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# 1.   

This article might better be entitled "Why Aren't Chinese Willing to Shell Out Top Dollar to buy 'Serious' Writing in Hard Copy Form?" Gao suggests that the nation as a whole just isn't reading as much as it used to, and I think that's a superficial conclusion.

Has she been to Book City on Fuzhou Rd. in Shanghai on a weekend? The stairways are so full of young people seated with a book in their laps that it's difficult to get up to the next floor. When I left Shenzhen earlier this year, every day on the subway I saw dozens of twenty-somethings around me avidly reading fiction or management literature online, even on low-end, Internet-connected smartphones with terrible screens. Next time you fly in China, pay attention to businesspeople in your airplane. A good percentage of them will, at one time or another during your flight, take out an oversized tome vaunting a successful entrepreneur, human resources strategies or how to apply ancient Chinese philosophy to the business world.

Gao also cites the drastic drop in independent bookstores as proof of her thesis. But this ignores two important realities: buying a book over the Internet that will be hand-delivered to you within 48 hours -- for less $ than you could get it at that bookstore -- is a powerful disincentive for visiting a brick-and-mortar outlet. And then there is the unfortunate fact that independent bookstores ain't "independent"; most stock the same politically correct texts that you'll find at a Xinhua Bookstore. They can't import the books that everyone wants to peruse -- the Chinese ones that have been banned, or even English ones that offer a refreshingly different worldview. If you want to read the former, you'll have to visit Hong Kong or download a bootleg copy from the Internet.

Bruce, August 24, 2013, 1:25a.m.

# 2.   

I think a major thing missing from this article is an acknowledgement of the strangeness of China's reading demographic. Received wisdom is that people in their late 40s and up read "classic serious literature", readers under 30 read internet trash and genre fiction, and readers in between don't read -- at most it's the biographies and business manuals that Bruce mentions.

I'm sure the realities are more complicated than that, but it's very hard to complete any sentence that starts "Chinese readers are XXX" without acknowledging the wildly varying reading habits of different demographics.

 Eric Abrahamsen, August 24, 2013, 3:10a.m.

# 3.   

The rubbish reporting on these statistics has led to a lot of handwringing over a cultural decline that everyone knows about but is unsupported by the actual numbers. The reading rate for print books is up for the sixth year in a row. Digital reading is up too. As is periodical reading. What's pulled down the comprehensive numbers is the decline of print newspaper reading: this is even mentioned in the China Daily article cited as a source for the linked Atlantic piece, although the overall tone of the piece is still pessimistic.

The Beijing News even cited statistics to show that in 2011, when the per-capita figure for reading print books was 4.35 (compared to 4.39 in 2012), that figure rose to 5.77 when digital books were taken into account.

jdmartinsen, August 26, 2013, 5:25a.m.

# 4.   

One of the problems--one I see evidence of in articles about countries and cultures all over--is confusion about what "read" and "book" mean. Very often they seem to imply fiction, and within that literary fiction. When was the last time you saw any other genre represented in lists of books you must read before you die or books that changed my life? And yet so much reading of books takes place outside that category, I think we'd be better off if we were more clear and comprehensive about our terms.

And for those of us who privilege literary fiction, it cuts both ways: as I've mentioned here before, confusing all books with fiction accounts for the overestimation by about 300% of how many literary translations get published in English each year.


Lucas Klein, August 26, 2013, 8:15a.m.

# 5.   

". . . What I think, in fact, is going on here is a fundamentally fragile argument, and its soft spot is literacy rates, because the advances China has made in literacy are very recent and very dramatic. Gao compares the increase in recreational reading in the US and the UK over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries to the reading habits of Chinese citizens after “government education campaigns reduced the illiterate population from 230 million in 1985 to 50 million in 2011.” That’s only 13 years of 180 million people being newly able to make sense of printed text, and, possibly, to buy it . . ." comments Sal Robinson at Melville House. For the full piece, visit Don’t cry for China’s literary culture, too much

 Bruce, September 9, 2013, 7a.m.

# 6.   

When the official and authentic things are the same in all government approved media, can you have any more any interest in reading? We Chinese enjoy reading online now of any topics, especially those which are rated as rumours or sensitive things.

Lao Zhang, September 11, 2013, 6:07a.m.


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