Remember when Emma Watson decided that her next book club read would be Mom & Me & Mom? Remember how, after she picked said book, we got really excited when she hid 100 copies across the transport systems of New York and London? Well, now China is having its turn and not everyone is sharing the Watson-book fever the western world experienced just a few weeks ago.
Image courtesy of Global Times.
This past Tuesday was the kick-off of “The Book Dropping Battle”. I know, sounds bookish and kind of badass. The project was headed by The Fair, a Beijing based content company. Inspired by Watson’s active role in distributing her book pick, The Fair upped the ante, taking her 100 copies of a single book, and raising it to 10,000 copies of various books. The Fair dropped books in underground trains, taxis and planes, in Beijing, Shanghai and Guanghou – with the hope of expanding to other cities.
Image courtesy of Global Times.
It sounds all good and dandy, but since the launch on Tuesday there’s been a fair share of shade thrown and retort wrought. Why? Chinese users across social platforms felt the book drop was no more than a marketing plot, executed for the superficial spoils of publicity and without any real encouragement to read. They said – and were pretty on point – that when people saw the books, they were likely to pick them up, snap a pic, post it, and leave the book on a shelf to collect dust. How could such a social driven campaign encourage reading?
Image courtesy of BBC.
The suspicion that the book drop was an attention tactic is especially off-putting considering the very real shortage of readers in China. In Canada citizens average 17 books a year, in the U.S. 12, but in China that number is a meager 5. The campaign’s failure to address the issues relating to dwindling reading rates – the cultural value of academics over ‘leisure literature’, labor intensive environments that fail to encourage reading – left for many with negative feelings towards initiative. Furthermore, the campaign bloomed on celebrity support. Unlike Watson, an academic who attended both Brown and Oxford, the proponents of the Chinese initiative weren’t exactly what most Chinese would call ‘bookish’. Slime alert.
There was also the logistical problem of the drop. Many books were left untouched because commuters thought they had been left behind by others. Cleaning crews threw some books away. Many of the books were inaccessible because of clutter and crowding. As for the cities that housed the project, all three were upset that The Fair had effectively effed up their train schedules, caused delays, and jammed up the general perfunctory nature of their transportation systems.
This may all be well and true – about the motives and the delays and the time-table mayhem – but at the end of the day, they’re just books, right? Like the militaristic feud over the merits of an MFA, is this really the most pressing topic today? In an age where giant babies are becoming president and the environment is beyond the point of repair, The Fair seems a rather benign enemy to be wagging the finger at. Market ploy or encouragement – and they’re not mutually exclusive motives – the books are still there, available to patrons and ripe for reading. In the words of Zhang Wei, co-founder of The Fair, “just because Chinese people don’t read regularly it doesn’t mean that we should do nothing to encourage reading.” Every effort counts, and even small efforts stir the conversation about book culture, as proven by the response by so many Chinese citizens.
Featured image courtesy of BBC.