CULTURE What Chinese read in time of coronavirus?

CULTURE

What Chinese read in time of coronavirus?

Xinhua

21:24, April 22, 2020

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A patient reads books at the reading corner of a temporary hospital converted from "Wuhan Livingroom" in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 10, 2020. (File photo: Xinhua)

While the public is advised to reduce unnecessary trips to indoor shopping centers in Beijing for the time being, some enthusiastic readers can hardly wait to visit their favorite bookstores again.

For now, most readers have turned to e-books or ordered books online to read at home, making this year's World Book and Copyright Day, which falls on Thursday, a little bit more special.

In the latest reading reports issued by bookstores and online platforms, what people read and why they read may help explain the unique role of reading during the ongoing fight of the COVID-19 epidemic.

According to a report on the Chinese book market published by JD.com, a leading e-commerce platform, people bought more physical books from January to March.

Besides known popular genres, sales of books on Chinese calligraphy, agriculture and forestry also raised rapidly, said the report, adding that it may represent people's need for learning while at home.

In addition, sales of professional books on medicine and health increased by 20 percent and 48 percent in February and March respectively, and books on psychology increased by 25 percent in March, said the report.

Statistics from WeChat Reading, an e-reading app, showed that people read an average of one more book than the previous month in February, with the guidebook on prevention of the coronavirus becoming the most-searched book.

To cope with the unexpected epidemic, many public libraries and bookstores have to make full use of new technologies and explore new ways to engage readers online.

To mark the World Book and Copyright Day, the National Library of China has launched a series of online activities including shared books, reading notes and reading contests.

In addition, Sisyphe bookstore and China's video-sharing platform Douyin, or TikTok, have jointly invited Chinese scholars and award-winning writers to share their reading experience and answer questions from viewers.

The power of a book could go far more than one can imagine, for example, triggering discussion on how books provide a retreat when public health crisis happens.

On Feb. 5, a photograph of a young COVID-19 patient reading Francis Fukuyama's "Origins of Political Order" on his bed at an exhibition center-converted temporary hospital in Wuhan, the city hit hardest by the epidemic in China, became a hit on Chinese social media and was later retweeted by the American economist and writer himself on Twitter.

"Surrounded by different views online during the epidemic, I managed to keep rational in terms of reading books such as biographies and novels," said Wu Qi, editor-in-chief of a magazine published by OWSpace, a Chinese bookstore chain. Wu said unlike medics at the front line, writers and publishers played roles in the spiritual life of people quarantined at home.

It might take a while for many physical bookstores to bring their business to normalcy. In the first month since China announced a massive social distancing and restrictions on movement, only one of the four bookstores of OWSpace located in Beijing had resumed work, with its daily customer flow down nearly 90 percent compared to before the epidemic. Only around 15 books were sold per day, and half of them were purchased by the bookstore employees.

To cope with the challenges brought by the epidemic, a total of 72 bookstores in Beijing have begun to offer books on Meituan Waimai, a major food delivery platform in China, which allows readers to receive books they ordered in around 30 minutes.

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