Re­vi­tal­is­ing Tian­shuiyuan Book Mar­ket

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Qian Chui­jun Edited by Justin Davis Pho­tos by Chang Xu

Tian­shuiyuan Book Mar­ket, a time-hon­oured brand with 25 years of ex­per­tise in the book whole­sale in­dus­try, has had its share of glory and hard­ship. It is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a lon­gawaited re­birth.

Bei­jing Joy Tian­shuiyuan Book and Cul­ture Har­bour is lo­cated in Build­ing No. 16, Tian­shuiyuan Beili, Chaoyang District. It is a 13,000-squareme­tre (sq.m) book plaza that in­te­grates whole­sale and re­tail and is a time­honoured brand with 25 years of ex­per­tise in the book whole­sale in­dus­try. It has had its share of glory and hard­ship. It is now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a long-awaited re­birth.

Glo­ries of the Golden Age

In 1993, there was a hus­tling and bustling whole­sale book mar­ket at the ter­mi­nus of Bei­jing Bus No. 9, near Jin­tai Road.

That era was the golden age of the whole­sale book in­dus­try. Ev­ery day, FAW Jiefang Trucks loaded with books would stream into the mar­ket one af­ter another. In less than half a day, the books would be snapped up. Ac­cord­ing to old hands, book­sell­ers in the mar­ket did not have to worry about sales in those days

be­cause the mar­ket it­self was the best ad­ver­tise­ment. As long as there were books avail­able, there would nat­u­rally be cus­tomers. That mar­ket is the pre­de­ces­sor of Tian­shuiyuan, whose rise in­di­cated the tran­si­tion of book whole­sale from street stalls to es­tab­lished out­lets.

Ini­tially, Tian­shuiyuan Book Whole­sale Mar­ket was run on a sec­tion of newly-built and tem­po­rar­ily-idle road for the res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity in the area. Busi­ness­peo­ple set up stores in mov­able struc­tures. The poor over­all en­vi­ron­ment of the mar­ket did not in­ter­fere with its rapid suc­cess in se­cur­ing its foot­ing in the com­pet­i­tive book in­dus­try. It be­came a well-known brand in the whole­sale book mar­ket in Bei­jing and even be­came a vane in­di­cat­ing trends in the na­tional book in­dus­try. Back then, about 400 of the nearly 600 pub­lish­ing houses in China were in North China, with Bei­jing at the cen­tre. A large pro­por­tion of those 400 pub­lish­ing houses were head­quar­tered in Tian­shuiyuan. The so­cial en­vi­ron­ment and the ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion con­trib­uted to the golden age of the whole­sale book mar­ket and the over­all in­dus­try. The mul­ti­tude of book whole­salers in the lu­cra­tive busi­ness is a pre­cious mem­ory from that era.

The mar­ket soared over the next four years. In 1997, Build­ing No. 16 was erected at Tian­shuiyuan Beili. The road­side whole­sale book mar­ket re­lo­cated to the build­ing. From then on, Build­ing No. 16 be­came syn­ony­mous with the whole­sale book mar­ket, which soon sim­ply be­came known as Tian­shuiyuan. Mov­ing into the new fa­cil­ity marked a new stage in the de­vel­op­ment of the mar­ket. There were some prac­ti­cal prob­lems, how­ever. There were not enough booths to meet the needs of the book­sell­ers. Small book­sell­ers were quickly elim­i­nated in the face of hun­dreds of com­peti­tors be­cause of their lim­ited pres­ence. The re­main­ing pub­lish­ers and book­sell­ers con­tin­ued to scram­ble for the lim­ited spa­ces. In the end, eli­gi­bil­ity screen­ing and bid­ding were in­tro­duced to man­age the lim­ited space. Two hun­dred twenty-one pub­lish­ers and book­sell­ers ended up with booths and of­fi­cially es­tab­lished them­selves here, in­clud­ing many rep­re­sen­ta­tive pub­lish­ers from around China.

The mar­ket now had a new site, a new at­mos­phere and a new look. The per­ma­nent fa­cil­i­ties at Tian­shuiyuan helped usher in a new era. The base­ment was used as a ware­house for book­sell­ers and pub­lish­ers. The three main floors were used for sales. A wide range of bestsellers and high-end ti­tles were avail­able. Po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic, sci­en­tific, his­tor­i­cal, lit­er­ary, ed­u­ca­tional, and chil­dren's books were avail­able, among oth­ers. The new en­vi­ron­ment was eye-catch­ing. Aside from cen­tral air-con­di­tion­ing, au­to­mated ser­vice el­e­va­tors, elec­tronic touch screens, com­puter re­trieval and other mod­ern fa­cil­i­ties, the mar­ket also pro­vided postal, con­sign­ment and sav­ings ser­vices for pub­lish­ers, book­sell­ers and cus­tomers. Mean­while, joint su­per­vi­sion, reg­u­la­tion and law en­force­ment were con­ducted by the pub­lic se­cu­rity agency, the in­dus­trial and com­mer­cial bureau, cul­tural agen­cies, the in­dus­try of­fice and re­view­ing agen­cies, sig­nif­i­cantly rec­ti­fy­ing the book mar­ket and pro­vid­ing con­ve­nience for mer­chants and read­ers.

