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Publishing translated books to contribute to international cultural exchange

(PTOJ) - Publishing activities and publishing translated books in Vietnam contribute significantly to international cultural exchange, absorbing cultural quintessence and bringing Vietnamese culture to the world. This article focuses on analyzing and clarifying the role, current situation, and solutions for translated books to promoting the publication of translated books, thus enhancing international cultural exchange. 


Source: The World and Vietnam Report.

1. Publishing translated books creates a channel for cultural exchange

In the period of renovation and international integration, the Party and State of Vietnam focus on building “an advanced Vietnamese culture deeply imbued with national identity”, to promote traditional values while enhancing cultural exchange and enriching national cultural identity.

The Resolution No. 33-NQ/TW dated June 9, 2014 of the 9th Plenum of the Party Central Committee (11th tenure) on building and developing Vietnamese culture and people to meet the requirements of sustainable development of the country clearly stated: “Developing cultural industries to exploit and promote the potentials and unique values of Vietnamese culture; encouraging the export of cultural products, contributing to the promotion of Vietnamese culture to the world”, “Actively expanding cultural cooperation with other countries, diversifying the forms of externally-oriented culture, bringing international culture to deeper level of relationships, and achieving practical results; selectively receiving world cultural quintessence to enrich national culture”(1).

The 13th National Party Congress affirmed: “Actively and proactively integrating into the world in terms of culture, building Vietnam into an attractive destination for international cultural exchanges. Selectively acquiring the quintessence of human culture in line with Vietnamese realities, and at the same time actively raising the resistance of all social strata, especially the youth and teenagers, to toxic foreign cultural products; gradually promoting Vietnamese culture to the world”(2).

In the tendency of globalization, cultural exchange and cooperation activities are growing strongly with various forms: through the mass media; cultural import and export; religions and beliefs; labor import and export, tourism, migration, study abroad; cooperation between governments through projects, decrees and conventions on culture, etc. One of the most popular forms in the world is through publishing translated books.

Original titles created by foreign authors are translated, published and distributed to readers in other countries. Translated books circulate that amount of information, thus acting as a bridge between countries. Translated books play a key role in communicating the cultural achievements of each nation. Translated books provide a complete picture of the world, helping readers to fully understand the knowledge of nature, society, and thinking. The development and dissemination of intellectual products is a particularly important task for all countries. In modern society, the provision and dissemination of information are done in different ways, but translated books are still an important tool, an effective channel for receiving and spreading knowledge which is also convenient to the cultural and educational life of each country. Translated books have also changed from traditional to electronic books, but they continue to play the role of providing knowledge with many advantages.

Thanks to translated books, people have direct access to mankind’s knowledge, expanding global cultural exchanges. Translated books become communication bridges for peoples who do not speak the same language. Translation and translated books are important and indispensable activities in any country and in any field, especially in the current trend of integration and globalization.

Translated books - a cultural product - will contribute to promoting the image of a charming Vietnam, with its dynamic development, hospitable people, and unique culture imbued with national identity. Translated books introduce Vietnam to the international community, helping international readers to understand correctly and fully about the land and people of Vietnam, to know of and love Vietnam more. In addition, they will help the overseas Vietnamese community to cement the bond with their homeland, and at the same time meet the needs of different audiences around the world to learn about Vietnam. In the other way around, translated books furnish Vietnamese readers with valuable foreign publications.

2. Current situation of publishing translated books in Vietnam

In 2018, there were 59 publishing houses and 129 book companies with over 10,000 bookshops in 63 provinces and cities across the country (according to the 2018 Summary Report of the Authority of Publication, Printing, and Distribution). The publishing of translated books is quite diverse in forms, many titles have large print-runs, including books translated from foreign languages into Vietnamese and vice versa. The former is meant to bring mankind’s knowledge and culture to readers in Vietnam. A survey of the National Directory on the number of books translated from foreign languages into Vietnamese published in recent years shows that they always account for 20-25% of the total number of books published annually.

In the period of national renewal, the policy on socialization of publishing activities and encouragement of various entities to participate in this field has achieved positive results. Publishing units have signed copyright contracts with foreign publishers, many of which worth up to tens of thousand US dollars. Besides copyright agreements, Vietnamese publishers also cooperate with foreign counterparts to translate and publish selected titles under the sponsorship programs of funds or foreign embassies in Vietnam. Besides, the participation of international organizations and individuals in publishing translated books also makes the Vietnamese book market more vibrant.

