On the morning of April 23, which is World Book and Copyright Day, Chinese novelist Mai Jia posted a new article on his WeChat public account, recounting how people had “read together” with the help of the account over the past years.
Mai set up the account as a public reading and book-sharing platform several years ago. On the introduction page of the account, the winner of China’s Mao Dun Literature Prize wrote that he had planned to read 1,000 books with others in 20 years. As of Saturday, the account had more than 1.2 million followers.
The popularity of Mai’s public account is an epitome of how the love of reading proliferates across the Chinese society. Over the years, with the development of reading-related infrastructures and cultivation of a reading-friendly social atmosphere, more and more Chinese people are finding joy in turning the page.
In China’s Outline of the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-2025) for National Economic and Social Development and Vision 2035, it is noted that the country will further promote nationwide reading to build China into a nation of avid readers. To cultivate the public habit of reading, the Chinese government as well as regional authorities have all rolled out supportive policies and measures to facilitate the development of reading infrastructure.
In Beijing, many readers have opted for a Xinhua Bookstore in Shunyi District to spend their reading hours. Situated in Wenyu River Park, the bookstore offers both a cultural atmosphere and a natural environment, hence becoming increasingly popular among avid book readers.
“With the help of Beijing’s special supportive funds for brick-and-mortar bookstores, we were able to develop this comprehensive cultural space with the park as its base,” said Zhang Xiumei, manager of Shunyi Xinhua Bookstore Co., Ltd.
China’s rural areas are also witnessing drastic changes in reading environments. In Anning, Yunnan Province, a rural book house established in a local neighborhood has become a favorite spot for local villagers when they are not occupied by farmwork.
The book house provides about 5,000 books for locals to read for free. “Before the book house was established, folks had to travel 60 kilometers to bookstores in urban areas for a book,” said Li Guizhi, a villager. “Now, everyone comes to the book house whenever there’s time. The answers to so many of their problems are found here.”
Currently, there are 587,000 rural book houses in mainland China. These, along with over 100,000 brick-and-mortar bookstores and 3,300 public libraries, provide great convenience for people to immerse themselves in quality reading.
Bao Dan, curator of a library in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, has experienced first-hand the public’s passion for reading. “On average, we greet 500 to 600 readers daily and lend around 15,000 books each month,” said Bao. “We close at 8.30 p.m., but some of the readers are so into reading that they immediately head to the 24-hour library nearby.”
READING ENRICHES LIFE
People love reading for a lot of reasons. For many, reading is far more than just a pastime. It is also a way to gain wisdom and spiritual strength.
During the first session of the 14th National People’s Congress (NPC), Chen Tianzhu, deputy editor of Chinese magazine Duzhe and an NPC deputy, shared a story about her pen pal Xiaoyu, who was a “left-behind child” whose parents worked far away from home.
To encourage the boy, who then suffered from loneliness and health problems, Chen recommended works such as “Ordinary World” and “The Temple of Earth and I,” both highlighting perseverance drawn from an arduous life journey.
“Xiaoyu has graduated from a normal university and is now a Chinese language teacher. He always says that reading delights his life,” said Chen.
Apart from providing those in need with solace and strength, reading is also vital to carry on China’s cultural tradition, foster a Chinese ethos and enhance its cultural strength.
Nowadays, classic books are more accessible to the public thanks to modern technology.
National Library of China released the Yongle Canon HD Images Database earlier this year, enabling the public to study the great ancient encyclopedia “Yongle Dadian,” which was commissioned by Emperor Yongle in 1403.
Based on high-definition images, the database adopts both GIS techniques and three-dimensional restoration techniques to vividly display the binding and layout of the encyclopedia. By using digital technology, ancient classics like it are better preserved for study and reading by the public and experts alike.
With all the aforementioned efforts, China is now taking great strides in cultivating the love of reading across the country.
According to a national survey on reading released Sunday, 81.8 percent of Chinese adults had the habit of reading in 2022. Their per capita reading volume of paper books was 4.78, while that for digital books was 3.3 in 2022.
Just as Mai Jia once wrote, the reason why Chinese civilization is able to last so long, is because its cultural roots are preserved by reading. Today, this traditional habit is becoming an increasingly inseparable part of average Chinese people’s lives.