As Trump Targets Chinese Steel, China Targets American Children’s Books

Children's books may be one of the casualties of the upcoming trade war.

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As Donald Trump imposes harsh tariffs on Chinese steel, the Chinese government is beginning their own crack down on the import of American children’s books. The business of children’s books may sound like child’s play when compared to steel, an import so central to businesses around the world. However, American and European book publishers were making a killing selling in the expanding Chinese market, and will no doubt feel the loss following the crackdown. 

There are currently 220 million people under the age of 14 in China. As the Chinese government begins to consolidate its own power, one of its biggest goals is to aggressively limit western – particularly American – influence on China’s citizens. All Chinese publishing is already subject to mandated government approval and censorship. Despite this, more Chinese authors attempt to remain educated on the American children’s book industry, in order to stay abreast of trends around the world.

The reason for China’s adoption of the children’s book is driven primarily by a transformation taking place within the society. The Chinese educational system, which was previously geared towards standardized test preparation, is now focusing on getting kids ready for employment. The result has been an increased interest in reading and writing for fun. China has a rapidly expanding middle-class and that’s facilitated a new country-wide interest in pre-school education. According to a report by Publishers Weekly, however, Chinese children’s books remain rather impersonal and don’t prioritize or even teach individuality, at least in the way that western books tend to.

It’s hard to say what shape the children’s book industry will take in China, but a potentially good indicator of its future could be the development of western films in the Chinese market. Since 1994 – when the Chinese government first allowed the screening of non-Chinese films – movie studios have steadily encroached on the enormous market. Originally, only 10 foreign films were allowed to play in China per year. Upon entering the World Trade Organization, that number jumped to 20, and by 2012 it was 34. If foreign movie studios don’t wish to import a film, the Chinese government may purchase local distribution rights from the film’s producers.

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