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Reading Nation: China’s Most Popular Books

What are the most popular books amongst Chinese readers? In light of World Book Day, What’s on Weibo gives an overview of the most popular books and readings habits in China.

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What are the most popular books amongst Chinese readers? In light of World Book Day, What’s on Weibo gives an overview of the most popular books and readings habits in China.

Starting from the 21st of April, Amazon China has been organizing a campaign titled “Love Reading” to promote nationwide reading. As part of the campaign, that was held in light of World Book Day (April 23rd), the e-commerce giant carried out an extensive survey on the reading habits and preferences of Chinese readers. The survey had more than 11,000 participants from over 500 different Chinese cities.

China’s reading habits

The survey reveals that China has a large reading population; 80% of participants read more than half an hour per day, and half of the surveyed have finished more than 10 books over the past year.

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According to the survey results, digital reading has increased in popularity. 84% of the surveyed have digital reading experiences, and Kindle is now surpassing smartphones as the preferred electronic reading tool. Despite the digital developments within the world of reading, paper books remain the preferred choice for many Chinese readers; 80% like to read both digitally and on paper, while 16% say they choose paper books exclusively.

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Reading habits vary depending on gender, age and education. Between the two sexes, women tend to read more as a hobby, while men often read for career planning or knowledge acquisition.

Preferred topics of reading are different amongst age groups. The post-2000 generation mostly reads original literature and study-related books; the post-80 generation prefers finance and baby-caring. Post-60s turn to social sciences and philosophy.

China’s most popular books

Amazon.cn also published the top popular paper books and Kindle books for the first season of 2016. Literature and novels are the most popular genre, followed by financial management and social sciences. Within the last category, history is the most popular social science topic.

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According to Amazon’s list, books that were orignally published in English are generally more popular than books written by Chinese authors.

Top Paper Books of 2016

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry [岛上书店] by Gabrielle Zevin, 2015 (Novel, originally English)
Miracles of the Namiya General Store [ナミヤ雑貨店の奇蹟] by Higashino Keigo 東野圭吾, 2014 (Novel, originally Japanese)
The Willpower Instinct [自控力] by Kelly McGonigal, 2013 (Self-Help, originally English)
Everything I Never Told You [无声告白] by Celeste Ng, 2015 (Novel, originally English)
So Slow, So Beautiful [这么慢,那么美] by Tintin Sverredal, 2015 (Travel, originally Chinese)
Genius Left Lunatic Right [天才在左疯子在右] by Gao Ming 高铭 (Biography, originally Chinese)
Spark English: Tests and Practices for CET 4 2016 (Examination, originally English)
Passing by Your World [从你的世界路过] by Zhang Jiajia 张嘉佳 , 2013 (Novel, originally Chinese)
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind [人类简史] by Yuval Noah Harari, 2014 (Social Science, originally English)
The Kite Runner [追风筝的人] by Khaled Hosseini, 2003 (Literature, originally English)

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Top Kindle Books of 2016

Miracles of the Namiya General Store [ナミヤ雑貨店の奇蹟] by Higashino Keigo 東野圭吾, 2014 (Novel, originally Japanese)
What Life Could Mean to You [自卑与超越] by Alfred Adler, 2006 (Self-Help, originally English)
The Shortest History of Europe [极简欧洲史] by John Hirst, 2011 (Social Sciences, originally English)
• The Three-Body Problem [三体全集] by Liu Cixin 刘慈欣, 2012 (Science Fiction Novel, originally Chinese)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry [一个人的朝圣] by Rachel Joyce, 2012 (Novel, originally English)
The Complete Sherlock Holmes [夏洛克·福尔摩斯全集] by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Novel, originally English)
General History of China [中国通史] by Lv Simian 吕思勉 , 2009 (Social Sciences, originally English)
Everything I Never Told You [无声告白] by Celeste Ng, 2015 (Novel, originally English)
Never Imagined [万万没想到] by Wan Weigang 万维钢, 2014 (Science, originally English)
Good, Touch the Head [乖,摸摸头] by Da Bing 大冰 (Biography, originally English)

Reading Nation

Reading books is a habit for many Chinese. According to Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, 58.4% of China’s adult population regularly reads books.  Meanwhile, the internet has become a platform for these readers to connect with other book lovers.

Popular Chinese news media like Sina.com, Sohu.com and People.com now all have book sections with recommendations and reviews of new arrivals. In the reading section of online community Douban, users can add entries of books or share their thoughts.

For the World Book Day this year, Sina Weibo launched a special topic titled ‘Page 24, Line 4’ (#23页第四行), where netizens were asked to post a picture of the specific line of the book their reading, and to share their views on the book.

