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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.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

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

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Randy

    November 5, 2019 at 11:23 am

    Never been to the location in Beijing but loved their location in Chengdu. Sadly, it closed down earlier this year with no explanation.

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China Books & Literature

Why Is Kindle Leaving China?

Many netizens are not happy over Kindle exiting the Chinese market: “We never know when the online services we use suddenly stop working.”

Manya Koetse

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Amazon announced on Thursday that it has stopped supplying retailers in China with its Kindle e-readers and that it will discontinue its Kindle e-bookstore in the Chinese market on June 30, 2023.

Amazon announced its Kindle exit in a statement on its official WeChat account, saying it was because of a shift in the strategic focus of its company’s operations.

For Chinese customers who have purchased e-books through Kindle, they will be able to continue downloading them until June 30 of 2024. Customers who would rather return the Kindle devices they bought in 2022 can get a refund.

On Weibo, the hashtags “Kindle Will Be Discontinued in China Next Year” (#Kindle中国明年停止电子书运营#) and “Why Wasn’t Kindle Able to Make It in China?” (#为什么Kindle在中国活不下去#) were hot topics on Thursday and Friday.

Some commenters said they were upset about Kindle being discontinued in China: “Why why why!! I really like Kindle and their e-bookstore, I check for interesting and new books on sale on a weekly basis. Which e-reader and e-bookstore are suitable substitutes?”

“Zhangyue, Hisense, Huawei, Onyx Boox, Tencent, Readmoo,.. there are actually a lot of brands,” one person responded, but some others said they still preferred Kindle.

“What do I do with my Kindle now? Just use it to cover my noodles?”

In 2021, Amazon’s Kindle was among the most popular e-book brands in China. Besides Amazon’s Kindle, China’s most popular e-reader brands include Onyx Boox, iFlytech, Zhangyue, Xiaomi, Hanvon, Tencent, Boyue, Obook, and Sony (see list).

Some commenters wrote that they understand that companies such as Amazon have to make some tough choices after facing pandemic-related setbacks in China, while there were also many netizens who blamed Kindle’s China exit on Chinese consumers illegally downloading pirated books instead of buying them at the Kindle store.

Others said that Kindle e-bookstore prices were often about the same as paper book prices, making the latter more appealing to people who like to read, especially if they also like to make notes in their books. In other words, they say the Kindle e-bookstore is simply too expensive for the Chinese market, where consumers can find many other options, both paper and digital ones.

“It’s not so complicated,” one Weibo user wrote: “It’s all because of market competition reasons. Kindle is facing the impact of Tencent’s influence on the e-reading market.”

Some people are really disappointed that the books they have bought through Kindle will become unavailable to them, and some wondered if this was legal with regards to consumer rights.

One popular economic blogger wrote: “Kindle has now withdrawn [from China]. Many years ago, when different kinds of online storage spaces starting closing down, I learned one thing: never fully trust internet storage services. Your study material, the things you wrote, your video records, you need to back them up. We never know when the online services we use suddenly stop working.”

By Manya Koetse

Image via Weibo

Featured images by Weibo blogger @钟文泽.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Elementary School Textbook Triggers Controversy for Being “Tragically Ugly”

This elementary schoolbook by the People’s Education Press went viral for being ugly.

Manya Koetse

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The illustrations in a Chinese schoolbook series for children have triggered controversy on social media platform Weibo, where the hashtag “People’s Education Press Math Teaching Material” (#人教版数学教材#) attracted over 860 million views by Thursday afternoon, with the “People’s Education Press Mathbook Illustration Controversy” (#人教版数学教材插图引争议#) garnering over 190 million views.

The illustrations went viral after some netizens spotted that the quality of the design in one math textbook series stood out from other books in how ‘aesthetically displeasing’ it is.

The children depicted in the teaching material have small, droopy eyes and big foreheads. Some commenters think their clothing also looks weird and that the overall design is just strange and “tragically ugly.”

Some images depicting little boys also drew controversy for allegedly showing a bulge in the pants. Adding girls sticking out their tongues, boys grabbing girls, a reversed Chinese flag, and some depictions of children’s clothing in the American flag colors, many people think the books are not just ugly but also have “evil intentions.”

Besides the people who think the design of the textbook series is so ugly that it must have been purposely drawn like this, there are also those who are angry, suggesting China has thousands of talented art students who would welcome a project like this and do it much better.

Some parents are also concerned that such poor quality design will negatively influence the aesthetic appreciation of the children using the books.

Fueling the controversy is the fact that the textbook in question has been published and designed by a team of relatively influential and experienced designers and publishers.

The design was done by, among others, Lu Min (吕旻) and Zheng Wenjuan (郑文娟) of the Beijing Wuyong Design Studio (北京吴勇设计工作室). The book is published by the People’s Education Press.

The People’s Education Press (PEP) is a major publishing house directly under the leadership of the Ministry of Education. Founded in 1950, it is responsible for compiling and publishing all kinds of teaching material for elementary education.

The textbook already caught the attention of some parents in early May. One parent shared photos of the textbook illustration on Q&A site Zhihu.com, writing: “This textbook is so ugly! How did it ever pass the review?”

The ugly textbook design has made many netizens look back on their own childhood textbooks, suggesting that more traditional Chinese design is much better than what is being produced nowadays.

Old textbook design shared online for comparison.

On May 26, the People’s Education Press responded to the controversy on Weibo. In its statement, the publishing house said it would reevaluate its elementary school mathematics textbooks illustrations and improve the quality of the design. In doing so, the publishing house said it would welcome feedback from the public. The statement soon received over 600,000 likes.

Professional graphic design artist Wuheqilin also weighed in on the discussion (read more about Wuheqilin here). In a lengthy Weibo post, Wuheqilin argues it is too easy for people to share their old textbook covers and images to show how much better they used to be, blaming poor design on the quality of illustrators in modern times.

According to Wuheqilin, it is not so much a matter of illustrators who have become worse, but of publishing houses saving more money on illustrations. Publishers do not prioritize design and are still offering the same prices to illustrators as they did a decade ago.

“The market has expanded, illustrators’ prices have gone up, but the philosophy of publishing houses hasn’t kept up with the times. This has led to them not really raising their budgets. When I entered the industry some 12 years ago, publishers could still a good artist for 500-800 RMB [$75-$120] to do a fine cover illustration, but now it would be difficult to find an artist to do it for 8000 RMB [$1188]. Around 2015 I was asked by a publishing house to do the cover of a sci-fi novel series they produced, and the process of our talks all went smoothly, but when I quoted my price they looked displeased and told me that even if they would do their best to give me the highest budget possible, it would still only be one-tenth of my quoted price. The price I quoted was just the normal price for a game poster illustration at the time. I never spoke to that publisher again afterward. And this was 2015, let alone how the situation is nowadays.”

This is not the first time Chinese school textbooks trigger controversy online. In 2017, an elementary school sexual education textbook caused a stir for being “too explicit” (read here).

UPDATE TO THIS STORY HERE.

Read more about (controversial) Chinese children’s books here.

By Manya Koetse

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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