District turns a new leaf on its rich history

Hongkou District is now striving to revitalize its reading and cultural ambiance with a number of new bookstores and public activities.
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JIC Books, billed one of the most beautiful bookshops in the city, boasts the biggest collection of biographies in China.

HONGKOU District, once a popular place for many famous modern Chinese writers to work and live, is now striving to revitalize its reading and cultural ambiance with a number of new bookstores and public activities.

Hongkou has long been regarded as the gathering place of cultural celebrities as well as the birthplace of haipai, the unique Shanghainese culture of East-meets-West.

Famous writers, such as Lu Xun (1881-1936), considered the father of modern Chinese literature, Ding Ling (1904-1986), Ye Shengtao (1894-1988), Mao Dun (1896-1981) and Xia Yan (1900-1995), lived or worked in Hongkou for years.

Many of their works were representative of haipai literature.

While the demise of bookstores has long been lamented in the age of online reading and e-books, brick-and-mortar bookshops in Hongkou District have reinvented themselves.

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The Ban Ceng Bookshop offers more historical flavor as it was renovated from a historical structure at Music Valley.

Revived bookstores

The view of the Bund from the third floor of JIC Books on Gongping Road on the North Bund has spawned many photos on the Internet. It boasts the biggest collection of biographies in China.

Each month, one author is featured in a special corner of the shop.

A regular reading party initiated by the bookstore in Hongkou has become a popular event among locals.

Famous scholars and historians such as Ge Jianxiong, a professor with Fudan University, and Qian Nairong, a linguist with Shanghai University, have given lectures about the history of the city and the local dialect.

Another popular bookstore, the Sisyphe, can be found at the CapitaLand Hongkou Plaza, which is also a cafe-style venue that provides food and drinks.

Standing on either side of the store’s entrance are two British Georgian-style bowed windows, and the store is awash with bright colors and sketched with cartoon images, such as donkeys and rabbits.

Bilingual slogans are everywhere in the bookstore, both interesting and educational. They include lines such as “Books are to mankind what memory is to the individual” on the wall and “If you love someone, read” on the ground. Creative products are also on sale, including bags, toys and cups.

Not far away, the Yan Ji You Bookstore at the newly released Moon Bay at Ruihong Community has become a popular shop among young people.

Visitors can read, drink and be inspired by many innovative designs and artworks being displayed in the store.

The Ban Ceng (which translates as half level in English) bookshop offers more historical flavor because it was renovated from a historical structure at the Music Valley. The building with its American architectural style was once home to a machine factory.

During World War II, many Jewish residents took refuge in the building.

Several postgraduates from Fudan and Tongji universities quit their jobs to found the bookstore.

They spent a year to find the current site and create the unique venue.

Apart from the newly opened bookmarts, the public can also have access to some of celebrated writers’ former residences. Jing Yun Li, for instance, which is listed as the “No. 1 Celebrity Lane,” will be restored and developed for exhibitions.

Lu Xun, Chen Wangdao (1891-1977), Mao Dun, Ye Shengtao and Rou Shi (1902-1931) were among the celebrated Chinese writers and scholars who lived in typical shikumen (stone-gate house) buildings in the lane.

Another famous landmark of the area was the Uchiyama Bookstore, a popular hangout with left-wing intellectuals.

Its owner, Kanzo Uchiyama (1885-1959) from Japan, was a friend of Lu and other writers of the day.

The shop specialized in left-wing books and held regular sessions on literature and art.

By 1932, Uchiyama had become the sole publisher of Lu’s works. In the last decade of his life, Lu bought more than 1,000 books there, and the two men remained close friends until Lu’s death.

In the building that houses a bank, there is a Japanese doll sent by Uchiyama to Lu’s son, Zhou Haiying. A bill showing books that the Chinese author bought in the shop sits alongside a modern ATM. An exhibition about Lu and his letters with Uchiyama are being exhibited on the second floor with free admission.

Hongkou District has been promoting reading and culture among its citizens with a number of public activities. Some 120 book clubs, for instance, have been founded in Hongkou where local readers can share reading experiences or listen to weekly lectures.

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A photographer takes a picture of the exhibits on display at the former site of Uchiyama Bookstore. 

Reading activities

During a latest reading promotion at the Liangcheng subdistrict, a book list featuring the Red culture, or the history of the Communist Party of China, has been introduced to citizens. Five books under the theme have been sent to libraries, community service centers and office buildings for the public to read.

Eighteen reading rooms have been opened near local wet markets for migrant workers and their children to read or borrow books. A number of book exchange programs have also been started. A youth reading festival has been held in Hongkou for seven continuous years which is targeted at making children fond of reading.

Hongkou has released a three-year action plan to become a “heritage and promotion hub” by 2021 for haipai .

The Shanghai Literature Museum, a joint effort of the Hongkou government and the Shanghai Writers’ Association, will take up an area of 12,500 square meters on Sichuan Road N. The museum will collect, research and promote haipai literature and modern literature created in the city.

The existing Shanghai Haipai Culture Center on Sichuan Road N. has already become a key site to promote and develop cultures with a number of lectures, exhibitions and other cultural events.

It aims to become a new cultural landmark in the city, based on the historical and cultural background of Hongkou, to drive the inheritance, innovation and prosperity of haipai.

Throughout the year, experts, scholars and artists, including Wang Peiyu, a noted Peking Opera performer, Gu Haohao, director of the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe, and pingtan (storytelling to music) artist Gao Bowen, have been invited to give lectures and discuss the inheritance of haipai culture.

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