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UPDATED: April 23, 2009
Internet Changing People's Reading Habits in China
Computers and the Internet are changing dramatically the way Chinese people read

Like so many lovers of fiction in China, when Sa Rina wants to read, she turns to the two computer screens on her desk instead of reading an actual book.

In fact, the 26-year-old woman can hardly remember when was the last time she bought a book.

"I have hardly ever bought any books since ... around 2003. I have been reading online in recent years," said Sa, a secretary of a culture media company in Hohhot, capital of China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.

"With the click of the mouse, any story or information that I want at any given time or place, is there," she said. This may well explain why so many people in China now prefer to embrace the wonders of the Internet than read print copies of books or any other reading material.

According to the fifth national reading survey by the China Research Institute of Publishing Science (CRIPS) in late 2008, the Internet reading rate in China climbed quickly to 36.5 percent, higher for the first time than the 34.7 percent for printed books.

Like it or not, computers and the Internet are changing dramatically the way Chinese people read -- at least in Sa's case.

The first thing Sa does at her office desk every morning is to turn on her computers and surf the Internet, reading news and messages. "I can access much more information via the Internet than from newspapers," she said.

For Sa, the Internet is a far better medium for finding the books she wants.

"If you become a registered member of a reading website, you can set up your own e-book folders and collection, which makes it much easier for me to locate the books I have been halfway through," she said.

"You can also find very obscure books, read reviews of them, and post comments," she said, "Another reason I enjoy online reading so much is that the stories are always timely updated."

While some are enjoying the convenience of Web reading and the overwhelming quantity of information on the Net, many others argue that the Internet has undermined the joy and art of reading a real book.

"Online reading tends to be fast and superficial, and I doubt that people could well absorb what they read online," Song Heping, a staunch print-book reader, said.

"I love the experience of reading a printed book, even the smell of books or magazines is delight. You are not going to get the same experience on the Internet," Song said.

Moreover, the serendipity of coming across a captivating book in a bookshop could not be replicated online, added Song.

"Holding a printed book and reading it in a pleasant and quiet environment is, in itself, a great pleasure in life," Han Xu, the deputy editor-in-chief of Da Jia, a well-known literary magazine in China, said.

"Compared with e-book reading, browsing a printed one is rather'slow-paced'," he said. "But the 'slowness' is where the delicacy of reading lies."

But Han also stressed that online reading has a great positive significance. "From a long-term point of view, online reading could greatly promote the development of literature."

"E-books are a good rival to printed books and magazines, therefore, they can force traditional publications to produce even better quality works of literature," Han said.

(Xinhua News Agency April 22, 2009)

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