READING ON THE RISE IN CHINA

By Garreth ByrneThe

28th Beijing International Book Fair BIBF opened on September 14 at the China International Exhibition Center in Beijing’s Shunyi District. Hosting more than 2,200 exhibitors from 105 countries and regions and displaying some 300,000 books, it is the first major international book fair being held online and offline amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

EAGER READERS

People are increasingly getting into the reading habit in China. Per capita reading volume for paper books was 4.70 and 3.29 for digital books in 2020, with both figures higher than those in 2019, according to a national survey released in April by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication.

The Covid-19 lockdown early in 2020 had a big impact in book reading trends. An independent e-commerce company called JD.com monitored the book industry and concluded that a significant proportion of people devoted more time to reading in 2020, as restrictions from COVID-19 caused people to spend more time at home. According to its findings, more than 46 percent read more paper books, 59.6 percent read more digital books and 58.8 percent listened to more audiobooks. If you are housebound, you can watch television, or you can read books.

Sinan Mansions are a remodeled houses complex dating from the French concession of the 1920s in the Huangpu district of Shanghai. Sinan Mansions are considered part of city’s cultural heritage, an outdoor museum with gardens, elegant European style old architecture, pedestrian lines and trees. In September 2020, after months of shutdown, shops, restaurants and museums reopened to the public. Huge queues formed to visit a large bookstore.

In a communist ruled society obviously many published books are about the history of the Party, the struggles against foreign rule, the anti-Japanese war and the exploits of political and military heroes. The party line with no revisionist independent angles is naturally salient in such publications.

The above mentioned JD.com survey noted that Selected Works of Mao Zedong are increasingly popular among readers born after 1985. Red Star Over China, a hagigographical account of Mao and the Long March (1932-1934) authored by American journalist Edgar Snow in the 1930s, made it to the top-10 best-selling paper books list in 2020.  This influential book was translated into Chinese long ago and has never gone out of print. It continues to boost state sponsored patriotism among the upcoming generations who never had to endure the barbaric distortions of the Cultural Revolution.

In Foreign Language bookstores found in the provincial capital cities citizens who read English or French can find the works of classical novels by French, English and American authors such as Stendhal, Balzac, Flaubert, Zola, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Jack London, Hart Crane, Edgar Allen Poe, Scott Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Hemingway. Chinese translations are also abundant. Students majoring in English are directed to read the blockbuster Gone with the Wind. I have spotted a Chinese translation of Joyce’s Ulysses and wondered if the stream-of-consciousness complexity is more difficult to comprehend than in the original Hiberno-English.

One bestselling non-fiction book in English and in translation is Dale Carnegie’s How to make Friends and influence People. You may also find The Bible in Chinese at outdoor bookstalls during university Freshers’ Weeks in September.

Children’s book publishing is hugely large and lucrative in mainland China. Coloured illustrations are artistically attractive. Parents and grandparents buy a lot as presents for birthdays and for the Spring Festival. Many books recount ancient Chinese folk tales. As children get older they may encounter Party ideology and patriotism in other books.

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