bestsellers


bestsellers
The bestseller (changxiao shu) is a relatively new phenomenon in contemporary Chinese society. Although there had been titles with high print runs before the reform period started in 1978, commercial money-spinners were rather frowned upon in the socialist book sector. In fact, the term ‘bestseller’ was not included in Chinese dictionaries at the end of the 1980s. The transformation of the book and publishing sector, which led to an economically liberalized, pluralistic book market, also produced bestsellers and ‘bestseller bulletins’ (paihangbang) in the early 1990s. Since then, lists of top sellers from the state-owned Xinhua book stores in different regions have been announced regularly in well-known journals such as China Book Review (Zhongguo tushu pinglun) and sporadically in the country biggest newspapers, People’s Daily (Renmin ribao) and Enlightenment Daily (Guangming ribao). The allegedly first national bestseller bulletin was published in 1995. Moreover, the best-sellers of private bookstores and kiosks have also been determined by the Beijing Youth Daily (Beijing qingnian ribao).
The changes in Chinese book publishing and marketing have had an impact on the nature of best and long sellers. While texts by and about important personalities from CCP history and Marxism-Leninism (Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, etc.) as well as reference books, had high print runs and allegedly high sales figures in the Xinhua bookstores even until the 1990s, the transformation of the book sector established new trends. Since the beginning of the reform era, fictional bestsellers no longer mirrored socialist realism, but centred on a critical treatment of society (e.g. Mo Yan, Su Xiaokang, Wang Meng). After several political campaigns during the 1980s and particularly since the suppression of the 1989 mass protest movement, Chinese fictional bestsellers have reflected the growing ennui in Chinese society which expressed the disillusioned urban lifestyle of an estranged, depoliticized and consumption-addicted young generation. Writers like Wang Shuo and Jia Pingwa in the early 1990s and young, self-willed women like Mian Mian and Wei Hui at the end of the 1990s (see Beauties’ Literature) became bestselling authors.
Entertainment fiction, such as the popular love stories by the Taiwanese female writers San Mao and Qiong Yao, has been attracting a large readership since the 1980s. The Chinese bestseller has been promoted by increasingly wide reception in all media sectors (radio, film, television and Internet) and strongly influenced by international trends. Since the beginning of the reform era, Western literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, modern Western authors like Kafka and Sartre, and also popular titles like Gone with the Wind, Titanic and Harry Potter headed the bestseller lists. Besides, at least the unofficial bestseller lists have been dominated by the genre of martial arts fiction. This genre, which is closely linked to Chinese history and tradition, is a reminiscence of China’s cultural heyday. Its clear normative frame provides orientation and meaning—rather like the great traditional novels Dream of the Red Chamber (Honglou meng), Water Margin (Shuihui zhuan) and so forth, which have remained long sellers in various adapted versions (comics) on the book market.
The ambivalence between national and Western (post)modern trends is also reflected in the non-fictional sector. Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead and Zhongguo keyi shuo bu (China Can Say No)—a chauvinistic pamphlet against the international superiority of the US and for strengthening China’s own national power—were front-runners in the 1990s. Computer handbooks, English textbooks and biographies of famous (and successful) personalities but also self-help books based on Chinese traditional philosophy were also among the top sellers. During the 1980s, by contrast, Western philosophers and sociologists like Max Weber, Kant, Nietzsche had dominated the book market with print runs of hundred of thousands of copies. We might conclude that, at the turn of the century, the Chinese bestseller bulletins are headed by either entertainment and success-promising consumer ‘products’ or books that propagate China’s national greatness and traditional values.
Link, Perry (2000). The Uses of Literature. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Neder, Christina (1999). Lesen in der VR China. Hamburg: Institut für Asienkunde.
CHRISTINA NEDER

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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