Editor’s note: Four decades of reform and opening up have not only made China the world’s second largest economy, but have also changed the way of life of its people. A veteran China Daily reporter takes a critical look at the changing reading habits of Chinese people.
There is no conclusive evidence to prove that the Chinese are reading fewer books these days. Those who say people are reading “fewer books” cite this year’s survey which shows the average Chinese adult read just 4.7 paper books in 2019, a sharp drop from previous years.
Even if the number of e-books is added, the total number of books read by an average Chinese citizen is still around eight, far less than their German and Japanese counterparts who read at least twice as many books.
On the other hand, those who claim that the Chinese are reading “more books” claim that instead of paper books, people are reading books and other materials on computers and smartphones due to changing reading habits. reading. To prove their point, they claim that the number of online literature readers in China has risen to 460 million and that authorities have asked schools to reduce homework because primary and secondary students were spending too much time reading. read books.
But the fact is that today’s young people read less than my generation because they have other commitments and sources of leisure – going to after-school classes, playing electronic games or attending interest group meetings or parties.
Such activities were unheard of in the 1960s and 1970s, so people found refuge in books. Unable to buy expensive novels, we borrowed them either from libraries or from friends. And whenever we found a classic like the Novel of the Three Kingdoms or The Three Musketeers – which were banned during the special period of the 1960s and 1970s – we finished reading them in a day or two before passing them on to the next pending borrower. .
When the ban on these books was finally lifted following the launch of reform and opening up four decades ago, people were hungry for good books and the reprinted classics, both Chinese and Western, sold out quickly. .
Since then, central and local governments have encouraged reading. Besides designating September 28, the birthday of Confucius, as National Reading Day, China has also built cultural service centers in most of its administrative villages, which usually have reading rooms and a good collection of books, magazines and newspapers, as well as computers.
The government operates 3,196 public libraries which have a collection of over 1.1 billion paper books, 866 million e-books and 225,000 computers. But despite these efforts, people only borrowed 541 million books from libraries last year, a steep drop of 39.3% year-on-year.
While strict pandemic prevention and control measures have been partly responsible for the decline in book borrowing, it should not be overlooked that a growing number of readers, especially young people, are using computers and smartphones to read books and other content.
A survey of people’s reading habits conducted in 2021 showed that on average 51.8% of people spend at least half an hour every day reading content online. The younger the reader, the higher the percentage and the more time they spend online.
This phenomenon worries not only parents and educators but also health workers. Doctors have warned that spending too much time glued to a smartphone or computer screen could be harmful to people’s health. Data from the National Health Authority shows that 35.6% of primary school students, 71.1% of lower secondary students and 80.5% of upper secondary students suffer from myopia.
Also, when children spend a lot of time on their smartphone, it is difficult for their parents to know if they are reading serious books, or sensational reports, disturbing stories or simply computer games, which are harmful.
Publications on websites are generally not well edited and their linguistic quality leaves much to be desired and their outlook on life is not necessarily positive, say many educators.
But the change in reading habits being an irreversible trend, the authorities in charge of controlling online content have an urgent task to fulfill: to ensure that at least the publications on online reading platforms are of good quality and healthy.
The author is the former deputy editor of China Daily.