the two sides of
the Taiwan Strait, was held in Taipei, with over 300 mainland
Chinese book publishers bringing simplified-character Chinese books
worth over RMB20 million (US$2.7 million)to Taiwan.

6. According to Taiwan's official customs statistics, Taiwan
imported approximately 620,000 volumes (130,000 titles) of
simplified-character Chinese books in 2004. The number soared to
1.6 million volumes (320,000 titles) in 2005 and continued to grow
to 1.81 million volumes (440,000 titles) in 2006. In the first half

TAIPEI 00000001 002 OF 003

of 2007, Taiwan imported around 860,000 volumes (190,000 titles) of
simplified-character Chinese books. Part of this growth was due to
the partnership formed between Askfor and the Bookland Internet
Bookstore in 2004, through which simplified-character books were
sold on the Internet to Taiwan customers. The opening of the
Shanghai Bookstore in Taipei in 2005 by the United Daily News
Group's Linking Publishing Company, in association with China's
Shanghai Jifeng Books chain, also helped to streamline the import
and sale of simplified-character books in Taiwan. In January 2006,
Taiwan's Eslite Bookstore opened its flagship store in Taipei,
touted as Asia's largest, featuring a 5300 sq. ft. special section
dedicated to simplified-character Chinese books (70,000 volumes),
enabling the Taiwan public to buy and read simplified-character
Chinese books more conveniently.

7. Why did simplified-character Chinese books become so popular in
Taiwan? Wang Yung, founder of the Askfor Bookstore and now the
general manager of Chiu Shui Tang Bookstore, told AIT that "the key
factor is the rapid growth of [Mainland] Chinese publications. In
terms of translated literature, many books in China are directly
translated from Spanish, Portuguese, or Russian into Chinese. But
Taiwan is very short of capable translators who can translate
non-English foreign books into Chinese. Taiwan's translators
normally translate from the English version of those foreign books
into Chinese - a move that not only takes more time, but also the
translation itself often may deviate from the original text." The
delay by Taiwan publishers in publishing traditional Chinese
character versions of some well-known, non-English foreign books has
driven Taiwan customers to turn to simplified-character Chinese

8. The breadth and speed of translation from foreign languages into
Chinese is not the only merit noted by Taiwan customers; the books
are also much cheaper. Book dealers, in turn, make a higher profit
(nearly 20 percent of cost) selling simplified-character Chinese
books. Simpler cover designs and less attention to printing details
are among the factors that contribute to the lower costs of mainland
Chinese books.

9. With more and more large bookstores opening in urban business
districts, Taiwan's general public now enjoys greater access to a
variety of simplified-character Chinese books. Currently, Taiwan
has around 40 importers of simplified-character Chinese books, whose
marketing points are mainly in the Taipei area (70 percent), with
the rest scattered through the central and southern parts of the

10. A survey done by local book dealers in 2006 showed that 50
percent of simplified-character Chinese books sold in Taiwan are on
literature, history, and philosophy; 10 percent on social science,
law, politics, and the military; 10 percent on Chinese medicine and
art; 10 percent on education, finance and engineering; with the
remainder on tourism and other topics. As for the consumers, Chu
Fu-ming, head of the Eslite flagship bookstore's
simplified-character Chinese book section, told AIT, "those who buy
simplified-character Chinese books are mostly intellectuals and
academics. Only 20 percent of the buyers are in their twenties,
while 40 percent are in their thirties and forties, and the
remaining 40 percent are over 50 years old. Older people are
especially noticeable because they come in the mornings and spend a
long time poring carefully over selections," Wu observed, with
"history books being the most popular."

11. Simplified-character books are also becoming more popular on
university campuses in Taiwan - as cheaper textbooks. This
sometimes comes at the expense of textbooks from the U.S.
Administrators from at least half a dozen universities with whom AIT
is in contact have reported that more and more of their professors
are assigning simplified-character textbooks for their classes,
supplanting more expensive U.S. texts (or their authorized local
versions). Sun Shuh-Ping, Dean of Student Affairs at I-Shou
University in Kaohsiung County, recently told AIT he estimates that
within the next five years more classes at his university will be
using texts from the PRC than using texts from the United States.
Until recently, almost all hard science and social science texts at
his university were U.S. editions. In comparing PRC and U.S.
textbooks for his students, Sun noted not only the competitive price
of the simplified-character books, but also the comparative ease of
understanding for his students.

TAIPEI 00000001 003 OF 003

12. (SBU) Some Taiwan book dealers expect continued growth in the
market for simplified-character Chinese books in Taiwan. Eslite
bookstore's Chu, however, remained more guarded about the growth
prospects for simplified-character Chinese books in Taiwan's market.
"Given the continuous appreciation of the Renminbi and the Taiwan
government's import restrictions on simplified-character Chinese
books," Chu said, "it remains to be seen whether sales of
simplified-character Chinese books will continue to be robust in


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