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China Books & Literature

The Many Books Lost in the China Floods: Catastrophic Flooding Hits Zhuozhou’s Publishing Industry

After Typhoon Doksuri, some major warehouses in Zhuozhou have seen their depots transform into a sea of floating books.

Manya Koetse

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Dozens of prominent Chinese publishing companies and book warehouses based in Hebei’s Zhuozhou, a major hub for the publishing industry, have witnessed their book depots destroyed as water levels surged as high as the second floor. Distribution will be at a standstill for at least 15 days.

Zhuozhou (涿州) is a county-level city in Baoding, Hebei Province, known as a major hub for the Chinese publishing industry. It is one of the areas that has been badly affected by the heavy rainfall and flash floodings China has seen this week, after Typhoon Doksuri moved from the Philippines to Taiwan toward Beijing and surrounding regions in mainland China.

In Zhuozhou, dozens of publishing warehouses were affected by floods and water damage due to the storm, resulting in losses amounting to hundreds of millions of yuan. Zhuozhou’s print media industry is closely linked with the center of China’s publishing industry in Beijing, just 25 miles away.

Some warehouses, such as that of Beijing China Media Times, are as large as 8000 square meters, housing over three million books. According to Sina News, one area that housed around 200 publishing companies was almost entirely flooded.

A Weibo post by the Hong Kong Ta Kung Wen Wei Media Group (HKTKWW, @大公文匯網) showed the status quo at some warehouses, which had changed into a sea of books.

Posted on Weibo by HKTKWW, @大公文匯網, the situation at the Beijing China Media Times book warehouse in Zhuozhou.

Posted on Weibo by HKTKWW, @大公文匯網, the situation at the Beijing China Media Times book warehouse in Zhuozhou.

Publisher Books China (中图网), known as an industry “outlet store” for selling discounted and out-of-print books, also saw its central Zhuozhou warehouse completely flooded.

Around 100 of their staff members remained trapped at the office on Tuesday night without any food, drinks, or blankets, while water levels continued to rise. An additional cause for concern was the strong odor emanating from a nearby adhesive tape factory. Some employees suspected that toxic gases might have leaked, leading to several of them feeling unwell and vomiting after exposure.

According to China News (@中国新闻网), all employees were safely evacuated on Wednesday.

Photo posted on Weibo by China News (@中国新闻网), showing how the Books China (中图网) major warehouse was severely impacted by the recent floods, with water levels rising up to the second floor.

In an interview with Chinese newspaper Southern Weekend (南方周末), Beijing China Media Times CEO Ran Zijian (冉子健) revealed that his company had not received any advance warning about the heavy rains and the possibility of flooding, despite the area being prone to floods due to its low-lying terrains. All of the company’s 3.6 million books are now submerged underwater.

Photos provided to Southern Weekend, Weibo.

The water levels rose so rapidly on Tuesday that there was hardly any time to rescue the books, making the evacuation of staff members the first priority. Bookseller Zou Bin (邹斌) told Southern Weekend that he saw the water levels rising so fast in his 5,000 square meter warehouse that he basically witnessed “25 million yuan [$3.5 million] disappear in an hour, powerless to do anything about it.”

According to several Chinese news outlets, the distribution and dispatching of books will be impossible for numerous publishing houses based in Zhuozhou for at least the next 15 days. As the local book industry continues to assess the damages, it remains uncertain how severely the companies have been affected at this stage. For some, it feels like they are starting from scratch all over again.

But most netizens emphasize that it’s more important that employees are safe, as people’s lives are more important than paper books. “Who cares about dispatching books at this time?” some commenters wonder, while others express grief about all the books lost, saying, “It’s just such a pity.”

By Manya Koetse 

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©2023 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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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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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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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

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

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

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