Wang Shouchang, a 67-year-old farmer living in Bishan village, has volunteered as a librarian for once a week since 2011 when the Bishan Village Reading Room first opened. This reading room is part of a state-funded effort established in 2007 to set up a library in every village in China by 2015.
The initial government endowment provided the reading room with one computer and about 1,600 books. Since most young adults from Bishan now reside outside the village as migrant workers in urban areas, the readership of the village consists primarily of children and their grandparents. Wang told us that although he himself is most interested in the books on Chinese history, the most borrowed books are children’s books and pregnancy and parenting books.
The Bishan Reading Room has benefited from attention garnered by the Bishan Project. Visiting urbanites have attracted domestic media interest and resulted in donations to the Bishan Village Reading Room. In early 2013, Zuo Jing, co-founder of the Bishan Project, called out for donations on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media website. Wang said the library has been receiving books in the mail from across the country ever since, adding up to over 1,500 books from different individuals and organizations. As a result, the range of books available in Bishan library now extends far beyond the original scope of the government’s offerings, and “even junior village officials from nearby villages come here to borrow books,” said Mr. Wang.
Yu Qiang, the Party Secretary of the Biyang township, told us that of the 25 villages he oversees, Bishan village has the most active readership. “The reading room in Bishan has a larger collection. Villagers actually borrow books here,” he said.
But the literary options for the Bishan community are still on the rise. The Librairie Avant-Garde, a Nanjing-based bookstore which CNN named “China’s most beautiful bookstore,” is scheduled to open a branch in Bishan village in November 2013. The bookstore is committed to periodically donating books to the Bishan Village Reading Room.
— Pulitzer Center grantees Sun Yunfan and Leah Thompson. Images by Sun Yunfan via Instagram.China, 2013. (Follow her: @eighthday)
1. The youngest reader at the Bishan Village Reading Room.
2. Wang Shouchang, one of the four volunteer librarians, standing at the entrance of the Bishan Village Reading Room.
3. Wang Shouchang showing us a journal that records book borrowing history.
4. Wang Shouchang standing in front of the private donation book shelves, with an recent issue of Chutzpah, a literary magazine edited by Ou Ning, the co-founder of Bishan Project.