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UPDATED: September 2, 2013 NO. 36, SEPTEMBER 5, 2013
Is a Law Ensuring People Read Necessary?

LET'S READ: A mother and her son enjoy their reading time in a library in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, on July 5 (XINHUA)

It is reported that Chinese lawmakers are considering regulations to promote reading among the public. The news has caused concern over what exactly a new policy regarding reading might entail. As reading is very personal, is such a law appropriate? What's more, what would happen if people ignore it? Whatever the case may be, some do believe that the measure could help promote the average literacy rate across China. The following are excerpts of opinions:

Ye Zhurong (Beijing Morning Post): On one hand, the overall national reading rate remains low; on the other, more people are becoming interested in surfing online. With the progress of electronic technology, traditional ways of reading are being abandoned. More importantly, in modern society, people are living fast and busy lives, with reading becoming a kind of "luxury." Moreover, in a time of diversifying values and culture, the book market is becoming increasingly colorful. While entertainment and leisure magazines are extremely popular, traditional publications are no longer well received. People read books more flippantly. With the increase of soap operas and other TV shows, fewer and fewer people are attached to reading. Although electronic media help spread information, it still defers the traditional practice of reading.

Raising the overall literacy rate is no easy target. With reading not stressed at all, efforts to stimulate public interest will have to be plentiful. For example, schools should create encouraging atmospheres for reading and allow students to fall in love with books to eventually affect all of society. Furthermore, it's important to set up more libraries. At some existing facilities, most books are old, procedures outdated and borrowing fees absolute.

To boost national literacy, implementation is key. We need to put into practice all kinds of effective measures to promote reading.

Wang Zhishun (Beijing Morning Post): It's quite doubtful whether the whole nation will sit down and start reading books in an era when everyone seems obsessed with making money.

In daily life, most people feel so squeezed by work and personal affairs that they can't afford the time or energy to read. While adolescents are highly capable of developing an interest in books, under the current examination-oriented education system, every bit of spare time is taken up by homework and supplementary after-school classes. In addition, with the Internet providing almost every possible answer to every possible question, why read books?

To encourage nationwide literacy, a law could indeed be useful, but what is even more important is fostering the proper environment allowing people the time to indulge in books.

Jia Zhiyong (Beijing Morning Post): While a reading law places emphasis on national literacy levels, it also reflects the worrying fact that reading has yet to be encouraged among the Chinese public, which likes to boast about its 5,000-year-old history and rich culture.

People read for certain purposes, including making money or conducting research. It is also a leisurely pastime to be enjoyed in one's spare time. No matter what type you are engaged in, reading is helpful for both personal and social progress. A lack of reading could well damage the advancement of an innovative culture or civilization.

In whatever form, reading is meant to make people feel good, improve personal qualities, tap into potential capabilities and promote innovation. How to develop and promote such a culture remains the key question.

Liu Yingtuan (Beijing Morning Post): In many countries, a high literacy rate is regarded as an important measure to boost soft power. Governments encourage people to read through both administrative and legal methods.

Reading books is seen as vital to an individual's personal growth, and moreover, a nation's prosperity. Thus, some countries even regard reading as an important national strategy. There is no grand prospect for those who do not read.

In the United States, almost every president has enthusiastically advocated reading. In 1998, the U.S. Congress passed its Reading Excellence Act, to which articles were added relevant to primary and middle school education. Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Government has repeatedly increased its input in education. As early as 1982, UNESCO began calling on the world to read, while in 1995, Shakespeare's birthday was designated "World Reading Day." These show that a reading environment decides the cultural condition of society.

Compared to the international community, China falls far behind in terms of its average literacy rate, reading facilities and related services.

Qiu Shi (Procuratorial Daily): To determine the necessity of a law we need to first ascertain what it entails. Officials claim the regulation would protect people's right to read, while it remains unclear as to what would happen to those who do not enjoy books.

Relevant authorities should provide sufficient investment in libraries and balance the distribution of reading materials across different areas, while ensuring people get enough time to read within a conducive environment.

With a serious shortage of public facilities geared toward reading, laws are required to redress the matter.

Mao Jianguo (Qingdao Daily): A nation's literacy rate to a large extent affects its future development potential. When it comes to reading, we have to look at two problems. First, the public must be provided with quality books, not trash ones on the market. Because pay is low, many writers can only survive by churning out as much of the latter as possible. Is it possible to better support authors in writing books with more literary value?

Second, it's important to make reading more convenient, which requires the construction of more libraries. In some cities, such facilities lack books or are remotely situated. If people could have better access to quality reading material, surely public interest in books would increase.

Therefore, at present, what we need is not a law, but more investment in facilities to boost enthusiasm for reading.

Email us at: zanjifang@bjreview.com

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