Tian­shuiyuan con­tin­ued grow­ing and be­came a well-known en­ter­prise in whole­sale book and magazine sales in Bei­jing and even na­tion­wide. In 2005, in or­der to meet the needs of the de­vel­op­ment of the mar­ket econ­omy, re­or­gan­i­sa­tion of this in­dus­try oc­curred. This project was de­vel­oped and op­er­ated by the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal Bureau of Press and Pub­li­ca­tion, Chaoyang District Govern­ment and Chaoyang District Real Es­tate De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion, ac­cord­ing to the Sev­eral Re­quire­ments for Reg­u­lat­ing the Tan­gi­ble Mar­ket di­rec­tive is­sued by the Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal Ad­min­is­tra­tion of In­dus­try and Com­merce for “sep­a­ra­tion of govern­ment from en­ter­prises.” From then on, the whole­sale book mar­ket be­came ex­clu­sively run by en­ter­prises. On March 3, 2006, a plaque with “Bei­jing Book Whole­sale Trad­ing Mar­ket Co., Ltd.” in­scribed on it was hung on Tian­shuiyuan's Beishui Build­ing No. 16.

The whole­sale book mar­ket has left many peo­ple with fond me­mories over the last twenty-five years. Gen­eral Man­ager Si Jian­dong has gone through ups and downs with the mar­ket and ex­pe­ri­enced its glo­ri­ous past. Look­ing back, he could not hide traces of re­gret amid pride. He stated: “In the past, book­sell­ers' daily sales could reach hun­dreds of thou­sands or even one mil­lion. Now it may sound like a fairy­tale, but it was com­mon back then. The pros­per­ity of the whole­sale book mar­ket was in­com­pa­ra­ble.”

The Ur­gency of the Sil­ver Age

The golden age of Tian­shuiyuan lasted for about a decade, and then it be­gan to de­cline. Var­i­ous fac­tors were in­volved, in­clud­ing so­cial pol­i­tics, the econ­omy and cul­ture. For ex­am­ple, the pro­mul­ga­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Reg­u­la­tions on the Ad­min­is­tra­tion of Pub­li­ca­tions Mar­ket in 2003 re­sulted in a large in­flow of pri­vate cap­i­tal in the whole­sale book in­dus­try. The num­ber of book whole­salers in Bei­jing soared, shat­ter­ing the mo­nop­oly of

Tian­shuiyuan. At the same time, mod­ern me­dia be­came in­creas­ingly abun­dant and di­verse, chang­ing the read­ing habits of read­ers and their book-buy­ing habits. Se­condly, with the con­tin­u­ous ex­pan­sion of on­line book­stores, brick-and-mor­tar book bro­kers lost their ad­van­tages. Fi­nally, a lack of pub­lish­ing cre­ativ­ity led to ho­mo­gene­ity, slow sales and over­stock, di­rectly con­tribut­ing to the rapid dis­in­te­gra­tion of Tian­shuiyuan as the sec­ond chan­nel mar­ket for the whole­sale book in­dus­try. The once bustling scene was never seen again, and the fa­mous whole­sale mar­ket be­came quiet.

The im­pact from these var­i­ous forces al­most killed the name of the book whole­sale mar­ket. It was a grad­ual process, not dis­cernible ex­cept in hind­sight, like the fail­ure of frogs to jump out of grad­u­ally heated wa­ter. Tian­shuiyuan's golden age was also the peak of the na­tional whole­sale book in­dus­try. Si stated, “The de­vel­op­ment bot­tle­neck con­cerned not just Tian­shuiyuan but the en­tire book whole­sale in­dus­try across China.”

The govern­ment de­cided to re­spond to the sit­u­a­tion and im­ple­mented tax sub­si­dies to save the mar­ket. How­ever, these mea­sures seemed to be in­suf­fi­cient to counter trends in the in­dus­try. In the past, stalls in Tian­shuiyuan were hard to come by, but in the slack sea­son of 2012, va­cant stalls be­gan to ap­pear. It was the first time Si was keenly aware of the changes that were oc­cur­ring. He be­gan to visit whole­sale book mar­kets around the country and con­duct field in­spec­tions. He found that they faced the same down­turn, and most of them were in worse shape than Tian­shuiyuan. Si re­called: “The en­tire whole­sale book in­dus­try was at a low point. Many whole­sale mar­kets were changed beyond recog­ni­tion and even ceased to ex­ist ex­cept in name. Their op­er­at­ing rev­enues were in­vari­ably bad.”

