What They’re Reading: Memoirs of the Middle Kingdom
The Chinese were printing books five centuries before Johannes Gutenberg published his first Bible. To find out how Chinese literary tastes are adapting to the new millennium, FP spoke with Gao Chuanxian, the former vice director at the Bureau of International Trade and Economics of the Xianning Municipal Government in Wuhan.
Foreign Policy: Describe China's reading culture.
Foreign Policy: Describe China’s reading culture.
Gao Chuanxian: The literary atmosphere is increasingly free, open, and diverse. Presently, we not only have the state-owned Xinhua Bookstore (which distributes 65 percent of all books and magazines in the country) but also 78,000 private bookshops. However, the Chinese have been buying fewer books lately, in part because it’s cheaper to read material online.
FP: What [kinds of] books tend to sell the most?
GCX: Autobiographies written by public figures are very popular, especially the memoirs of famous TV anchors, film directors, and singers. For instance, one of China’s most celebrated directors, Feng Xiaogang, published a memoir titled I Devote My Youth to You, which satirizes the lifestyle of entertainers and criticizes the current literary policy. Other favorites include female author Chi Li’s fictional take on the urban life of the Cultural Revolution generation, Yell When You Feel Happy; and Wang Hai-ou’s Chinese-Style Divorce, which looks at contemporary perceptions of marriage. Another bestseller is Wang Zhongshi’s business management book, Details Determine Success. Books about mah-jongg are perennial bestsellers.
FP: What about newspapers and magazines?
GCX: More than 70 percent of the educated public spends its free time reading magazines and newspapers. In Wuhan, the most popular magazines are about romance and common people’s family life, such as Readers, Family, Happiness, and Friends. People also like magazine-style newspapers and the so-called urban newspapers. Those urban newspapers, such as Chu Tian Urban Post and Chu Tian Economic Post, provide many interesting social stories that appeal to the general public.
FP: What foreign works do the Chinese read?
GCX: Bill Clinton’s My Life has been a huge bestseller. People are also interested in case studies published by the Harvard Business School and foreign translations on how to improve individual EQ (emotional intelligence) skills to advance their careers. Another popular book is Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese?, a parable about how to achieve success in these changing times.
FP: Are the Chinese interested in books on politics?
GCX: Their interest is very limited. The Chinese tend to be practical, and what they care about most is not politics, but creating better lives for themselves.
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