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Popular UK campaign runs cold in China


11-28-2016 09:35 BJT

The British campaign Books on the Underground has inspired a similar book-sharing initiative across major Chinese cities. But how well does the original campaign’s popularity translate? And what kind of debate has it generated?

The Books on the Underground campaign has seen a rise in fandom this month, after actress Emma Watson participated…with her choice of books and personalized notes.

The growing popularity has brought it to China, endorsed by A-list Chinese celebrities. But how well is it working?

On the Guangzhou subway, books sit untouched for hours. In Shanghai, they are picked up by the cleaning staff and brought to the subway station office.

"We must clean and submit items left by passengers…considering some of them could be marketing or advertising materials," Yang Chao with Shanghai Subway Admin. & Law Enforcement said.

Well, maybe better luck at other locations? In Nanning, books are placed at bus stops, no luck either. Same fate at subway station entries and ticket machines. Why the lack of interest?

This commuter in Guangzhou says it’s too crowded to even turn around in the train, let alone read a book. (Pictures of crowds at Beijing subway)  And commuters in Beijing would likely agree.

Others say paper books are a hassle to carry.

"People carry their phones all the time. If they can read on their phone, then books are unnecessary. They’re heavy," A Nanning resident said.

Those in the publishing industry say the China campaign is more a commercial stunt than a real drive to get people to read more.

"Many people only see the phenomenon go viral but don’t stop to think why Emma Watson did it," Ding Lijie with Shanghai Translation Publishing House said.

"Is this all the creativity we have, doing nothing more than dumping a book in subway trains? Can’t we have other ideas when it comes to promoting reading?” Lin Lan with Century Literature said.

Those who do pick up the books say they do it out of curiosity, but there’s no guarantee they'll take it any further.

The campaign may have added a little buzz to social media in China, but as the noise dies down, the debate on how to get people to read more continues.

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