Materialism is destroying China’s interest in reading books

On 23/08/2013 by Site Default

In a chapter from his essay collection China in Ten Words, Yu Hua, an acclaimed Chinese writer, recounts the following anecdote from his childhood: In the wake of the Cultural Revolution, Western classic novels, previously denounced as “poisonous weed,” started to reappear in the remote village where he lived. Because of the shortage in supply, however, villagers had to purchase these books with ration tickets issued by the local bookstore. On the day the tickets were distributed, Yu arrived at the bookstore at dawn. A line was already snaking out from the entrance, formed by hundreds of villagers who had waited all night long. At 8 a.m., the bookstore owner announced that only 50 ration tickets were available. Yu remembered feeling as if “someone had poured a bucket of icy water over his head in the dead of winter.” The 51st person in line, staring at people ahead of him leaving with brand new copies of Anna Karenina and David Copperfield, looked so crushed that the number “51″ soon became a village slang for bad luck.

For book readers in today’s China, this episode feels as outdated as the yellowed pages of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book. More than three decades into China’s economic reform period, the Chinese market is awash in books: The country now boasts the world’s largest publishing industry by volume, with 8.1 billion books printed in 2012, up from 7.7 billion the year before. Strolling down the aisles in China’s numerous “book cities,” customers are greeted by a wide selection ranging from classical Chinese poetry to the top titles on Amazon’s best-sellers list. At every other street corner, vendors stand by carts of pirated copies of new releases, hawking titles such as Steve Jobs’ biography and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People

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