The Vietnamese publishing sector organized book fairs, exhibitions, beautiful book contests in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and other localities. At the same time, it has expanded international exchanges, participating in international book fairs and exhibitions, such as the La Habana International Book Fair in Cuba, the International Book Fair in the Russian Federation; the International Book Fair in Frankfurt (Germany). The sector has introduced Vietnamese books at the Vietnamese Cultural Center in France and the Czech Republic; as well as organizing book exhibitions in the US on the occasion of the “Meet Vietnam” event.

After joining the Berne Convention in 2004, the publishing of translated books has enjoyed a new development, approaching the global publishing industry. Up to now, almost all typical works of mankind have been translated and published in Vietnam. According to experts, translated books are at the strongest stage of development, both in terms of the number of titles and print-runs, as well as their genres. Several publishing houses are well acknowledged with high quality translated books, such as The Gioi Publishers, Tre Publishing House, Kim Dong Publishing House, Vietnam Education Publishing House, and Knowledge Publishing House. In addition, general scientific books of First News, literary books of Nha Nam, business management books of Alpha Books are also welcomed.

However, the obtained results are mainly in books translated from foreign languages into Vietnamese. The publishing of books translated from Vietnamese into foreign languages to promote Vietnamese culture and people to the world still remains limited. In 2018, Vietnam exported only 415,000 copies of books to foreign countries.

It is difficult to promote Vietnamese culture through books translated from Vietnamese into foreign languages, especially in terms of the high costs of translation and proofreading, as well as the expensive costs of promotion in international markets. The export of such books also encounters hardships in terms of mechanisms and policies, despite the due attention of the State and the publishing sector.

In general, the publishing of translated books has well maintained political and ideological orientations, communicating effectively the Party’s guidelines and the State’s policies and laws, affirming strongly the goal of national independence and socialism, promoting widely patriotic movements of all social strata for national construction and defence, and for implementation of the cause of renewal for the goal of prosperous people, strong country, and equitable, democratic, and civilized society. At the same time, it has contributed positively to raising people’s intellectual standard, fighting against negative influence of foreign cultures, building an advanced Vietnamese culture deeply imbued with national identity, meeting information and cultural needs of people, having a positive influence in educating Vietnamese people’s ideals, ethics and lifestyle. The translated books have contributed to promoting the cause of renewal, effectively serving political, economic, cultural, educational, and scientific-technical tasks.

3. Solutions to promote the publication of translated books

Firstly, regarding guidelines and policies. If the Vietnamese publishing sector is to become more active in international integration, the State needs to devise programs and policies integrated with the national target programs of culture, information, and communication to develop the publishing sector, creating a strong synergy whereby books and newspapers are essential elements, apart from other cultural products such as movies, arts, tourism, etc., thus contributing to the protection and preservation of cultural identity, national culture, and promoting Vietnamese culture to the world.

It is necessary to encourage non-profit forms of publication to revive the national culture and promote international cultural exchange; making use of support from foreign government and non-government organizations. It might be useful to learn from the model of Sweden. Although Sweden has 6 Nobel Prizes for literature, the Swedish Arts Council has decided to support quality works as well as the translation of Swedish literature into foreign languages to overcome the situation of publishing only bestsellers, while ignoring quality works but difficult to have good sales.

Secondly, regarding financial sources. It is imperative to support non-commercial books to reach domestic readers easily and promote Vietnamese books to the world. It is essential to have a national plan to support publications in each field. At least every year, the State should provide funding for the translation and publication of several hundred essential books, focusing on books on culture, science-technology, new discoveries, human civilizations, etc. The Ministry of Information and Communications should coordinate with functional agencies in reviewing, amending, and supplementing mechanisms and policies in publishing. First and foremost, policies on salary, allowances, taxes, funding, orders, etc are needed to submit to the Government for approval to improve the quality of books, effectively overcome the trend of commercializing publishing activities.