For businesses, World Book Day was a good marketing opportunity. Major online book retailers like Amazon.cn, Tmall.com and Dangdang.com all had sales to promote book purchases, leading to higher sales. For some retailers, like Dang dang, sales were so succesful that their site temporarily crashed due to excessive traffic.

Encouraging reading is also a matter of focus on the state agenda. The publicity department of the PRC previously launched a “nationwide reading” (全民读书) campaign in 2006, as part of promoting the learning society. Chinese Academy of Press and Publication has also been releasing annual reports on reading habits of Chinese citizens. The latest report was released on April 19 in Beijing, which pointed out that China is now reading more than before – truly a book-loving nation.

– By Diandian Guo

Sources:
http://www.199it.com/archives/465029.html
http://news.xinhuanet.com/book/2016-04/22/c_128921238.htm
http://cips.chinapublish.com.cn/yjsdt/201604/t20160419_173544.html

Image: featured image by Whatsonweibo,
http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/culture/2015-04/22/content_20502019.htm

Additional editing by Manya Koetse
©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Ed Sander

    April 28, 2016 at 4:33 am

    A claim like ‘and Kindle is now surpassing smartphones as the preferred electronic reading tool’ and the fact that the survey was done by Amazon says a lot about the representativeness of the sample group and overall reliability of this research.

  2. Avatar

    Tenzinz

    May 30, 2017 at 1:52 pm

    If anyone want to buy english ebook in wechat,contact me on(tcv3768tcv)

  3. Pingback: Mapping the Book Trade in the 21st Century – From Print to Digital: Publishing Revolutions

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China Books & Literature

“The End of an Era”? – Beijing Bookworm Closes Its Doors

Manya Koetse

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As news of The Bookworm’s closing makes its rounds on social media, Beijingers have responded in shock, mourning the loss of an iconic and meaningful meeting place for book(worm) lovers around the city.

The Bookworm Beijing, at Nansanlitun Road, is a bookshop, library, bar, restaurant and events space that has become a center of cultural exchange for Beijing’s foreign community since 2005.

The location is a beating heart of Beijing’s literary world; a place where writers, journalists, students, diplomats, academics, and all kinds of people – both foreign and Chinese – come together to exchange knowledge, read, and sit down for a glass of wine.

Today, the Bookworm announced its sudden closure via WeChat, writing:

It is with heavy hearts that we are forced to announce the impending closure of The Bookworm Beijing after 14 wonderful years in Courtyard No. 4 off SouthSanlitun Road. Despite our best efforts, we appear to have fallen prey to the ongoing cleanup of “illegal structures”, and we have not been able to secure an extension of our lease.”

The announcement further says that the location will be forced to suspend operations “most probably” as of Monday, November 11, and that the Bookworm will attempt to reorganize and find a new location.

News of the Bookworm’s closing has been becoming a topic of conversation on various social media sites from WeChat to Twitter and Weibo.

Famous Chinese journalist and author Luo Changping (罗昌平) writes on Weibo: “The Bookworm is forced to close! It used to be next door to my former office, and it was once like my living room. Sigh.”

Shanghai comedian Storm Xu called the closure of the Beijing Bookworm “the end of an era,” saying he looks back on many good memories there.

“They had many events, good food, special books; I used to go there a few times per year,” one person writes. “This really is so sad,” other Weibo users respond.

There are also various Weibo commenters who also mention that news of Bookworm’s closing comes just a day after the news that publisher of magazine-books and online bookseller Duku Books (读库) is forced to close its Beijing warehouse for the sixth time.

Over the past decade, many popular venues in Beijing have been forced to close their doors or relocate. Beijing hangouts such as Bed Bar, Salud, Vineyard Cafe, 2 Kolegas, Jiangjinjiuba, Mao Livehouse, Hercules, Aperativo, The Bridge Cafe, Great Leap Brewery Sanlitun, Jing-A Taproom 1949, and many others have all been closed over the past years.

Nightlife hotspot Sanlitun bar street was demolished and bricked up in 2017 as part of the mission of the city management to gentrify the area.

Changing Sanlitun in 2017.

The demolishment of “illegal structures” in the city has been an ongoing effort of the local government for years. These efforts became especially visible in late 2017 when people in Beijing’s Daxing area faced a large-scale evacuation campaign after a big fire broke out there on November 18, killing 19 people.

The large-scale evacuation campaign was also expanded to other areas of Beijing in a campaign by the municipal authorities aimed at unlicensed developments to target “illegal structures” and “buildings with potential fire hazards.”

But many people on Weibo and WeChat questioned if the campaign was actually more about politics than about safety concerns – something that was strongly refuted by state media outlets at the time.

These questions will remain unanswered, also for the Bookworm. Is its closure really about closing down an “illegal structure,” or are there more politically-motivated considerations playing a role here? On Weibo, some commenters say the location is closed down for being a home of free discussions and “free thinking,” while others say that no matter what the place is, the building’s safety and legal status is what matters here.

