Chinese commuters and celebrities alike have joined a book-sharing campaign started on Tuesday, inspired by social media posts from British movie star Emma Watson.
The campaign was organized by The Fair, a public account on messaging app WeChat with about a million followers. The movement’s popularity grew when celebrities like actor Huang Xiaoming posted photos of themselves leaving books in train stations.
Watson kicked off her own book-sharing campaign earlier this month. The actress is known chiefly for playing the studious character Hermione, whose bookish nature frequently saves the day, in the “Harry Potter” movie franchise.
Using the hashtag #OurSharedShelf to draw attention to the project, Watson posted pictures of herself hiding copies of Maya Angelou’s final autobiography, “Mom & Me & Mom,” in subway stations in London and New York City.
The young actress told The Guardian that she hopes her #OurSharedShelf initiative, named after her online feminist book club, will spread awareness of feminist writing among the public.
The aims of China’s book-sharing campaign are a little different. Wang Zaixing, co-founder of The Fair and the Chinese book-sharing movement, told Sixth Tone that he has been promoting reading projects in China in recent years via WeChat. Inspired by Watson’s success, Wang asked the Hollywood star if he could use her method to encourage people to read in China.
Watson’s agent agreed to Wang’s proposal, and since Tuesday, some 10,000 books have been scattered throughout nooks and crannies in train stations and carriages in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
Passengers are encouraged pick up the books and scan the QR code stickers on the covers to join the campaign. Organizers hope people will also re-share their books by leaving them in public areas when they’re finished reading.
“I want to spread good reading tastes, good content, and knowledge,” Wang told Sixth Tone. By Tuesday afternoon, at least one book had already been passed on to four different people, he said.
“Chinese people have a strong desire to read. However, they are too busy, so that causes anxiety when it comes to finding time to read,” Wang said. He added that he can only spare a few hours each week for reading, though he’s an avid fan of literature.
According to figures provided by the Chinese News Publishing Research Institute on reading habits in 2015, Chinese people read an average of 4.58 printed books and 3.26 e-books per year. Over 40 percent of adults believe that their reading rate is relatively low, and nearly 70 percent of adults would like reading activities to be available to them locally, the research revealed.
Du Luesiyu — who runs Books in China, a community book-sharing group — blames advances in technology for the decline in public reading habits.
“How can people calm down to read on a small phone screen?” asks Du, who works as a translator in Shanghai. “Our campaign aims to help readers regain the pleasure of reading.”
This is not the first time that The Fair has launched a pro-reading campaign in China. In May, the group began a library program in which each participant paid a fee of 129 yuan (about $19) to receive a book from a selection of 20. Once they finished reading, program participants would receive their next books; after finishing four, they would receive a full refund.
“In the future, I want to set up chips inside the books and establish a Mobike-like library system,” said Wang, referring to Shanghai’s bike-sharing platform.
However, China’s reading initiatives may have a way to go before they are widely appreciated. A report by Shanghai-based newspaper Xinmin Evening News suggested that the books in The Fair’s recent Watson-inspired campaign have not been not universally welcomed by public transportation workers, adding that cleaning staff will likely “recycle” books that go unclaimed.
Additional reporting by Lin Qiqing.
(Header image: People read books during the book-sharing campaign on the subway in Beijing, Nov. 15, 2016. Courtesy of The Fair)