On the Hunt for Reading Spaces
Come check out Beijing’s stylish reading spaces and wander in search of the books you love.
Francis Bacon (1561–1626, an English philosopher and author) once wrote, “Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtle; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend.” It's easy to say that reading enables those to break restrictions of time and space, talk amongst the wise, obtain strength and wisdom, and become a better person.
Reading not only shapes personality but guides a city's growth and development. Since ancient times, great cities like Athens, Jerusalem, Paris and London, have been famous for their brilliant achievements, ideologies and cultures, and humanism. Bookstores with different styles are like tranquil oases in the downtown, where people can dive into books. You can pay a visit to the beautiful reading space to read the culture of the city and enjoy reading.
“Zi li hang jian” coming out of “Da Xinyuhou he shishu” (“reply to Xinyuhou and poems”) by the Emperor Jianwen of Liang (AD 502–557) means the overtone of writing. It is now the name of the bookstore Belencre. “Zi li” implies that it takes books as its origin, while “hang jian” means it stretches to more possibilities out of books. The bookstore commits to creating a welcoming atmosphere for mental recreation and rest.
In July 2010, the first Belencre in Beijing—belencre Ciyun Temple Store— opened. After seven years, the Belencre has now opened 17 stores (13 in Beijing) all over the country with the brand concept “relaxing your mind,” integrating books, audios, videos, gifts, coffee and cultural salons as a whole. It boasts comprehensive reading experience and a diverse cultural space.
According to the upgrade plan in 2017, Belencre will cooperate with writers to build unique bookstores, create a variety of reading
spaces where writers can hold reading events and book releases to morph bookstores into “the best living room” favoured by readers and appreciated by writers. Presently, Liu Xinwu Study, Zhou Guoping Study, Mang Ke Study, Cui Manli Study and Zhang Defen Space have opened.
Belencre is decorated with lush green foliage and wooden bookshelves. When sunlight shines through the glass window, the place takes on a magical touch. Having a cup of tea and reading a book gives readers a place to dig through books and relax.
At the end of 2005, Xu Zhiyuan and other five young men founded the corridor-style “One Way Street Library” in a courtyard near the Old Summer Palace. The library is named after the book One Way Street by Walter Benjamin (1892– 1940, a German philosopher and essayist).
Not just a bookstore, it's also a salon welcoming dialogue about books and writers, and sharing thoughts with like-minded intellectuals. It has attracted many esteemed writers, directors, artists and readers near and far, turning it into a utopia for visionaries.
The library was later renamed Owspace (One Way Space) and moved from the
Old Summer Palace to Huajidi. More chain bookstores opened in the Aegean Plaza and Joy City in Chaoyang District. Owspace has been favoured by many young readers for its simplicity and neat style, distinct decoration, and unique concept of culture.
As a public space for intelligence, thoughts and cultural life, Owspace consists of dantan (we connect minds, a salon brand), dandu (we read, publications), danchu (we share life, a catering brand) and danxuan (we design, an original design brand).
In the dantan salon, readers have the chance to meet Mo Yan, Chen Danqing, Jia Zhangke, Lai Shengchuan (Stan Lai) and Chai Jing, getting to know them or escalate to a transcendent level. Its Dandu publication sees the world from a new perspective, and provides a platform for young people with independent thinking to exchange ideas.
In danchu, food and drink inspired by books like Sunstone, The Summer Book and Lolita not only satisfy readers but also break with the daily monotony and help strike up conversation. Here, in danchu, fun thinking is accompanied by creative cuisine.
Owspace in Aegean Plaza, with its white bookshelves embedded in white brick walls, rows of small wooden bookcases and green plants, produces a bright and simple sense to help relax those exhausted. With the aroma of coffee filling the air, it's time to sit down, read some books and delve deep, as the bookstore advocates the saying, “We read the world.”
Beijing Zhuandu Space
Beijing Zhuandu Space is located in the Pagoda of the Old Man of Wansong, Zhuanta Hutong, on Xisi South Street. There are two vertical plaques hung on the wall outside Zhuantashan Gate, which read “Zhengyang shuju (‘Zhengyang Bookstore')” and “Beijing zhuandu kongjian (‘Beijing Zhuandu Space')” respectively.
