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China turns a new page on reading

Editor: zhenglimin 丨Xinhua

04-22-2017 11:14 BJT

BEIJING, April 22 (Xinhua) -- World Book Day falls on Sunday, and Chinese people are seeking new ways of reading.

Borrowing books from street-side libraries for free, listening to excerpts of books on a TV show, reading via social media apps, kindling -- the novelties keep popping up and the vast Chinese readership loves them.

BOOK-SHARING SERVICES

Liu Yaqian, 29, works for a multinational company and describes herself as a "bookworm." She has borrowed around a hundred books from libraries in Beijing since 2011.

In March last year, she found a 24-hour automated library near her office that holds about 400 books. "It's as convenient as an ATM! I no longer have to make the trek to the traditional libraries that are often out of the way," she said. In the past year, Liu has borrowed more than a book per week from the 24-hour book dispenser.

The 24-hour library program is an innovation by the Capital Library of China and district libraries under the guidance of Beijing Municipal Bureau of Culture. They have been seen on the streets of Beijing since 2010. There are 174 street libraries, each about the size of a street-side food stand dotting both downtown Beijing and its outskirts.

Readers need to apply for a membership card before borrowing books, which are dispensed in much the same way as the soft drinks and snacks from the vending machines often found in train stations and airports. Books can be returned to any of these libraries.

"The 24-hour street libraries break the boundaries of traditional libraries, extending the tentacles of book-sharing to as many communities and streets as possible," said the mastermind behind the program.

Following the capital's lead, similar facilities have mushroomed across the country. In Changsha City in central China, the first batch opened in January this year.

The free libraries are constructed inside renovated movable containers, and all the 4000-plus books in each library have been donated.

"The 24-hour free libraries finally opened in my hometown, adding a warm and intellectual feel. I am so proud," wrote a user nicknamed "Xiaowo" on Sina Weibo.

READING ON TV

"My eyes are moist at every episode of this program. I like the words, the emotion and the recitation, all of them are beautiful," reads a typical online comment on the show Readers that debuted on China Central Television (CCTV) on Feb. 18.

In the TV show, celebrities, like writer Wang Meng and China's first astronaut Yang Liwei, are asked to read a couple of paragraphs from their favorite books that chime with a certain theme, for example home, companionship, tears and so on.

"All the readers are well-known in their own fields," said host Dong Qing, "but the show brings out their emotional side."

Readers has been a very big hit. The online version of the first episode has been watched more than eight million times on streaming service iQIYI.

Ordinary people can also take part. "Readers' booths" have been set up by the program in major cities where people can go to be recorded reading for three minutes. Some people queuing for a booth in Shanghai on March 5 waited for nine hours to have their turn.

On April 16, a visually impaired girl named Zheng Xiaoke recited a poem in a booth in Shenzhen, expressing her gratitude to those who have cared for and loved her.

According to the crew, every reader is recorded and videoed, and those who give the most touching recitations will appear in future shows.

READING ON WECHAT

Reading via WeChat, a popular messaging app, is a new choice for many people, especially subway commuters.

Fu Wei, a 26-year-old programmer, likes to read articles shared by his WeChat friends. "We are too busy to read books as thick as bricks," he said. "WeChat articles that carry plenty of information are more accessible to us."

A total of 62.4 percent of adults surveyed by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication read via WeChat in 2016, up 10.5 percentage points from a year before. Each person spent an average of 26 minutes reading on WeChat each day.

The trend of reading via WeChat goes hand-in-hand with increased reading on mobile phones. The survey revealed that 66.1 percent of respondents read on their mobile phones in 2016.

Chinese people read 7.86 books each in 2016, including 3.21 e-books.

"Mobile phones make it very easy for people to read. However, we should be aware that we fragment the time we spend on reading," said Zhang Yiwu, professor at Peking University.

Writer Liu Cixin has also noticed a shift from reading on paper to reading on screen, but he believes that what one reads has nothing to do with how one reads. "The most important thing is to encourage people to read books that inspire them, build their knowledge, and raise their sensibilities," he said.

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