Traditional culture and science back into spotlight at book fair

Recent television ratings have revealed that more and more parents and children are returning to classic Chinese culture over foreign interest.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Children are engrossed in reading science and technology books at the Shanghai Book Fair.

Culture lover Yuan Wang arrived two hours before a classic Chinese poetry forum at the recent Shanghai Book Fair, with her 7-year-old son, to see one of the celebrity scholars giving a lecture. The manager at a multinational company’s Shanghai office reveals she has taken her son to a dozen traditional Chinese culture-related events in the past week.

“I tried to watch these cultural shows with him on TV, so it’s really nice for him to see the scholars that appeared in the shows in person,” Yuan, 32, says. “We used to go to children’s book events at the book fair, but this year, there are more traditional cultural events we can go to.”

Recent television ratings have revealed that more and more Chinese parents and children are returning to classic Chinese culture over foreign interest.

Traditional culture has become more popular over the past two years largely due to several TV shows promoting national art forms, such as “Chinese Poetry Conference” and “The Readers.” These TV programs have not only turned some scholars into superstars, but also prompted many parents and children who were previously more interested in foreign culture, TV and books to return to the classic culture of their nation.

“The traditional and the modern are inter-infiltrated, inter-connected and relative to each other,” says Dong Qing, presenter of both “Chinese Poetry Conference” and “The Readers.”

“Many people look up to such poetic and romantic way of life, but find it difficult to do so with the rapid development in reality. It is the inspiration, intuition and romance of the poets that will help us get closer to traditional culture and find our way back to purity,” she says.

The popularity is also reflected in some recently published books on display at the book fair. China Publishing Group Corp, one of China’s biggest publishers with more than 20 publishing houses, has almost half of its new releases related to traditional culture. 

It is not the only one. Almost every publisher has released new books relevant to traditional culture, either new editions of classic texts or new books that take a refreshing look at the classics.

Ti Gong

A new series on classic Chinese poetry and geography by Shenyang Publishing House

“We are very lucky and happy to find a group of post-1990s authors with impressive knowledge and can actually write in the style of classic poetry,” says Gao Yujun, editor of a new series on classic Chinese poetry and geography by Shenyang Publishing House. “There is a traditional culture fever in the market now, and we want to do it from the perspective of having the younger generation share it with their peers.”

The three young authors were all born after 1990, and two of them are still at university. They have long been lonely fans and practitioners of traditional poetry writing, without a good platform to share with others. They met each other through one of the very few online poetry forums available.

“The TV shows have definitely motivated many children to start paying attention to classic poetry and to recite the masterworks,” says 20-year-old Tong Yongyang, one of the authors. “Although we as practitioners are still a very tiny community, there are increasingly more young ones, even those born after 2000, who are joining us.”

The three add that with the current heat on traditional culture there may come a day in the future that TV shows will turn from contests of reciting poems to those of writing poems.

Another highlight in the book fair, as well as in the market, is science and technology, a topic considered to be too specialized to be mainstream a few years back. However, it is no longer the case, proved by long queues and crowds at relevant events, especially for books and activities related to artificial intelligence and science popularization books for children.

“We underestimated the popularity of many science books which were sold out in the first two days (of book fair),” according to a shop assistant at the fair surnamed Sun. “Kids are so passionate about these books and some even cry when they realize the books are sold out.”

Many renowned scientists, including academics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have also joined to write books for kids on their specialized subjects, including solar power, neuroscience, satellites and genetics amid other topics, hoping to help children understand the basics of the area and the current status of the research.