Meet Chen Hui: Leading researcher on picture book making

Chen Hui is a professor at the School of Chinese Language and Literature, a PhD supervisor, and the director of the Research Centre on Chinese Picture Book Writing at Beijing Normal University. She is the author of numerous research articles on the theory and evolution of picture books.


As a renowned expert and scholar, you have produced research on picture books for many years and have a great understanding of the industry. Can you share with us the development of the Chinese picture book market in recent years?

Picture books use two symbolic languages—picture and text—to convey information and tell stories. They emphasise creativity and visual design, taking the form of artworks and offering a unique reading experience. A good picture book applies a progressive vision of children’s development and education, and contains concepts and cultural references to grasp and learn about . They are full of fun and suitable for children to read and enjoy.

Starting in the 21st century, China translated a large number of picture books from all over the world, providing Chinese children with culturally diverse reading resources of great literary and aesthetic value. At the same time, it has helped building a faithful  readership and a market for picture books in China, and propelled the development of picture books entirely conceived and produced in China. With the positive impact of public policies encouraging locally created picture books, , the publication of China's original picture books has soared very quickly in recent years, with remarkable titles of high artistic standards appearing frequently on the market. Some examples include: Don't Let the Sun Fall (2018),The Moose of Ewenki (2018), Grandma's Horse (2018), Sun and Shadow (2018), A Big River (2019), Two Geniuses (2019), Big Boat (2019), Mr. Black and His Dog (2019) and The Pallas's Cat Who Wants Everything (2019).These books are rich in themes and stories, expressive pictures, brilliant texts and unique styles. They are full of creativity and elegantly connect pictures and texts. Their highly original content and cover design are very well received by readers. I am happy to witness this new development—Chinese picture books are growing together with international picture books, complementing each other and sharing the market.


As the director of the Research Centre on Chinese Picture Book Writing at Beijing Normal University, what do you think is the most challenging aspect of your current work? What is the most valuable part of it?

The Research Centre on Chinese Picture Book Writing was established in 2015 as part of Beijing Normal University. In the same year, we started the Annual Top 10 Original Picture Books Ranking. At the same time, we launched the Chinese Original Picture Books Times Award, jointly with Anhui Times Publishing and Media Co., Ltd. The annual ranking list has been issued for five consecutive years, and the third edition of the Times Awards is underway. In this process, we formed a jury composed of scholars, writers, illustrators, editors and reading promoters to set a standard for the comprehensive evaluation of Chinese original picture books. This standard is designed to follow five primary parameters: the overall quality of the concepts and artistic value of the pictures; the narrative strength of the book driven by the combination of pictures and texts; creativity and design; the aesthetical acceptance of the book by children; and the expression of Chinese cultural heritage. This has been the most valuable part of our work in recent years. The most challenging aspect at present is how to take so many great works into consideration with the limited budget and human resources of the Centre. Original picture books have become a very popular product and its publication volume has doubled. We also need to coordinate with jury members from different fields and backgrounds to make sure they reach a consensus on don’t miss any of the great talents that submitted their works.


What are your expectations for the upcoming jury work?

I have been following the development of the Golden Pinwheel International Young Illustrators Competition, which is part of the China Shanghai International Children's Book Fair. It is a great honour for me to serve as a jury member of this year’s competition. As a researcher and professional reading promoter, as well as a judge with a literary background, I look forward to being in touch with international judges, who are from the illustration and publishing industries, as to learn from them and inspire each other. I plan to focus on the artistic exploration and personal expression of picture books, the implication of multiculturalism in the creation of the images, and how they reflect a global and comprehensive approach of picture books. I hope we will fully discuss the entries from different perspectives, including art and children, tradition and modernity, design and crafts and so on. Finally, we should select the most praised, visionary works to receive the awards.


Could you recommend a children's book for us? And tell us why you like it?

I recommend Big Boat—the winning work of the 2019 Golden Pinwheel Grand Award—with texts by Huang Xiaoheng and illustrations of Gui Tuzi. This picture book shows the life course of a big boat and the development of a fishing village. Through a set of gorgeous pictures, it shows the lifestyle of people living with the sea, its evolution through modernity, and contains the artist’ deep understanding of fishing culture. The authors endow the boat with strong emotions: the boat’s enthusiasm for sailing on the sea, the loneliness of the moored shore and finally the happiness and pride of becoming a children’s paradise. Gui Tuzi’s vivid and delicate portrayals give the boat a lively past and present, where every subtle connotation and nuance are effectively conveyed.