A family of three read books in a bookstore in Nanjing on May 3. YANG SUPING/FOR CHINA DAILY
To foster a love of reading and build a learning society was an area of focus at the recent two sessions, as members from China's top political advisory body suggested on May 25 to elevate the idea to that of a national strategy, and ensure its implementation by setting up administrative regulations.
"A reading day is better to be set and included as a national festival," said Zhang Yudong, member of National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and vice chairman of China Association for Promoting Democracy central committee, in a speech made via video conference during the third session of the 13th CPPCC National Committee.
Reading is the most straightforward, efficient, convenient and the least costly way to eliminate educational injustice and to raise the overall caliber of the population, Zhang said.
He quoted President Xi Jinping's advocacy for the habit of reading when he visited Lanzhou, Gansu province, last year, saying " (reading) helps to deepen and broaden the spiritual world of the Chinese nation". Xi is known for being an avid reader and cites it as one of his main hobbies.
At a live interview on Wednesday, before the conclusion of the CPPCC's annual session, Zhao Jinyun, general manager of the Readers magazine group, suggested it was best to start nurturing a love of reading among children below 6 years of age.
"Parents should play their role. If they hold mobile phones at all time, and ask their children to read books, it will be impossible," Zhao said, adding that she was pleased to note that, in recent years, Chinese parents have started to value extra-curriculum reading activities.
Zhao recounted the story of a girl called Xin Ran, who is a senior student at Tsinghua University and is among the younger contributors to Readers. Xin Ran has a habit of reading five hours a day and only asks for books as birthday presents.
"She once fell for television programs at 9, and her father turned off the TV and handed her a book," Zhao said. "Reading benefits her a lot."
"So I suggest that you all put away your mobile phones, and read at least for 30 minutes every day," she added.
For seven consecutive years, since 2014, promoting reading has appeared in the Government Work Report, expressing a desire to "encourage reading" and "foster a love of reading", in 2019, to "champion a culture of reading", and this year, to "embrace a culture of reading".
Despite a lot of endeavor at different social levels, there are still many problems and challenges to be overcome before it will be possible to achieve that goal, Zhang stressed.
"Reading is still not one part of Chinese lifestyle," Zhang said. "Quality works are scarce compared with the large amount of titles published every year; reading is fragmented by many other distractions."
One prominent trend found in the 17th annual report on the Chinese people's reading habits by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, released on April 20, was that while people read for fun and entertainment, watching videos continued to be an entertainment preference.
The report showed in 2019, adult Chinese read an average 4.65 printed books and 2.84 digital publications, whereas in 2018, those figures were 4.67 and 3.32, respectively. Both dropped slightly.
While most Chinese feel they're not satisfied with the amount of books they read in a year, only 11.1 percent read more than 10 printed tomes, while 7.6 percent consume more than 10 digital books.
As for children and young people under 17-year-old, "the result is more encouraging", according to the academy's director Wei Yushan, noting that, on average, they read 10.36 books a year, 1.45 more than in 2018.
The report found that their mobile phones were the preferred method of consuming written media among Chinese readers. On average, adults spent 100.41 minutes a day on their mobile phones, 15.54 minutes more than in 2018.
A closer look in the report found that people's priority when using the internet was to socialize (60.2 percent), followed by consuming news (59 percent) and enjoying video clips (56.9 percent).
Only 20.5 percent of them connected to read books, newspapers or journals.
Zhang, along with many other two sessions deputies and members, thinks it's the right time to restart legislative work on the matter. In 2013 and 2014, the State Council enlisted the setting up of regulations to promote reading in its work plan. However, it has stagnated due to organizational restructuring.
"Reading needs a boost by administrative mechanism, financing, overall social involvement and protection of the less privileged," Zhang added.
Additionally, more quality works and reading events are key elements, he says, and families and schools are encouraged to devote more time and effort to promoting reading.
In 2019, Beijing alone held more than 30,000 book-related events, influencing more than 10 million people, according to Beijing Reading Festival, a reading-promotion organization.
Zhu Yongxin, another CAPD central committee vice-chairman, has spent 30 years promoting the habit of reading and has brought up the idea of national reading day for 18 years during the two sessions.
Zhu is accustomed to rising early every day to read and write. He keeps diaries, and has had several published.
"The reading day is not about holiday leave, it's about an awakening and a ritual to remind people of how reading shapes us and our society," Zhu said.
Twenty years ago, parents would snatch picture books or cartoon books from their children, believing that they were not reading the "right" material, such as textbooks or that which was related to school credit, Zhu recalls in an interview with chinawriters.com.cn, "now picture books are a much loved genre in parent-led reading, and our best writers and illustrators are creating original Chinese titles. So there has been much progress."
Zhu's Reading Day envisions coupons for free books for less well-off families and a reading package of selected books for young children just starting out on their reading journey.
"For children in poverty-stricken areas, though confined by their reading environment and resources, books enable them to stand at the same starting line as the other children," he said.
Wei from the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication, as a member of CPPCC National Committee, also calls for integrated social measures to ensure rural kids to get to read.
"There are 100 million children out of the total 250 million who live in rural areas. Their reading level partly decides the future of rural China," Wei said.
Zhang also mentioned the huge national trend toward digital reading and audio books in his speech.
The aforementioned report states that audio books are continuing to attract more Chinese, as 30.3 percent of adults and 34.7 percent of children enjoyed listening to audio books in 2019, an increase of 4.3 and 8.5 percent, respectively, compared with 2018.
CPPCC National Committee member Sun Shoushan, also director of China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association, highlighted several ways to help the healthy development of audio book business this year.
"Who is reading and what they are reading indicate the country's direction," Zhu said.
Zhang suggested that the ideal combination would consist of shared classics and quality titles on the human society with essence of traditional Chinese culture, revolutionary culture and advanced socialist culture.
Buy a car