Recently, British actress and activist Emma Watson launched a campaign to advocate more reading. Coordinated by her book club “Our Shared Shelf,” she distributed 100 books throughout the London Underground. Shortly afterward, The Fair, a content producer in China, launched a similar initiative (倡议) in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. However, instead of receiving praise, the publisher suffered some much-deserved ridicule.
The reason is not hard to see. The Chinese campaign was considered a poorly executed publicity stunt (公开做秀). Cleaners threw the books away, some passengers mistakenly thought the books were put there to save seats, and overcrowded carriages (车厢) prevented reading during rush hour. Finally, the Shanghai Metro issued a formal statement urging passengers not to participate during peak hours, fearing the campaign would disrupt commutes (上下班往返).
As if Metro authorities putting on the brakes wasn’t enough, celebrity endorsements from Huang Xiaoming and Xu Jinglei were criticized, too. Unlike Watson, who leads her own book club, they may not read that much. In fact, according to a BBC report, the average Chinese reads less than half as much as his American counterpart. But why do people in China read so little?
“I’m too busy” is an all-too-common defense, but that’s a bad excuse. I see people like Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, who manages a multi-billion-dollar empire (大企业) and studies multiple languages including Chinese. He somehow reads a new book every other week. If he can find time, you can, too. Too crowded on the subway? Try an audiobook (有声书)!
However, it may not be so simple. Reading is more than a habit—it is a skill that must be practiced. Each year when I was in school, I had a summer reading list with books required by my teachers for the following year. While Chinese students struggle through a mountain of summer homework, most of their American counterparts are diving into literary classics by William Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and others. While Chinese students are reciting textbook vocabulary, their American peers are discussing themes of adolescence (青春期) in The Catcher in the Rye (《麦田里的守望者》), or loneliness in Of Mice and Men (《人鼠之间》).
Reading isn’t fun unless you can debate about what you just read. Until Chinese schools prioritize reading and discussion, too few students will develop a passion for literature. Pick up a book and start your own discussion group today!