The Temple of Old Books: A walk through Shanghai's secondhand book market

Paris has a famous old book market, and Shanghai does too. You'll find it when you enter the city center's only Confucius temple...

Directed and edited by Tang Dafei. Filmed by Tang Dafei and Jack Zhou. Translated by Jack Zhou. Special thanks to Andy Boreham. 

Paris has a world famous four kilometers of old book stalls beside the River Senine. Shanghai has a famous second-hand book market, too, but you'll only find it when you enter the city center's sole Confucius temple.

The Confucius Temple — or Wenmiao in Chinese — where the book market is held every week is an ancient architectural complex built in 1855 during the Qing Dynasty. It is also a famous scene spot of historical interest and covers more than 10,000 square meters.

Holin Wang / SHINE

Every Sunday, regardless of the weather or whether or not there's a special holiday, the second-hand book market is always open in the Great Hall of Confucius Square — or Dachengdian Square — to the public. With just a one-yuan ticket, you can spend the whole day there.

The original history of Wenmiao book market can be traced back to the 1980s. The first market with new books at special prices was held here, attracting many residents and much attention. Then in the 1990s, after local residents’ suggestions, the second-hand book market took shape. Now the market has been running for around 20 years.

At its peak time in around 2001, the market would welcome almost 10,000 customers every Sunday. Now, under the change brought about by online commerce, only about 1,300 people come to browse, according to Zhao Weiming, an old staff member of Wenmiao’s administration.

Unlike the old market in Paris, where the majority of customers are youngsters, most of the visitors here are older males above 40 years of age.

Mr. Lu, who was born after the 1980s, was easy to spot — he was definitely in the minority. As an online bookstore owner, he has become used to coming here every Sunday to find “treasures.”

Lu will religiously turn up at around 7am and begin looking for old books, even before the opening of the market. This time, after about two and a half hours’ perusing, he bought many gems, filling two big bags. 

“Today I found several good versions of ‘DRAGON BALL’, a Japanese comic series books, which is like a memory of childhood,” he said.

Let’s look into the story of Wenmiao’s second-hand book market with the help of Mr. Lu. 

Check out the video above.

Second hand books market at Confucius' Temple

Address: 215 Wenmiao Road
Time: Starting from 7:30am every Sunday
Ticket: 1 yuan (15.8 cents)

Holin Wang / SHINE
Holin Wang / SHINE
Holin Wang / SHINE
Holin Wang / SHINE
Holin Wang / SHINE
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