Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The wonders of the Chinese bookshop

There is no greater pleasure than browsing in a Xinhua bookshop for hours on end...

In the UK, you can't find Chinese books for love nor money. Actually, you can find them for money - but more money than anyone would reasonably consider parting with for a few sheets of paper bound together. London has a little Chinese booskhop - Guanghua Books - but the markup for each book is enough to make your eyes water and wallet weep. A small pocket edition of a Jin Yong novel, for example, would set you back £6 - the very same book, bought in mainland China, costs 8 RMB. So you have to pay seven times more for them to have it shipped over? What?

Anyway, now I'm back in the 赤县; I can spend hours in the dictionary section or classical literature section of the bookshop, browsing away to my heart's content. What's more, it's like a wonder emporium specifically designed for the modern sinophile about town, for you can find calligraphy brushes, inks, and all manner of DVDs, from remastered Shaw Brothers classics to 'teach yourself ultimate taiji sword stance in three hours' jobbies - all in the same shop! Every time I go into a bookshop in China, I'm struck by the sheer amount of things still left to read, but have no time to...古代经典很多,今天已不能人人尽读.

My local Xinhua has loads of interesting stuff about Dongba culture and the Dongba script, naturally, but I was pleasantly surprised to find '通俗东巴文' (Popular Dongba Script), published by the 广东科技出版社 (Guangdong Science & Technology Press), written by He Limin 和力民. He 和 is, apparently, a common Naxi surname. Anyway, this is a textbook with sixty lessons, each lesson covering a Dongba script text, with popular sayings and Naxi riddles thrown in for good measure. What makes it extra useful is the IPA and Naxi pinyin annotations, and the culture notes that go with each lesson. I'll be translating some of it and putting it up here, periodically.

On the other hand, the dearth of good second hand bookshops in China is a topic for another day...


  1. Hello,

    I have just found your blog post and I thought you should know that now we have a new site which specialises in Chinese fiction books. We are getting new books all the time and our books are a lot cheaper than any of the other bookshops selling Chinese books in the UK that I am aware of - definitely cheaper than Foyles and Cutler+Grant!

    At the moment, we are currently getting more stock but when our new stock arrives we will have lots of books that were originally written in Chinese as well as the current translations of foreign literature.

    Also, if you like the bookshops in China you'd love the ones in Taiwan! Eslite/誠品書店 is absolutely amazing. One of the ones in Taibei is open 24 hours! It's such a dream to browse in there, much nicer than the cramped Xinhua in China.

  2. Since the written word in China is based on a system of symbols rather than an alphabet, it's easy to understand that books and magazines printed in China are often considered works of art by Western standards.