How the Chinese Diaspora Empower Themselves Through Revolutionary Bookstores

Chinese-owned bookstores around the world are becoming agents of change. Read on to learn more about the refreshed goal of these profound spaces.

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A shelf of old, classic books leaning on each other on a shelf.

As Chinese citizens move outside the country for a better political atmosphere, they must discover ways to make amends with their roots and harness their past and culture in another country. Exercising their lost right to public discussion, immigrants are opening bookstores and hosting events to connect with others of Chinese descent, share their experiences, and brainstorm ways to one day better their home country. Outside the country, Chinese citizens are making motions to transform China from the outside in.

The China Outside China’s Borders

A look into China’s history unravels a string of nuanced and intricate moments informed by many factors. In terms of its social culture, German philosopher Jürgen Habermas classifies it as a public sphere. Citizens could congregate amongst themselves with negligible amounts of censorship, fostering a social life in the country. Bookstores and book clubs covered a wide variety of diverse and sensitive topics that, while the Communist Party wasn’t endorsing them, allowed them to exist in their spaces.

On a globe, the country of China and all of the major cities and landforms are visualized in a bright orange.

Yet, under the rule of Xi Jinping, censorship became more extreme. Investigative journalists and human rights lawyers were banned from practicing their trade, activists were silenced, and bookstores were forced to shut down. More and more Chinese citizens are fleeing the country as a result, leaving behind all they’ve ever known in the name of freedom. A resurgence in Chinese-owned bookstores popped up in the countries they’ve settled in, serving as a place not only to lean on one another but as a place to dream, hope, and reimagine the future of China.

The Importance of These Bookish Spaces

One of the owners of these revolutionary spaces, Anne Jieping Zhang, opened up her bookstore, Nowhere, in Taiwan and Thailand and hopes to branch out to Tokyo and Amsterdam in the future. Once a journalist in Hong Kong, Zhang’s mission was to cultivate a space that welcomed the free flow of knowledge and ideas. Her devoted customers are named citizens, not members. They can enjoy various events and seminars Zhang hosts on topics such as war, feminism, LGBT rights, and political unrest in China. Zhang believes that members of the Chinese diaspora can begin rebuilding Chinese society outside the country, with the privilege of ideating any future without fear of government backlash.

A gray, metal table at a bookstore is taken at the angle so that the bottom, plain white book ends are facing the image.

Wu Lei, a human rights lawyer, and Anne Jieping Zhang believe that the new wave of Chinese immigrants harnesses new knowledge than those before them. Young professionals and the spirit of the new generation are financially savvy and believe in something greater than their purpose. Although many of the events hosted by these Chinese-owned bookstores do not exceed anything but peaceful, educated discussion, some participants wish for democracy to return to China and encourage a fearless society. In conversation about contemporary issues, many of the Chinese diaspora are preparing themselves for life without the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.

Books, and the spaces that support their values, are critical in the action of making educated, honest decisions. The invaluable lessons we can learn from literature must be continuously discovered and taught to ensure a bright, informed future for all.

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