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January 13, 2017

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Turning the page, bookworms find solace

IN an age of expansive digital entertainment, many people have predicted the demise of the bound book as reading material.

Indeed, e-books are popular downloads on Kindles and iPads. But when reading online, it’s so easy to be distracted by videos, games, WeChat and other digital streams.

However, the traditional pleasure of reading physical pages is not all lost, as the popularity of reading clubs has shown. One club, set up by Huituo Soul Study and Elite Union in August 2016, invites mainly white-collar workers in Shanghai to come together to discuss books.

Every week, members are asked to read at least one book and write a review. That provides conversational fodder for the weekly meetings.

In the first phase of 100 days, all 10 members have read a total of 15 books, covering philosophy, sociology, Buddhism, psychology, management and biography. A later phase will expand into more genres, including literary fiction.

Most of the books are classics and international bestsellers. Among them are Japanese entrepreneur Kazuo Inamori’s spiritual business guide “A Compass to Fulfillment;” Rhonda Byrne’s “The Secret,” which is based on the law of attraction; M. Scott Peck’s spiritual growth book “Further Along the Road Less Traveled;” and the Chinese classic “Liao-Fan’s Four Lessons.”

One of the club members, Wang Jianhui, an administrative worker, says she seldom read books before joining. Attending the club has dramatically changed her life.

“I now realize the power of books,” Wang says. “I read every day, and I am starting to discover my true self and to understand people around me. I am more willing to take on new challenges in life and at work. Books give me courage and strength.”

Last month, Wang and several friends gave their feedback by creating a mini-drama, inspired by a book about “focus personality analysis.” It the first time Wang has ever acted in anything.

Deng Huan, a senior consultant in the medical industry, says her favorite book since she joined the club is “Xiao Qiang’s Promotion,” a primer on time-management skills for white-collar workers. She says it has helped her become more organized and efficient at work.

Li Jiayi, an administrative worker, says she particularly likes “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a book by psychologist Viktor Frankl that chronicles his experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II. The 1946 book has influenced generations of readers with its psychotherapeutic method of spiritual survival.

“The book was very reflective and inspiring,” Li says. “Chinese people today seldom think about the purpose of life. The book encourages us to respond positively to the challenges we face.”

The reading club encourages members to share their reviews and even personal experiences, which helps some shyer members become more confident and outgoing. Wang Xiaojuan, a merchandising worker, says she is now more willing to lend a hand to others, even if she doesn’t know them well.

Huituo Soul Study has been engaged in hosting regular charitable events related to books since 2009. It has organized more than 110 book auctions at local colleges and office buildings. It also has collected some 80,000 books to distribute to needy people around China.

The reading club for white-collar workers is the first of its kind for the organization.

Zhang Mengjiao, an organizer of the reading club, laments that young people today have only fragmented time on subways to read WeChat messages and “fast-food” online novels. Few of them read classics or think of books as a path to spiritual enlightenment.

“We believe that change starts from a book,” says Zhang. “In this fast-paced society, so many young people are at a loss. The power of books can help them face the dilemmas of life and find their own paths of fulfillment.”

The National Reading Survey, conducted by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, concluded last year that Chinese adults on average check news and information on WeChat for more than 40 minutes a day.

Research from China Central Television in 2015 showed that Chinese people have almost three hours of free time on average every day, but one-third of that time is spent on the Internet, especially on mobile phones. One-sixth of free time is devoted to television. Only a 10th is spent on books and other physical reading materials.

“It is very common to see German people reading books in public areas,” says Xu Ziyan, a retired teacher. “I noticed that there are a lot of reading corners in Germany. People there have been reading since childhood and never gave up the habit.”

Shi Jianhua, who is working at a foreign-funded company, says he’s becoming more self-disciplined after joining the reading club. Reading has now become part of his everyday life, and he said he likes the sensation of turning pages.

“The joy of reading physical books can’t be replaced by e-books,” he says. “For me, it is easier to focus and get immersed in the content. But I suppose for long trips, e-books are more convenient.”

Professor Xu Husheng from Fudan University says he encourages people to read classics in human history throughout their lives. Many young Chinese stop reading books after they graduate, preferring to spend their time reading “online nonsense.”

“They become mentally deficient,” Xu tells his students. “Only after reading a number of classics can one develop independent thinking and become reflective and fulfilled.”

Elite Union, the other organizer, goes beyond reading clubs to sponsor sessions on dancing, drama, art and other meaningful leisure activities. They are aimed at white-collar workers and provide a platform for making new friends.


For more event information, check the WeChat public accounts of Elite Union (白领驿家) and Huituo Soul Study (慧拓图书公益).


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