War of words over Chinese reading habits

Updated: 2013-07-19 15:49


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An article that criticizes Chinese people for their lack of a reading habit and warns of spiritual emptiness was echoed by many, but some said the accusation is premature and groundless.

The article, written by Sharmistha Mohapatra, a Shanghai-based Indian expat for Xining Evening Newspaper, drew wide attention among Chinese social network users after it was posted on People’s Daily’s official Weibo account on Tuesday.

The author laments that China’s tradition of respecting knowledge has decayed, as he saw that “most Chinese passengers play electronic games during a flight to Shanghai from Frankfurt, in contrast to most German passengers waiting at Frankfurt airport who read paper books.” He also worries that young Chinese people are obsessed with social networks full of fragmentary messages, while putting aside real serious books.

Ni Yijing, an NGO leader, echoed this opinion as she called for more libraries to be built, and said Chinese people are “hopeless” as they lavish time on watching TV, shopping and playing mahjong.

A professor from Hunan University also accepted the Indian’s criticism but said the low availability of bookstores and bookstalls is part of the reason, and only a few books by Chinese authors are worth reading. Several users said Chinese people are too busy making a living, and can’t squeeze in the extra time.

Some Weibo users denied the author’s accusation. A Chinese historian said on his account of Xiefang Zhuren,“One glance at several Chinese people on a plane is not enough evidence that all Chinese people don’t read, but just some Chinese people don’t read in a public environment.” The writer also said digital reading is not merely about pieces of information, as many serious books are digitalized.