Perhaps the future will tell. We surely hope the Bookworm will soon pop up and open its doors in another location very soon.

Those who are interested can support the Bookworm by coming by and buying books, which will be heavily discounted, until November 11.

By Manya Koetse

Images: Bookworm images by The Bookworm, edited by What’s on Weibo.
Sanlitun Image: Might have been taken by Manya in Beijing 2017, but we’re not 100% sure so let us know if we’re mistaken.

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Books & Literature

Nineteen Eighty-Four Turns 70: Orwellian China and Orwell in China

“We still need independent, courageous thinkers like George Orwell. We still need 1984.”

Manya Koetse

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First published

George Orwell’s classic Nineteen Eighty-Four turned seventy this week. For a country that is labeled ‘Orwellian’ so often, it is perhaps surprising that the modern classic, describing a nightmarish totalitarian state, is well-read within the People’s Republic of China and is not banned from its bookstores.

“Big Brother is Watching You” is the sentence that people around the world have come to know through the novel 1984 or Nineteen Eighty-Four, that turned 70 this week.

Nineteen Eighty-Four is a novel about a nightmare future in the year 1984. It takes place in a totalitarian state where the Party is central to people’s everyday lives and where propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, and manipulation of the past are ubiquitous.

The book revolves around Winston Smith, a citizen of London, Oceania, who works at Minitrue (Ministry of Truth) and who secretly hates the society he lives in with its all-controlling Party, the ‘Big Brother’ leader, and the Thought Police.

Smith is critical of the workings of the Party and the lies it imposes, which then pass into history and become ‘truth’; as the Party slogan goes: “Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

 

“Orwellian China”

 

There is probably no other country in the world that has been described as “Orwellian” in English-language media as often as China has over the past few years. According to Google Trends, ‘China’ currently is one of the most related topics people in the US are searching for when they type in the word ‘Orwellian’ on the search engine.

The topic recently most associated with Orwell’s novel is that of China’s Social Credit System. In October of 2018, US Vice President Mike Pence addressed China’s nascent Social Credit System in a speech on China, calling it “an Orwellian system premised on controlling virtually every facet of human life” (Whitehouse.gov).

Since then, George Orwell and Nineteen Eighty-Four have been used more often to describe developments in China.

‘Orwellian’ and ‘China’ come up with more than 28,000 results in Google News alone, the term often being used with any PRC news that relates to technology, government control, and propaganda.

Ironically, many of the news reports addressing ‘Orwellian China’ and its Social Credit System (SCS) are, in the Orwellian tradition, spreading misinformation themselves, conflating different issues or presenting speculation as fact – see some examples of speculative reporting on the SCS in this list.

But also when reporting on China’s growing mass camera surveillance, the Xinjiang internment camps, the launch of the ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ [Xuexi Qiangguo] app, or the increasing use of facial recognition, the comparison to George Orwell’s 1949 classic is everywhere in the English language media world today.

 

一九八四: Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in China

 

For a country that is labeled ‘Orwellian’ so often, it is perhaps surprising that Nineteen Eighty-Four is actually not censored or banned in the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Since the first PRC edition of the novel was published in 1979, it has become a famous and well-read work that is available for purchase in Chinese or English in all big bookstores in Chinese cities or online via e-commerce sites as Taobao.com.

The famous sentence “Big Brother is Watching You” translates to “Lǎo dàgē zài zhùshìzhe nǐ” (“老大哥在注视着你”) in Mandarin, and often pops up on social media, together with terms such as “doublethink” (shuāngchóng sīxiǎng, 双重思想) or “Thought Police” (sīxiǎng jǐngchá 思想警察).

On Douban, an influential web portal that allows users to rate and review books, films, etc, various editions of Nineteen Eighty-Four (most of them translated by Dong Leshan 董乐山) have been rated with a 9.3 or higher by thousands of web users.

Reading 1984, by Weibo user @耀离Pinus.

“I like this book, it’s just a bit too dark for me,” some reviewers write, with others just saying the book is “very scary,” or seeing some resemblance with the classic works of Chinese authors such as Wang Xiaobo or Lu Xun.

WeChat blog Vopoenix recently stressed the importance of Nineteen Eighty-Four, writing that the novel is not anti-socialism per se: “What Orwell really opposes is fascism, totalitarianism, and nationalism (..), what he really supports is political democracy and social justice.”

70 years later, totalitarianism still has not disappeared, the blog writes: “(..) instead, it has evolved with the times in a more secret way (..). We still need independent, keen and courageous thinkers like George Orwell. We still need 1984.”

