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China’s first Tamil author looks to build bridges

Ananth Krishnan
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Zhao Jiang’s first Tamil book makes debut at on-going Chennai Book Fair

A PIONEER: Director of the government-run China Radio International’s (CRI) Tamil station Zhao Jiang has written a book in Tamil, possibly the first of its kind by a Chinese author, to provide an introduction into China's historical and cultural attractions.— Photo: Ananth Krishnan
A PIONEER: Director of the government-run China Radio International’s (CRI) Tamil station Zhao Jiang has written a book in Tamil, possibly the first of its kind by a Chinese author, to provide an introduction into China's historical and cultural attractions.— Photo: Ananth Krishnan

For Zhao Jiang, who prefers to go by her Tamil name Kalaimakal, writing a book in Tamil would have seemed unthinkable when she first began learning what appeared to be an undecipherable script in a Chinese university classroom some 15 years ago.

Today, as a fluent Tamil-speaker and the director of the government-run China Radio International’s (CRI) Tamil station, which commands an impressive audience of more than 25,000 dedicated listeners in Tamil Nadu alone, Ms. Zhao has taken it upon herself to foster closer ties between China and southern India, a usually overlooked destination for Chinese travellers.

This week, Ms. Zhao’s first book in Tamil — which, as far as she knows, might even be the first ever Tamil book authored by a Chinese — will debut at the ongoing Chennai Book Fair, which runs until January 23 at the YMCA College Ground in Nandanam. The book will be available at the stall of publishers Gowtham Pathippagam.

Titled China’s Travel Attractions, the book provides an introduction of the history and culture of Beijing, Shanghai and Tibet. “The idea I had was to introduce the special features of China for a Tamil audience,” Ms. Zhao told The Hindu in an interview.

Her inspiration, she said, came from the listeners of CRI, who sent in thousands of letters wanting to know more about travelling in China.

CRI’s Tamil station receives as many as five lakh letters every year — more than any other of the station’s 60 international channels — from listeners in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and Europe.

The book, Ms. Zhao says, introduces the changes the Chinese capital has seen in its recent history, from its thriving new 798 art district to its modern subway system. It also provides an introduction to China’s most famous historical sites. The book includes sections on Shanghai’s architecture and a guide to travelling in Tibet, written with an Indian audience in mind.

Ms. Zhao has been a broadcaster with CRI for 13 years, joining the channel after completing her undergraduate degree in Tamil at the Communications University of China. The university is the only school in Beijing that teaches Tamil; it caters largely to the hiring needs of CRI and the official Xinhua news agency.

Ms. Zhao, who has travelled extensively in Tamil Nadu in 2003 and 2004 on trips aimed at engaging with CRI’s more than 500 listeners’ clubs, now plans to spend a year studying in Tamil Nadu. She is also considering writing a book, based on her upcoming travels in India, to introduce south India to Chinese travellers, who usually only head to New Delhi or Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the north.

“After the success of the film ‘Life of Pi’ in China [parts of which were shot in Puducherry], there is an increasing interest in south India among Chinese,” Ms. Zhao said.

(Visit http://thne.ws/jiang-tamil for more details).


  • The book provides an introduction of the history and culture of Beijing, Shanghai and Tibet

  • Zhao Jiang has been a broadcaster with CRI for 13 years



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