China Pictorial (English)
Millennial Used Books
Two used bookstores spearheaded by creative millennials hearken to Platform 9¾ at King’s Cross Station in Harry Potter: They take readers into a different world.
If Zhengyang Bookstore is a miniature museum of Beijing’s history and culture, Déjà vu Bookstore founded by Wei Ying is a community for like-minded readers to sell and buy used books.
Zhengyang Bookstore: An Impromptu Beijing Museum
“Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the marketplace, Zhengyang Bookstore is located in the courtyard of the pagoda in honor of the Buddhist monk Wansong Xingxiu (1166-1246) and comforts the honoree’s soul with the fragrance of its books,” wrote a loyal fan of the bookstore. Located in Zhuanta Alley in Beijing’s bustling Xicheng District, the 350-square-meter Zhengyang Bookstore specializes in second-hand books about the old city and maintains a low profile in its central urban location.
In the courtyard of Zhengyang Bookstore stands the Pagoda of Monk Wansong, and several pomegranate trees were planted in front of the pagoda. It is flanked by antique fish basins, door panels, and gate piers that match the quaint decoration style. Surprisingly, Cui Yong, founder of the antique bookstore, was born in the 1980s. In 2009, as Beijing was undergoing major renovation and construction, the then-26-year-old felt an
obligation to do something to preserve some pieces of the historical and folk culture of old Beijing. He founded a bookstore specializing in second-hand books about old Beijing in Langfang 2nd Alley, Dashilan Commercial Street. On the World Book Day in 2014, Cui took over Beijing’s first non-profit public reading space, Zhuandu Reading Space, a site provided by the government for free for him to open Zhengyang Bookstore.
For Beijingers, the bookstore bridges past and present Beijing because every member of a three or four-generation family can find a familiar façade of Beijing. In contrast with the fancy decoration of some popular bookshops, Zhengyang Bookstore is more like a traditional Beijing-style quadrangle dwelling where books can “live” and people can chat. “If writer Lao She (born in Beijing in 1899, known for vivid usage of the Beijing dialect) was still alive, he would certainly be a frequent visitor to the bookstore,” Cui said.
Turning its back on the traditional business strategy of offering as many titles as possible, Zhengyang Bookstore has gradually embraced the identity of a theme bookstore dedicated to Beijing history and culture. Whenever he travels to a foreign city of historical or cultural significance like Paris, London, Rome, or Tokyo, Cui inquires about local bookstores specializing in the cultural history of the city and has not yet found one. A special cultural carrier of old Beijing, Zhengyang Bookstore has continuously attracted many experts, scholars, and culture aficionados to learn more about the ancient city. Pursuing cultural revitalization, the bookstore aims to build a complete knowledge system of Beijing studies based on its book collection and publishing operations. “My ideal is to develop Zhengyang Bookstore into a time-honored store for the new era,” added Cui.