As one of China's four ancient capitals, Beijing has served as the political centre of China—a unified multi-ethnic country since 1272 during the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). And the Pagoda of the Old Man of Wansong is a relic of the Yuan Dynasty. The Old Man of Wansong is the famous Chan Buddhist Monk Wansong Xingxiu (1166–1246).
Yuan Zhongshuling (head of the secretariat) Yelü Chucai once acknowledged Wansong as his teacher, and Wansong's “ruling the state with Confucianism and cultivating mind with Buddhism” thought produced profound influence on Yelü Chucai who spared no effort to promote these ideas during his term of office.
After Wangsong died, his students built the brick pagoda as a memorial. After its completion, the Great Capital of the Yuan Dynasty was still under construction. The hutong (alley) behind the pagoda was so named after it, hence the Zhuanta (brick pagoda) Hutong. Zhuanta Hutong is the only hutong that has been documented and used in Beijing since the Yuan Dynasty, praised as the “root of Beijing's hutong.”
In 2007, the Pagoda of the Old Man of Wansong was included in an historical feature area by Xicheng District. To combine cultural relic protection and bookstores, the Xicheng District Commission of Culture of Beijing Municipality introduced Zhengyang Bookstore to the small courtyard, hence it was named Beijing Zhuandu Space.
Upon entering the courtyard, a brick pagoda is covered by tree shade, flowers, goldfish, and bookshelves. In Zhuandu Space's small archives, images and text about Wangsong's life, metal and stone rubbings, old documents, photos, and the scholar's four jewels (writing brush, ink stick, ink slab and paper) tell of old Beijing's history. Writers
Lu Xun and Zhang Henshui once lived in Zhuanta Hutong for a short period, and images and texts about them can be found in the archives as well.
Books either written about or in Beijing reveals owner Cui Yong's love for Beijing culture. It is this love that has made the place a centre for people to better understand and talk about Beijing's history and culture, and a venue to hold activities. As many lectures, art shows and book launches were held there, including Jingfan’r (“Beijing style”) and Tanchi (“on eating”), Zhengyang Bookstore has been praised as a “luxury store of spiritual products.”
Readers interested in Beijing culture may want to come to the Pagoda of the Old Man of Wansong to get a sense of the fragrance of books, have a look at old studies, sit on the wooden bench while drinking tea and reading books in the small courtyard. If lucky enough, they might find a book on Beijing culture they like.
Since it was founded in 1952, China Books has passed down Chinese cultural treasures and continuing its old book industry. After 65 years, it has become a State-owned bookstore committed to collecting and selling ancient and modern Chinese and foreign books, rubbings, calligraphy and paintings, with traditional Chinese culture characteristics.
Well-known scholars, including historian Wu Han, calligrapher Qi Gong and philosopher Ren Jiyu, have made inscriptions for it. China Books sets Liulichang Culture Street as its major business position, and opens a total of 13 chain bookstores in Beijing, among which Liulichang, Guji, Laixunge, Zhongguancun, Dengshikou and Xinjiekou bookstores are known for selling historical literary books, ancient books and art books.
Founded during the reign of Emperor Xianfeng (1851–1861), Laixunge Bookstore displays rare ancient books, stone inscription rubbings, calligraphy and paintings, books printed during and after the Republic of China period (1912–1949) in an area of more than 500 square metres, becoming an ideal place for people interested in collecting and reading classics. The Newspaper and Periodical Department of China Books has collected tens of photocopies of periodicals and newspapers of high value printed between 1900 and 2000.
Different from traditional bookstores, the China Books Beijing Yanyilou Bookstore is the first State- owned bookstore that open both day and night. Traditional Chinese culture and Beijing style can be sensed in literary, historical and artistic books and books on ancient Chinese civilisation. Reading parties, cultural lectures, forums and other events are held here now and then, providing an opportunity for people to share the love of culture.
