Cultivate the self through reading

Updated: 2014-04-23 06:57

By Zhu Yuan(China Daily)

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Cultivate the self through readingBooks are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.

These remarks by former Harvard University president Charles Williams Eliot may not strike a chord with many Chinese, who prefer to read micro messages on their smartphones. A national survey revealed that Chinese readers, on average, read less than five print books and less than three digital books last year. Given the fact that some particular groups of people such as teachers and researchers may read more than a dozen books a year, it is clear some Chinese seldom read a book, no matter whether it is printed on paper or a digital version. So they never have the chance to savor the company of these quiet friends, wise counselors and patient teachers.

There is a Chinese motto about books, which goes like this: A golden house is hidden in a book and so is a pretty wife. This adage is by an emperor of the Song Dynasty (960-1127), and means one will earn a lot of money and marry a pretty wife if he paves his way within officialdom by reading the classics and passing the imperial exams.

What the Chinese motto suggests is a pragmatic attitude toward books. Behind it is the prism of expediency many Chinese people use to look at everything. I would argue that many of my compatriots are too pragmatic to develop the habit of reading books, and the less books they read, the harder it will be for them to cultivate their characters.

Such a pragmatic approach to reading means many take it for granted that they can live without books, or if they do read it is only self-improvement and you-can-do - too books that they think might give them a leg up in life. ,

Although the percentage of book readers increased in 2013 compared with the previous year and the amount of time readers, young people in particular, spent reading online increased dramatically, I doubt the number of people who read just for the pleasure of reading or to cultivate their character has increased much.

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