The Joy of Reading
Reading in China, as a habit, a lifestyle and a fashion
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UPDATED: May 25, 2015 NO.22 MAY 28, 2015
Revitalizing an Old Habit

Reading has somewhat dwindled as a habit in China. The number of books per capita annually read in the Middle Kingdom has remained under five for several consecutive years, a sum far lower than that of Japan, South Korea and many Western countries. The inadequate level of reading of the Chinese has caught the attention of the Central Government. At a press conference in March, Premier Li Keqiang noted that the number of books read by the Chinese per capita every year barely equals one 10th of that for certain other countries. Recognizing the urgency of promoting literacy among the people, the country wrote a plan to promote reading nationwide into its government work report in both 2014 and 2015.

The central leadership's determination to boost reading across the country is expected to open up immense opportunities for the development of the national book industry.

In recent years, the prevalence of all kinds of e-books on multiple platforms such as the Internet, smartphones, iPad and Kindle has brought sweeping changes to people's reading habits. As various new media platforms pervade people's lives, the market for paper books has continually shrunk.

Many Chinese, especially young people, have grown accustomed to reading online content through mobile phones and other mobile terminals. These novel mediums of reading have enabled people to be connected with the outside world all of the time and to keep themselves informed of the latest developments. Moreover, popular social networking platforms such as WeChat and Weibo have made it even more relaxing, pleasant and convenient to read.

Curiously, although the number of paper books read by the Chinese per capita decreased in 2014 against the previous year, the proportion of people who regarded the number of books they read as being few did not increase but on the contrary, fell, according to recently released survey results. This increase in digital reading provided a viable explanation for the aforementioned contradiction. In 2014, 58.1 percent of the Chinese engaged in digital reading, increasing 8 percentage points against the previous year. Digital reading has become a key to promoting reading among all of the people.

In the meantime, traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores are also seeking to reinvent themselves. After a period of depression and identity crisis, these stores are generally taking a turn for the better. Some forward-looking bookshops have gone beyond their traditional role as book vendors to become a venue for relaxation and even dating.

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