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Education & Employment

China’s 2018 book sales still just half of the US’ 2017 figure


The 23rd Beijing International Book Fair with 300,000 titles on display and over 1,000 cultural events (photo from Ital Stick)

China’s book retail sales recorded a total of USD13. 1 billion in 2018, a remarkable 11.3% year-on-year increase, “said a report issued at the Beijing Book Fair.” Sales via online channels took up 64% of the total, a leap of 24.7% from 2017.

Compared to the US book industry’s USD26.23 billion in net revenue for 2017 (2.72 billion units), China’s number is merely half of it. Yet, this 2017 US data represents the third year-on-year fall after the 2014 peak: 2013 $27.07 bn, 2014 $27.96 bn, 2015 $27.80 bn, 2016 $26.27 bn.

As the powerhouse of English books, Britain’s book exports continued to achieve gorgeous growth of 8% jump in 2017, reaching a total of USD 4.4 bn. Its own domestic sales also increased by 1% to around USD2.68 billion. In other words, the whole English reading world is still expanding in spite of the tiny shrinkage in the US.

Reading book is much more important to reading news on newspaper or articles on journal because it provokes the mind to organize itself so as to absorb a relatively large quantity of information, knowledge, data or longer story line, even though it may only be a cook book. Book reading is a sign of strength or weakness of a civilization. A bigger readership encourages more authors to write, and more people to create.

With reference to an Amazon China report released in Dec 2018, Ray Dalio’s book ‘Principles: Life and Work’ was the best seller for the year. Dalio is the founder and co-chairman of Bridgewater Associates, one of the most successful hedge funds in the world, and also one of the world’s 100 wealthiest people.

Out of the 25 most influential translated books in China over the past 40 years, 15 are fictions. The top three on this list are ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ (1967 novel by Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez), ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’.

China’s reading culture has been relatively backward when compared to the Western world since the Renaissance. Nietzsche suggests that the purpose of (healthy) culture is the production of genius. China is still far from being a creative cultural nation of the class equivalent to the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and India. It is also uncertain how much, and if possible how fast, it can catch up with these civilizations. Nevertheless, the Chinese have started reading more, and what is more important is that the books they are reading are more globalized. The more we like to read each other’s creations, the more we are willing to co-exist. It is a cornerstone of mutual respect.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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