The “Traditional Chinese Festival” lecture series held between August and October invites Gao Wei, a folklore expert and secretary- general of the Beijing Folklore Society, to give lectures on the origins and customs of the Qixi Festival (the 7th day of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar, also known as the Double Seventh Festival, Chinese Valentine's Day, the Night of Sevens, or Magpie Festival), the Hungry Ghost Festival (falling on the 15th night of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar, also known as Ghost Festival), and the Mid-autumn Festival (falling on the 15th night of the 8th month on the Chinese calendar), and hutong in the Shichahai area, as well as temple fair culture in Beijing, providing a chance to learn more about folklore, architecture and local conditions and customs.
Located in the Red Plant Design Creative Industrial Park in Cuigezhuang, Chaoyang District, Zashuguan ( literally “miscellaneous library”) was founded at the end of 2015. Although far from the
downtown area, it attracts many readers. With nearly a million books, Zashuguan is a large private library committed to protecting folk culture and being a welcoming environment for readers.
Zashuguan has two areas for Chinese civilisation studies and modern books, with nearly a million books and a collection area of over 3,000 square metres. The Chinese Civilisation Studies collection includes periodicals and literature of the late Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) and the Republic of China (1912–1949), literary works of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC–AD 24), ancient thread bound books, books on folklore, celebrity letters and manuscripts, and other special collected books, including the initial issue of Xin qingnian (New Youth), the whole set of Beiyang huabao (“Beiyang pictorial”), A New Account of the Tales of the World printed during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), and the Twenty-four Histories block-printed during Emperor Jiaqing's reign (1796–1820).
Books on folklore are worth a look, which include thread bound books on local folk literature, culture, folklore and history books of the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China period, with a total of over 100,000 books of over 30,000 varieties. These long-neglected books of folklore have now been protected.
The Modern Book collection has more than 200,000 books published after 1949, including the Confucian classics, classical Chinese fiction novels, modern Chinese works by well-known writers, foreign literature, history, philosophy, Chinese and foreign economics, biographies and children's books. If the books are placed too high for readers to reach, the bookstore offers telescopes for book selection. Gao Xiaosong, the library owner, said, “Reading two books over a cup of tea, you seem to sense time fly at a continuous pace.”
There is an old green concrete factory-style building in Beijing's most bustling commercial district of Sanlitun, one street across from Sanlitun Village. The Bookworm—one of the Top 10 bookstores worldwide selected by Lonely Planet— is on the second storey. This location might remind those of the Chinese saying, “The great hermit enjoys his solitude in a noisy place.”
In 2002, Alex, an educated British woman who lived in China for nearly 20 years, opened The Bookworm out of her love for literature. Presently, it has gone from a small library with 1,600 books or so into a bigger library with over 16,000 books, covering fiction, poetry, music, biography, business, education, science and technology, history, geography and philosophy. Most of its books are in English, with others in Chinese and Europeans languages.
To define The Bookworm as a library with fragrant coffee, dishes, beer and whiskey, and desserts, even a piano, doesn't do justice to its environment. It's more of a home where people can relax, read books and poetry.
The Bookworm has been compared to the “Study of the United Nations,” because there is a narrow white table about three square metres in the hall, with guests sitting around the table exchanging ideas openly. The bookstore holds cultural activities nearly every week, including recitations, reading, riddles, charades, and film discussions, of which the most grand event is the annual Bookworm International Literary Festival. The festival is held every March since 2006.
At that time, authors, scholars, artists and performers worldwide gather in the bookstore to enjoy literature and expressing ideas, playing a role in promoting exchanges between Chinese and foreign literary circles. Guests previously invited by the festival include National Book Award winner Colum Mccann, Israeli author David Grossman, and Chinese author Mo Yan.
Owspace features a minimalist design welcoming to younger readers.
Beijing Zhuandu Space is located in the Pagoda of the Old Man of Wansong, Zhuanta Hutong, Xicheng District.
China Books is a state-owned bookstore selling books on traditional Chinese culture.
Zashuguan houses over 10,000 genres of periodicals published during the Republic of China period.
Located in Sanlitun, The Bookworm holds cultural activities and talks nearly every week.