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May 23, 2017

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Obama book is a surprise hit in China

BEIJING -- Young publisher Han Manchun was so taken by U.S. president-elect Barack Obama's ideas that he decided to have one of his books translated — and created an unexpected hit in China.

Han, 27, fell under Obama's spell after reading "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream," written in 2006 by the then Illinois senator.

When Han devoured the book at the beginning of 2008, Obama was still a candidate in the Democratic Party's primaries, and many expected he would lose to a determined Hillary Clinton.

But the inspired graduate of Tsinghua University's law faculty, in Beijing, was so impressed by what he read that he was certain Obama would win, and that this presented an opportunity in China.

"When I read his book, in which he expresses his views on the constitution and the separation of powers in the United States, I completely subscribed to these," said Han, sporting a white shirt, black jacket and jeans.

"At the time, I thought he could become the U.S. president, his knowledge of the American Constitution is very deep," added Han, who works for a state-owned publishing house that specializes in legal and constitutional issues.

Han sought and won the rights to publish the book for what he said was a reasonable sum, although he would not elaborate.

He also delved into debates between pro-Clinton and pro-Obama netizens on one of the main Chinese web portals, then helped create a support-Obama group on a Chinese social networking site.

The Chinese version of the book — identical to the original, according to the wishes of Obama's representatives — was published in September.

The first 30,000 copies were snapped up rapidly, and the publishing house has had to re-print it several times.

A total of 100,000 copies have now been sold, without taking into account the pirated versions on the streets, and it is now one of at least 10 books on Obama available for sale in China.

According to a survey released before Obama's election win in November, the former senator was popular with urban Chinese because he represented "the 'American dream' due to his vitality, black skin and special upbringing."

"A lot of Chinese people have an American dream," said Han, who has now also published a Chinese version of the biography of Michelle Obama, the U.S. president-elect's wife.

"Obama grew up in a family of common people, and the Chinese want to understand how an ordinary citizen battled to become president of the United States."

According to Han, Obama's election could "change the catastrophic international situation and at the same time improve the development of Sino-U.S. relations."

"He even wants to talk to totalitarian powers," Han said.

"And as he has African roots, I think that he will also change relations between Africa and the United States."

Han said that Chinese leaders, who would soon be dealing with Obama, should read the book.

"I think that leaders above district-level (a Chinese administrative level) must read it," he said, adding an insight into Obama's thoughts could only help them in their own jobs.

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