Bookseller finds new homes for his treasured old books

Tan Weiyun
Zhu Fengtao, a 66-year-old bookseller with a shock of white hair, has found a new home for his vast collection of secondhand books with help from online and offline communities.
Tan Weiyun
Bookseller finds new homes for his treasured old books

Zhu Fengtao, a bookseller, stands with a smile as he showcases a book from his extensive collection of treasured old books in his new bookshop.

Zhu Fengtao, a 66-year-old bookseller with a shock of white hair, has finally found a new home for his vast collection of treasured old books.

He could not suppress a smile as he stood in his new establishment, surrounded by lush green lawns in the front and a flat, spacious courtyard out back. It is no longer a temporary setup but a permanent, bustling bookshop in the art park Rabor Nova in Songjiang.

"A weight has finally been lifted off my chest," Zhu said with relief.

From a dire situation last November when he issued a distress call for help from Pudong's Tangqiao Town - needing to relocate 100,000 books within a week from leased warehouses that were becoming unavailable - his plight became an online sensation.

The community rallied behind Zhu and, with the help of netizens and philanthropists, the first batch of books found a new home in Hunan Province, followed by a second site in Songjiang.

These days, Zhu has been busy sorting his collection of books. Seated at the entrance of his bookshop, he diligently unpacks each crate. After loosening the binding ropes, he carefully wipes down each book with a towel before placing it on the designated shelf.

"These books are all related to Shanghai," he said, while organizing. "It would be a pity if they left the city. I've selected them during this move to prepare a special exhibition on the history of Shanghai." As he spoke, his eyes light up with enthusiasm, eager to share these carefully curated pieces with his readers.

The secondhand book trade was passed down to Zhu from his father, who started in the business early on before working in a state-owned bookstore in Shanghai. After his father retired in the late 1970s, Zhu took over, culminating in his own establishment of the Zhu Jr. Bookshop. "I've spent my life amongst these secondhand books; they are like my children," he said.

Last November Zhu faced an urgent crisis. His two rented warehouses in Tangqiao Town could no longer store his books and he was given just one week to move 100,000 volumes. The cost of finding new storage was prohibitively expensive and, no suitable recipient for a donation of the books could be found.

"During that time, I was so anxious that I couldn't sleep at all," he said.

Bookseller finds new homes for his treasured old books

Stacks of books are displayed in the sunlight at the courtyard.

Fortunately, warm-hearted readers and patrons took to the Internet to issue a plea for help, turning Zhu Jr. into an overnight Internet sensation. A week later, thanks to support from across society, the first batch of 100,000 books was successfully donated to Hunan.

However, with at least 200,000 books remaining in several other warehouses and his Tangqiao Town shop undergoing renovations, the future of the bookshop remained uncertain, which was a concern for its many loyal readers.

Eventually, good news came from Rabor Nova, which extended an olive branch. They allocated 500 square meters to display the second-hand books and even invited renowned designers to craft a bespoke reading space, fulfilling Zhu's dream and enhancing service for his readers.

Zhu joked he is known for his frugality, amassing hundreds of thousands of books over the years through sheer physical effort - pulling a cart, navigating the subway and walking extensive distances. But his generosity is equally legendary, regularly donating books to children in remote areas of Yunnan Province.

Zhu's kindness has inspired many book-loving citizens. When his shop was in Pudong, volunteers came daily to help sort his shelves. After the shop moved, dozens of community members pitched in to help him pack and organize. Additionally, many locals have volunteered to donate their books to his collection, further supporting his efforts to spread the joy of reading.

A few days ago, a woman who runs a picture book gallery reached out to Zhu with an offer to donate a batch of old picture books. Zhu decided to cover the postage himself to send the books to a primary school in Henan Province, a school he had previous contact with.

"The children there come from underprivileged families who can really benefit from these picture books," he said. "Thirteen chests of books have successfully arrived at the school."

The first weekend Zhu's bookshop pop-up market appeared in Rabor Nova saw a steady stream of local residents come to browse and buy books.

"To see such enthusiasm for books - it's more rewarding than I can say. Even if they leave without a single purchase, just to provide this cultural haven is a joy and a profound sense of achievement for me," Zhu said, with a twinkle in his eye.

An old friend, a seasoned reader, traveled from afar specifically to see him on that day. Before leaving, he gifted Zhu a large box of custom bookmarks that read, "Zhu Jr. Bookshop, thank you for your care."

Determined to spread this warmth, Zhu decided to pass the bookmarks on to customers who come to buy books - a small token of gratitude and a reminder of the community that books can build.

Once the full renovation of the Zhu Jr. Bookshop is completed later this year, Zhu plans to introduce a "Shanghai Theme Pavilion," which will house a collection of books exclusively for reading, not for sale, allowing visitors to explore materials related to Shanghai.

"I'm also considering setting up a reference material buyback area for students in the nearby Songjiang University Town," Zhu said. "It can provide graduates a place to sell their used books and offer new students an opportunity to acquire study materials in advance."

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