Chi­nese book­store be­gins a new chap­ter in Sri Lanka

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FOCUS - By BEN YUE in Hong Kong benyue@chi­nadai­lyhk.com

For many Chi­nese, Colombo is a great place to shop for jew­elry and tea, but for Li Yong, the Sri Lankan cap­i­tal is the lo­ca­tion of the lat­est in his chain of Chi­nese book­stores.

Li’s com­pany, Kun­ming Xinzhi Group, is China’s largest pri­vate book re­tailer, with 58 out­lets around the coun­try. It opened its fifth over­seas book­store in late Novem­ber in Sri Lanka. The 450-squareme­ter shop is the first in South Asia, but oth­ers have opened in Ph­nom Penh, Vientiane, Kuala Lumpur and Man­dalay in Myan­mar dur­ing the past two years.

“We have a medium- term plan that by 2015 we will have 10 book­stores in South­east and South Asia. Our long-term plan is to have 20 around the world by 2020,” said Li, the founder and pres­i­dent of Kun­ming Xinzhi, who be­gan con­duct­ing mar­ket re­search into South­east Asia in the mid-1990s, fi­nally open­ing the first over­seas store in Ph­nom Penh in Cam­bo­dia in Novem­ber 2011. He found that the de­mand for knowl­edge about China and for Chi­nese lan­guage learn­ing aids is grow­ing rapidly in the re­gion, so the com­pany de­cided to fo­cus on Asian cities with large pop­u­la­tions of eth­nic Chi­nese and Chi­nese en­trepreneurs.

“We are also con­sid­er­ing In­done­sia, Viet­nam, Thai­land, Bangladesh and Nepal,” Li said. “Our sixth store will be on the way when we can rent a proper place in any of those coun­tries.”

Li’s con­fi­dence about fu­ture ex­pan­sion is built on the en­thu­si­as­tic re­ac­tions of read­ers in the five coun­tries where the stores have al­ready launched. At the open­ing cer­e­mony, and dur­ing an ear­lier 10-day trial run, the Colombo store sold a wealth of Chi­nese dic­tio­nar­ies, an­cient lit­er­a­ture, mod­ern nov­els and lan­guage text­books.

Xinzhi’s vice-pres­i­dent, Yao Shusheng, who is in charge of over­seas op­er­a­tions, said many stu­dents from the lo­cal Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute, a lan­guage school backed by the Chi­nese govern­ment, have flocked to the store.

“Our tar­get cus­tomers are Chi­nese peo­ple who work in those coun­tries, peo­ple of Chi­nese de­scent who want to know more about the cul­ture, lo­cal peo­ple who are learn­ing Chi­nese, and schol­ars and of­fi­cials who are in­ter­ested in China,” he said.

“We sell the ‘ big cul­ture’ con­cept in our stores. Not just Chi­nese books, but also au­dio­vi­sual prod­ucts, sports goods, gifts, even fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories,” he said.

There are fu­ture plans for Chi­nese schools, gal­leries and cul­tural cen­ters un­der the com­pany’s brand. “We need a multi-driven busi­ness model to sup­port our over­seas op­er­a­tions. Af­ter all, the pur­chas­ing power for Chi­nese books in those coun­tries can’t be as high as in the do­mes­tic mar­ket,” he said.

Learn­ing for the fu­ture

Ex­cept for the store man­ager and one as­sis­tant sent from China, all em­ploy­ees are lo­cal hires.

“Most of them are of Chi­nese de­scent and have some found­ing in the lan­guage,” said Li. The com­pany trains them and, over time, many of them have learned to speak and even write in Chi­nese. It will be ben­e­fi­cial for their fu­ture jobs.”

Daum­n­i­mon, 33, works in the Ph­nom Penh store. A friend in­tro­duced the for­mer fac­tory worker to the lan­guage two years ago.

“I started learn­ing Chi­nese in 1997, but my lan­guage skills have re­ally im­proved since I be­came a book­seller,” said the eth­nic Chi­nese man, who added that Chi­nese text­books are the most pop­u­lar items in the store.

Dhanan­jaya Su­tanto, a Jakarta-born eth­nic Chi­nese who has spent the last few years work­ing in China, felt the de­mand for Chi­nese books may be limited, even though many peo­ple are cu­ri­ous about the new Chi­nese book­store in the neigh­bor­hood.

“In Jakarta, we have many small Chi­nese book­stores. The prob­lem is that books here are too ex­pen­sive,” he said. “For ex­am­ple, one Xin­hua Dic­tio­nary (the stan­dard dic­tio­nary of mod­ern Chi­nese) can sell for about 200 yuan ($33), while in China it costs around 20-some­thing.”

“I’d rather buy one from China and carry it back home,” he said. “Plus, there are some books re­lated to busi­ness prac­tice that are al­ways hard to find out­side China.”

Su­tanto be­lieves that the next gen­er­a­tion of eth­nic Chi­nese will have bet­ter lan­guage skills, but he pointed out that they are also very com­fort­able with Western cul­ture, in­clud­ing movies, mu­sic and nov­els.

“I don’t know how much they would like to go to a Chi­nese book­store at the week­end with friends and read Chi­nese books,” he said.

How­ever, Li is san­guine about the de­vel­op­ment of the lan­guage abroad.

“On Aug 15 when I vis­ited our Ph­nom Penh store, two Sin­ga­pore­ans asked if we were sell­ing Zhu Rongji’s Shang­hai Speeches,” said Yao. “I was amazed. The for­mer premier’s new book had only been pub­lished in China three days ear­lier. I told my­self: ‘Peo­ple are watch­ing China closely from ev­ery cor­ner of the planet’.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Sri Lankan cus­tomers browse Chi­nese books at the newly opened Xinzhi book­store in Colombo, the com­pany’s fifth over­seas out­let.

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