On the Hunt for Read­ing Spa­ces

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Hui­hui Edited by Mark Zuiderveld Pho­tos by Li Xiaoyin, Xiu Yuchen

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.

China Books

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.”

The Book­worm

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.

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