One Douban reviewer writes about their thoughts after reading Nineteen Eighty-Four, saying: “What scares me is that sometimes people will ridicule North Korea for being so shut off from the world, but what about us? We’re like frogs at the bottom of a well, but the scary thing is, we don’t even know we’re in the well.”

 

“Just a work of fiction to Chinese”?

 

Public sentiments about the 70-year-old Nineteen Eighty-Four novel bearing a resemblance to (present-day) China are seemingly growing stronger on Chinese social media recently. The book appears in online comments and discussions on a daily basis.

“I finished reading the book today,” one Weibo commenter writes: “The biggest thought I had is: this book is very suitable for Chinese people to read.”

“I can now imagine what those ten years were like,” one Douban user posts, referring to the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

Nineteen Eighty-Four is the first satirical book I’ve read that comes close to the situation in China. If you read it, you’ll know what I mean,” another reader writes.

Different from English-language (social) media, Chinese commenters are not mentioning the book in relation to the country’s Social Credit System at all, but in relation to the heightened censorship that China has recently been seeing in light of the China-US trade war, the Tiananmen anniversary, and the Hong Kong protests.

One Weibo blogger writing a critique about the growing “bizarreness” of the “elephant in the room” (referring to all those big China-related issues that cannot be discussed on social media due to censorship) attracted the attention of Chinese netizens earlier this week (see the full translation of post here).

Many commenters spoke about the Weibo post in relation to Nineteen Eighty-Four, especially when the post addressing the censorship was censored itself.

Some commenters are speculating that Orwell’s novel might one day be banned in China.

Others also wrote that it seemed “like a miracle” that the book was not banned in China, and some suggested it might still happen in the future.

“It will be forbidden very soon,” one Weibo commenter speculates.

“The future is becoming more difficult, really,” one netizen recently wrote: “It’s nearing 1984 (一九八四), and [we] might not be able to see it later.”

But, in Chinese online media, Nineteen Eighty-Four is by no means only mentioned in relation to China. There are also those blogs or news articles that mention the Orwellian aspects of the story of Edward Snowden, or connect Orwell to Trump’s America.

In late 2018, state tabloid Global Times denounced the ubiquitous Western media reports on “Orwellian China.” Author Yu Jincui wrote:

Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classic to Westerners, but it is just a work of fiction to Chinese and they are fed up with Orwellian style preaching from Western elites. This kind of conversation will lead nowhere.”

But many netizens do not agree with the fictional part. “Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a work of fiction, it is a record of our future,” one Weibo user writes.

“Is Big Brother watching me?” others wonder.

“The first time I read it, I just read it,” another Douban user says: “The second time I read it, I really started to understand. Here’s to George Orwell!”

Despite all speculation on social media, there are no indications that Nineteen Eighty-Four will be banned from China any time soon.

For now, even 70 years after its first publication and 40 years after its first Chinese translation, readers in the People’s Republic can continue to devour and discuss Orwell’s classic work and the mirror it holds up to present-day China, America, Europe, and the world today.

By Manya Koetse

PS: Some recommended reading on Social Credit in English:

* Creemers, Rogier. 2018. “China’s Social Credit System: An Evolving Practice of Control.”May 9. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3175792.

* Dai, Xin. 2018. “Toward a Reputation State: The Social Credit System Project of China.” June 10, available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3193577 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3193577.

* Daum, Jeremy. 2017. “China through a glass, darkly.” China Law Translate, Dec 24 https://www.chinalawtranslate.com/seeing-chinese-social-credit-through-a-glass-darkly/?lang=en [24.5.18].

* Daum, Jeremy. 2017. “Giving Credit 2: Carrots and Sticks.” China Law Translate, Dec 15 https://www.chinalawtranslate.com/giving-credit-2-carrots-and-sticks/?lang=en [27.5.18].

* Horsley, Jamie. 2018. “China’s Orwellian Social Credit Score Isn’t Real.” Foreign Policy, Nov 16 https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/11/16/chinas-orwellian-social-credit-score-isnt-real/ [10.6.19].

* Koetse, Manya. 2018. “Insights into the Social Credit System on Chinese Online Media vs Its Portrayal in Western Media.” What’s on Weibo, Oct 30 https://www.whatsonweibo.com/insights-into-the-social-credit-system-on-chinese-online-media-and-stark-contrasts-to-western-media-approaches/

* Koetse, Manya. 2018. “Open Sesame: Social Credit in China as Gate to Punitive Measures and Personal Perks.” What’s on Weibo, May 27 https://www.whatsonweibo.com/open-sesame-social-credit-in-china-as-gate-to-punitive-measures-and-personal-perks/.

* Kostka, Genia. 2018. “China’s Social Credit Systems and Public Opinion: Explaining High Levels of Approval” SSRN, July 23. Available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3215138 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3215138 [29.10.18].

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