Thirdly, regarding distribution and promotion of Vietnamese books. The export of Vietnamese books should be given due attention to and implemented methodically. For example, in the field of literary books, the works that have won the State Prizes, or imprinted in people’s mind, should receive financial support for publication. However, it is also necessary to promote contemporary works of young authors and innovative trends of Vietnamese literature abroad so that international friends can understand the spiritual life of Vietnamese people today.

It is needed to clarify the audience that will help the development of publishing books translated from Vietnamese into foreign languages. Besides translation and publishing, it is necessary to make use of relations with international organizations and individuals, cultural attachés, and Vietnamese embassies to help facilitate distribution. They are the bridge that can bring Vietnamese publications to foreign readers quickly and effectively through cultural exchanges and embassy activities.

It is important to mobilize a contingent of Vietnamese intellectuals, writers, translators, and students living, working, and studying abroad to act as “cultural ambassadors”, to bring publications containing cultural quintessence that imbued with national identity to international friends.

Publishing units should actively approach foreign markets through international book fairs and exhibitions to attract international friends to learn about the Vietnamese publishing sector, thereby promoting copyright transactions with foreign publishers and publishing agents. Publishing units can have a joint booth to increase their scale and professionalism when participating in the international book markets. To this end, publishing units must invest in building their visibility, having Vietnamese works and authors introduced in various languages.

Fourthly, regarding management and use of human resources in publishing translated books. Translators and editors are the main force behind the quality of translated manuscripts. Therefore, it is required to conduct regularly training to foster and improve the qualifications of editors; organize seminars and conferences on translation to capture the thoughts, aspirations and strengths of translators for a reasonable and effective use plan.

Translation, especially books, is not just about translating from one language to another. Translators are required to have deep expertise to co-create with the authors. The task of the translators is to reproduce the original work in another language so that the translation must both ensure the spirit and content of the original title while preserving the author’s style and being approachable and receptive to target readers. This requires translators not only to be fluent in the original language of the book and their own mother tongue, but also to understand the cultures of both countries, and reconcile cultural differences.

A person who is well-versed in foreign languages might not become a translator, because translating any works, especially literary ones, requires sophistication and sensitivity in language as well as life experience. Translation is a challenging job, requiring a lot of effort and intelligence. Therefore, translation must be considered a profession, with a code of conduct and code of ethics like other professions. The State needs to issue certificates to translators to ensure professional quality and ethics. In addition, the State needs a translation fund to support translation works; and an appropriate mechanism to attract more private entities to participate in bringing new knowledge of the world to Vietnam.

Fifthly, regarding technological application. The publishing sector needs to build a National Publishing Information and Data Center with sufficient information technology and human resources to provide quick and comprehensive information on the publishing activities of the region and the world. This center needs to collect sufficient data on bibliography published in Vietnam (including ancient bibliography), timely update information on the activities of the publishing industry to serve as arguments for formulating guidelines and policies for the development of the publishing sector. Meanwhile, this Center can exchange information - data with foreign partners when required. This is a practical need that member countries of the Asia Pacific Publishers Association (APPA) and the ASEAN Book Publishing Association (ABPA) have mentioned many times at their annual meetings. The member countries in the two Associations are keen on building a Digital Network for the whole region whose members are the Data Center of each country(3).

Sixthly, it is required to strengthen the inspection, supervision, and sanctioning of violations. Over the past years, the situation of piracy, illegal printing, and fake printing of translated books has taken place frequently, greatly affecting publishing companies that have spent a lot of effort and money on purchasing copyrights, translations, editing, and publishing. Although pre-examination and post-inspection and supervision have limited the violations in publishing activities, there are still violations of translated books, especially in the process of cooperation with private publishing companies. Therefore, inspection and supervision should be carried out more strongly, combining with modern technology, having strict sanctions for piracy, illegal and fake printings.



(1) CPV: Resolution No. 33-NQ/TW dated June 9, 2014 of the 9th Plenum of the Party Central Committee (11th tenure) on building and developing Vietnamese culture and people to meet the requirements for sustainable development of the country.

(2) CPV: Documents of the 13th National Party Congress, vol.I, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2021, p.147.

(3) How can publication in Vietnam achieve international standards, Information and Communication Portal, https://ictvietnam.vn/lam-gi-de-xuat-ban-viet-nam-mang-tam-voc-the-gioi-20200812143042412.htm.


Academy of Journalism and Communication

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