What was China Reading in 2011?


The year 2011 marked the centenary of China's 1911 Republican Revolution and also the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. Commemorations across China were too numerous to count, and literature on related topics captured the attention of readers country-wide. Two works, both written by researchers at the Institute of Modern History in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, were critically acclaimed: Yang Tianshi's The End of Monarchy, and Ma Yong's 1911 - China's Great Revolution. Last year also saw the mainland publication of Taiwanese historian Chang Yu-Fa's Revolutionary Bodies in the Last Years of the Qing Dynasty.

Books associated with the Chinese Communist Party's 90th anniversary have sold very well. The first and second volumes of A History of the Chinese Communist Party, edited by the Party Historical Research Office, sold a total of 1.88 million copies last year. Authorized by the Party Central Committee, this tome was written over a period of sixteen years, and is recognized as the most authoritative official publication on Party history. Another book that sold very well -- 300,000 copies, was The Orbit of History: How Did the Chinese Communist Party Do It? The book, which explains the Party's success in revolution and nation-building from a semi-official perspective, is the latest work by Xie Chuntao, Deputy Head of the Historical Education and Research Department at the Central Party School. 

A reliable indicator of book sales is the Beijing Book Fair, held annually in January. This is, at present, the largest book-trading platform in China, and the "Annual List of Best Sellers" released at the fair is the most authoritative of such lists in the country.

Guo Jingming swept the fiction category with three of his novels on the top five best-sellers list. The other two were a work by Han Han and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude (in Chinese translation). In the non-fiction category, the top four were dominated by the four volumes of Zhu Rongji Speech Record, published in September. Currency Wars 3 - The High Frontiers of Finance, published early last year, and Steve Jobs (in Chinese translation), published in October last year, also fared well.

Zhu Rongji Speech Record is a collection of over three hundred important addresses, speeches, articles, correspondences and written comments made by Zhu Rongji during his tenure as Vice Premier and Premier of the State Council between 1991 and 2003. Presented in four volumes, the contents show Rongji's views on China's financial reform, the social security system, housing, inflation and other issues. Unlike the writings of other Chinese political leaders, it does not carry the title of "anthology" or some such. The contents reveal that, immediately before his retirement, Zhu Rongji had reminded the incoming government top leaders to keep their eyes on the property market which might get overheated and the traffic congestion that the growth of the private automobile industry could cause.

In Currency Wars 3 - The High Frontiers of Finance, best-selling author Song Hongbing brings his focus back from his two previous books - which dwelt on Europe and the United States - back to Asia. In this third work, Song offers his explanation of modern Asian history, in particular modern Chinese history, from the point of view of finance. He begins with the two Opium Wars and goes on to Republican China's financial reforms, and then discusses the crises and challenges faced by New China on the monetary and financial fronts, providing the reader with an overarching macro-perspective. A report issued by the Chinese News Agency, however, is worded this way: "His book provides a grand backdrop and a clear train of thought; the average reader will find little harm in reading it, as long as he remains alert about its views."

However, sales figures are not always equivalent with influence. The various "lists of good reads" compiled by media organizations can serve as useful points of reference. Some of the most influential of these lists include the "Guangming Book Charts" issued by Beijing's Guangming Daily, the "Annual Final Booklist" issued by Beijing News, and "10 Best Reads" issued by the Shenzhen News Corporation. Also highly regarded by the intellectual community are "ifeng.com," the website of Phoenix Satellite Television, "book.163.com" on the portal website NetEase, and the "Good Reads Chart" on Sina.com.  

Among many publications, Anthony Lewis' Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment (in Chinese translation), unanimously recommended by Beijing News, ifeng.com, NetEase and Sina, was the biggest winner. The book tells about an American libel case in 1960 in which Montgomery County's Public Safety Commissioner, L.B. Sullivan, sued the New York Times for libel over an advertisement. He initially won the case, winning huge compensation. Twice defeated in court, the New York Times was also sued by a number of other officers and was close to bankruptcy. The case was appealed and brought before the Federal Supreme Court, where the Chief Justice defended the press' freedom to criticize officials, and ruled that discussion on public affairs should not be restrained. In the book, Anthony Lewis, two-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, applied abundant historical materials and systematically reviewed this landmark case about press freedom. A commentary in Guangzhou's Yangcheng Evening News said that, although the case discussed in the book had happened more than half a century ago, it "closely echoes present-day realities in China".

Another much-noted work is the five-volume Zi Zhongyun's Self-Chosen Anthology, a collection of essays and reflections. The author was former director of the Institute of American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, and most of the pieces in the anthology were written after her retirement. Standing high up on the sales charts, Zhu Rongji Speech Record was also highly and extensively recommended by the media.

Last year, the Shenzhen newspaper Jingbao carried out an interesting survey on "What kind of books are Shenzhen's bureau-chiefs reading?" In late November, within a period of twenty days, Jingbao received eighty valid replies. The replies came from municipal-level cadres of departments, committees, offices; the local government's bureau-chiefs and deputy-chiefs, and members of Shenzhen's People's Congress, Political Consultative Conference and Party Disciplinary Committee etc. Many who replied submitted their real names.

In these cadres' book-shopping lists, Zhu Rongji Speech Record and Steve Jobs emerged as the two most popular titles. Make No Law, Bitter Glory, The Details of Democracy, Religion and Politics Against the Backdrop of Globalization, How Did Singapore Do It? and The Economic Chess Game: What Should We Do? were also well-received titles among bureau-level cadres.

The newspaper also interviewed Wang Yinqi, Deputy Secretary of the New Economic and New Social Organisational Committee in the Communist Party's Shenzhen Committee, who worked in the administration and guidance of non-pubic (i.e. private) enterprises. His reading choices belonged mainly to the social science and economic categories - "If you read these books, you will know what society is concerned about - to varying extents, these books often reflect hot global concerns."

LEE, Yim (李炘)
Lee Yim is Officer of the China Energy Fund Committee.

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