Our first encounters with books in China were during the Cultural Revolution when there were no books to be had. Against that background, we constantly find the book scene in Shenzhen rich and exciting.
The Shenzhen Daily reported that for the past sixteen years, Shenzhen has led China in book consumption and that is not a small statement. All over China people are addicted to learning, both for its own sake and as a means of advancement and that means addiction to books. Go and look for yourself. Any bookshop has crowds of children, lying around on the floor, glued to books.
There are limitations. The great majority of bookshops remain state-owned there are a couple of small private bookshops but nothing of consequence. Imported books are very limited. But this does not mean the sort of heavily censored range of material, which we associate with Communism. If you read Chinese you can get just about anything you want. We were amused the other day to see, in a state-owned bookshop, a long expose on the Birth of Baby Jesus and the True Meaning of Christmas. And in the imported books section of the largest bookshop in Shenzhen, there is a special section on imported books on Taiwanese politics, and not just the usual pro-unification stuff.
In a particularly Chinese touch, any bookshop worth its salt has an optical shop attached. If you think about it for more than a second, it makes sense. Lenscrafters please note.
The big bookshop chain in Shenzhen is called Book City and it has several shops, any one of which would be among the world’s biggest bookshops. The original Book City covers four large floors of a multi storey building at the Da Ju Yuan Metro and there is another branch across the road near the Kexue Guan Metro. We should also make mention of the Nanshan branch. This is housed in a beautiful green glass-clad five storey building on Nanhai Ave near the University. Its position near the University guarantees it an enthusiastic clientele and the light bathed interior makes it a pleasure to spend a couple of hours in.
But the daddy of them all is the main branch of Book City that claims the title of the biggest bookshop in the world. We mentioned above that the Futian CBD, in a very Chinese touch, incorporates an enormous shopping mall in its ceremonial axis. The anchor tenant in the northern section of this mall, the section between the Lianhua Mountain Park and the great sails of the City Government, is Book City. It is just enormous. There are probably some statistics somewhere telling you how many thises and thats there are in it: to us it just seems to go on and on and on. There is a two storey Chinese general section where you can get anything you like. We’re history buffs and can often be found crawling through the enormous sections on republican history. Recently the American author of a book on Madame Chiang Kai-shek told her interviewers that there was no chance of her excellent book being sold on the mainland because there was a total ban on biographies of the Chiang family and other KMT heavies. We immediately ran off to Book City and found no less than twenty such volumes. This gives some idea of the enormous range of topics available.
There is a terrific art book section. Actually we don’t think this is the best in town; that title belongs to the art book section on the ground floor of the Book City at Da Ju Yuan. But this one would hold its head up high in any art book list anywhere.
We shouldn’t ignore the music and DVD section. Way too much of our income is poured into this section. Unlike many other outlets in Shenzhen, the goods in this state-run shop are legal copies. Don’t rely on this too much as you try to explain the permit system to your customs officer in San Francisco but they’re kosher, cheap and much more reliable in quality than stuff in other shops. There is a great selection of BBC, Discovery Channel and similar documentary stuff. We like the thirties to fifties selections, the boxed collections of things like Grace Kelly or Greta Garbo, and, for the more adventurous, older Russian movies from the 50s. These latter presumably appeal to Chinese nostalgia buffs of a certain age that were brought up on them.
There is a foreign, meaning English book section. It’s not bad and covers a wide range of subjects, albeit occasionally eccentrically selected. Lots of magazines although, if it’s politics, you want you don’t get much further than Time and the Economist. And we already mentioned the section on Hong Kong and Taiwanese politics.
The most striking things about Book City are the children. They’re everywhere. Can you imagine in any western city having to fight your way through crowds of kids on a Saturday morning to get into a bookshop? On Sundays there are story-telling competitions. Pint-sized performers all groomed and be-pigtailed pull themselves up to their full three feet in height and loudly declaim stories to crowds of several hundred adoring parents and peers in a specially built open auditorium. And in the bookshop itself, in every nook and cranny there are kids deeply engrossed in new books. If you ever doubt the Chinese commitment to learning or the future intellectual development of the country, come to Book City on a weekend and have a look.
Central Book City
Fuzhong First Rd Futian
Metro: Shao Nian Gong
Buses: 41, 60, 76, 105, 107, 264 bus stop Zhong Xin Shu Cheng
Luohu Book City
5033 Shennan Ave Luohu 50331-4
Metro: Da Ju Yuan Exit C3
Buses: 29, 215, K113, 113, 103, 103B, 104, 204, K204, bus stop Shu Cheng Website http://www.szbookmall.com Nanshan Book City
Cr. Nanhai Ave and Haide Ave Nanshan
Buses: 19, 37A, 37B, 70, 113, K113, 226, 230, 231, 232, 328, 329, 433