De­spite the dig­i­tal age, Shang­hai Book Fair con­tin­ues to thrive

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By LI YANG

“Shang­hai Book Fair (SBF) makes Shang­hai the most beau­ti­ful city in China ev­ery Au­gust for the sake of read­ing,” said Mo Yan, the Chi­nese No­bel lit­er­a­ture lau­re­ate and a fre­quenter of the largest Chi­nese-lan­guage book fair since its launch in 2004.

When SBF be­gan it was only a pur­chas­ing meet­ing on books pub­lished in Shang­hai for buy­ers from the other parts of China. SBF and the book fairs in Hong Kong and Taipei are re­garded as the top three Chi­nese book fairs to­day.

In 2011, the SBF started invit­ing fa­mous for­eign writ­ers to meet their Chi­nese read­ers, mak­ing it one of the most pop­u­lar cul­tural events in the city.

From Aug 13 to Aug 19, the SBF, or­ga­nized by Shang­hai gov­ern­ment, hosted more than 700 ac­tiv­i­ties for about 200,000 read­ers, 500 pub­lish­ers and 1,000 writ­ers in the 23,000 square-me­ter Shang­hai Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­ter. The value of re­tails in the main ex­hi­bi­tion site hit nearly 60 mil­lion yuan (US$9.77 mil­lion) in one week.

Themed “I like read­ing, and I like life”, SBF not only cre­ates the at­mos­phere of read­ing, but also shows Shang­hai’s charms as a cul­tural cen­ter of China. The spa­cious ex­hi­bi­tion cen­ter is di­vided into dif­fer­ent halls for re­spec­tive pub­lish­ing houses from dif­fer­ent parts of


ng­hai Book Fair (SBF) makes Shang­hai the most beau­ti­ful city in China ev­ery Au­gust for the sake of read­ing.” MO YAN CHI­NESE NO­BEL LIT­ER­A­TURE LAU­RE­ATE


Al­though dig­i­tal read­ing and pub­lish­ing has in­creas­ingly be­come a trend for read­ers and pub­lish­ers, books re­main pop­u­lar, es­pe­cially among the se­nior and ju­nior cit­i­zens, who pre­fer hold­ing a pa­per­printed book rather than a dig­i­tal gad­get con­nected to a data­base in the cloud.

Be­cause the event comes dur­ing stu­dents’ sum­mer va­ca­tion, chil­dren be­come the main visi­tors - of­ten with their grand­par­ents in the book fair. Sci­en­tific pop­u­lar­iza­tion, lit­er­a­ture clas­sics, his­tory, so­ci­ol­ogy, Chi­nese stud­ies and pol­i­tics are pop­u­lar sub­jects at the book fair.

One main theme of SBF this year is to pro­mote so­cial­ist value out­look. A book tower piled by dozens of books on this topic stands in the en­trance of the ex­hibit with a ta­ble lamp sit­ting on its top.

The first book un­der the ta­ble lamp is Xi Jin­ping’s book New Thoughts while Work­ing in Zhe­jiang (or Zhi­jiang Xinyu in Chi­nese). It is a col­lec­tion of his 200 short es­says pub­lished in the Zhe­jiang Daily from 2003 to 2007 when he worked as Party chief of the prov­ince. It be­came a best seller this year.

“Xi’s book can let me get a glimpse into his thoughts on many small prob­lems be­fore he be­came a state leader. I think read­ing his book can let me know how his regime will in­flu­ence our life,” said a reader in his 60s with the book in his hands.

To some an­a­lysts’ sur­prise, books from Karl Marx, Im­manuel Kant, Friedrich Hegel, Con­fu­cius and many other philoso­phers are more pop­u­lar than be­fore.

“I just want to find an­swers to some prob­lems with China to­day from the phi­los­o­phy that is closely linked to China’s devel­op­ment,” said a col­lege stu­dent from Fu­dan Univer­sity at the book fair.

Read­ing be­came a na­tional fash­ion in China af­ter the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion” (196676) ended. Peo­ple re­garded books as valu­able “spir­i­tual foods” that could lead them to bet­ter life in the 1980s. There were always long queues out of the gate of a book­store when a new book was pub­lished. Talk­ing about ex­is­ten­tial­ism was the fastest way to tell one’s date they were “progressive”.

The re­form and open-up of the coun­try in the 1990s grad­u­ally changed peo­ple’s at­ti­tudes to books and knowl­edge. Money talked. A sci­en­tist’s in­come was even lower than a ven­dor sell­ing boiled eggs on the road­side.

The pop­u­lar­ity of books in the pre­vi­ous decade fos­tered large num­bers of pi­rated books. The qual­ity of books dropped re­mark­ably com­pared with the 1980s.

Af­ter the In­ter­net spread in China in the 21st Cen­tury, news por­tals, blogs, on­line fo­rums and so­cial me­dia be­come the peo­ple’s main in­for­ma­tion source. Few ques­tion the dif­fer­ence between in­for­ma­tion and knowl­edge.

Book­stores be­gan to close. One Chi­nese read about four books a year on av­er­age, much lower than the 65 in Is­rael, Rus­sia’s 55 and Ja­pan’s 20.

The con­tent of the books is an­other con­cern for Chi­nese read­ers. The an­cient clas­sics, for­eign books trans­lated be­fore the 1990s and some make-a-for­tune books con­sti­tute the book lists for many Chi­nese. In con­trast, mod­ern Chi­nese writ­ers, schol­ars and trans­la­tors con­trib­ute much less to Chi­nese read­ing than ex­pected.

Many col­lege stu­dents find it hard to pick out good books from their li­braries. More and more ed­u­cated Chi­nese turn to read­ing English books, which are of­ten of a higher qual­ity than Chi­nese books.

For­eign pub­lish­ers can­not op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently in China to­day. Most of them ac­cess the Chi­nese mar­ket through co­op­er­at­ing with Chi­nese pub­lish­ing houses.


Read­ers browse the stacks at the 2014 Shang­hai Book Fair from Aug 13 to 19 in Shang­hai.


Book lovers in­spect the of­fer­ings at the 2014 Shang­hai Book Fair.

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