Af­ter this in­spec­tion tour, Si had some ideas. For ex­am­ple, he low­ered the rent for the pub­lish­ers and book­sell­ers, helped them co­or­di­nate the ware­house bet­ter, as­sist with train­ing their staff and some­times even aided them with pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­i­ties. Si ad­mit­ted that those ef­forts amounted to lit­tle though. “At that time, we did not have a good busi­ness sense, and our ef­forts were not com­pre­hen­sive. So, lit­tle ef­fect was achieved in sav­ing the mar­ket.”

The im­pos­si­ble over­all trends ended the golden age of Tian­shuiyuan and rel­e­gated it to its sil­ver age. The loss of mar­ket share, the with­drawal of pub­lish­ers and mer­chants, and the sharp de­cline in cus­tomers made it dif­fi­cult for Tian­shuiyuan to re­store its past glo­ries.

The cur­rent book mar­ket fea­tures a set pat­tern of State-owned book­stores, on­line book­stores and in­de­pen­dent book­stores. In the boom­ing so­cial rev­o­lu­tion, book in­ter­me­di­aries like Tian­shuiyuan were weak­ened. They faced a cheer­less mar­ket and steadily de­creas­ing turnovers. Peo­ple in­volved with the mar­ket were keenly aware of its pow­er­less­ness, as well as the pub­lish­ers and book­sell­ers. Some­thing had to change in or­der to sur­vive the bru­tal com­pe­ti­tion. Si noted that he wanted Tian­shuiyuan to forge ahead with the book­sell­ers and that

he could not just watch it col­lapse af­ter two decades of de­vel­op­ment.

Tri­als and Tra­vails

The two-decade old Tian­shuiyuan was no longer geared to the pace of mod­erni­sa­tion. Its dense shops, old en­vi­ron­ment and age­ing equip­ment seemed to be out of place in the rapidly de­vel­op­ing city. In ad­di­tion, the bustling crowds and heavy traf­fic in the area made traf­fic con­ges­tion a daily oc­cur­rence. It be­came a tar­get of crit­i­cism.

The rapidly chang­ing and de­vel­op­ing so­cial en­vi­ron­ment and con­stantly up­dat­ing city made a trans­for­ma­tion of Tian­shuiyuan in­evitable. In 2015, the co­or­di­nated de­vel­op­ment of Bei­jing, Tian­jin and He­bei be­came a na­tional strat­egy, and the ur­ban func­tional ori­en­ta­tion of Bei­jing was re-de­fined. Some in­dus­tries ir­rel­e­vant to its core func­tions as a city would be re­lo­cated, in­clud­ing whole­sale mar­kets. In ac­cor­dance with the plan­ning and re­quire­ments of the de­vel­op­ment strat­egy, Chaoyang District com­pre­hen­sively rec­ti­fied whole­sale mar­kets within its ju­ris­dic­tions. Some whole­sale mar­kets were up­graded, oth­ers trans­formed and still oth­ers closed, in a bid to im­prove their qual­ity and con­trol their num­ber. Tian­shuiyuan, as a land­mark whole­sale book mar­ket in the district, ush­ered in a stage of up­grade and trans­for­ma­tion. In re­sponse to the govern­ment's call, it com­pre­hen­sively im­proved its en­vi­ron­ment and im­ple­mented bet­ter fire safety mea­sures. It also promised to in­crease the va­ri­ety and qual­ity of books.

Still ex­plor­ing ways to break free from the dilemma of the sil­ver age, Tian­shuiyuan was plunged into a new wave of de­vel­op­ment. Although there was some con­fu­sion at first, the mar­ket boldly took one dif­fi­cult step af­ter another.

In 2016, the Tian­shuiyuan Whole­sale Book Mar­ket un­der­went a ma­jor over­haul. Si con­sid­ered this to be a tra­vail. Af­ter more than 20 years of de­vel­op­ment, a thor­ough re­newal was any­thing but an easy task in prac­tice. Tian­shuiyuan had to with­stand the test of mul­ti­ple prob­lems. For ex­am­ple, a method had to be cho­sen to dis­miss cer­tain pub­lish­ers and book­sell­ers. That was es­pe­cially hard for Si. He re­called: “Some book­sell­ers had been in the busi­ness for ten or even twenty years and their op­er­a­tors had be­come mid­dle-aged or even old. If they sud­denly had to move out and do some­thing else, what could they do?” Bei­jing was also un­der­go­ing a com­pre­hen­sive safety in­spec­tion. Tian­shuiyuan's base­ment ware­house would in­evitably next to be rec­ti­fied. Specif­i­cally, it was go­ing to be cleared out or con­sid­ered il­le­gal. As a re­sult,

Book dis­plays at the Tian­shuiyuan Book Mar­ket af­ter its ren­o­va­tion

Tian­shuiyuan Book Mar­ket pro­vides ded­i­cated read­ing ar­eas for chil­dren.

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