Bookstore in Shanghai uses literature as a therapeutic treatment

By Du Qiongfang Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/7 18:33:40

Chinese bibliotherapy

Addressing the anxiety and uncertainty of the future of our world, a BBC culture column written by journalist Hephzibah Anderson said that "all good literature changes us, and a growing body of research suggests you might do better browsing through fiction for support in battling life's challenges."

This idea was echoed by JIC BOOKS in Shanghai, which hopes to tackle a similar national anxiety occurring in China by organizing an online "bibliotherapy" service through the bookstore's WeChat platform as well as bibliotherapy workshops at its brick-and-mortar venues.

By using books as a sort of medicine, the project's curator hopes to treat the subtle pains that people are suffering from but might never be diagnosed by a physician. With their eyes covered with masks, participants at a recent offline workshop organized by the bookstore in Shanghai listened to screenwriter-cum-curator Shi Hang and radio host Tang Yue read aloud from literature.

Shi, who is normally a chatterbox, showed his more sincere side by telling readers that, in one's lifespan, negative emotions are inevitable. People need to learn to live and extend their lives accompanied by such emotions. With a good book in one's hands, people can develop the courage to face their fears.

Chen Yantao, general manager of JIC Bookstore Investment Co, commented at the workshop that the principle behind bibliotherapy is that what you are experiencing - your difficulty, your pain, your joy - are similar to what the writers have already addressed in their books.

"No matter what kind of era-characterized emotions you are into - lovelornness, jealousness, fear of marriage, middle-age crisis, afraid of dying, vanity, or not being interested in anything - there is always a book for your treatment," Chen said.

Inspired by books

Chen pointed out that bibliotherapy cannot - and should not - take the place of the job of real psychologists.

"Bibliotherapists do not direct or treat readers with a commanding attitude as physicians do. They are more like a friend made at the ward who discusses the problem with the readers and suggests methods of self-treatment through recommending inspiring books," Chen told the Global Times.

"And the solution connoted in the book is usually not the only solution, but demonstrates more dimensions of the attitude toward the problem," she noted. "Different people's interpretations of the same book are usually different because of their different personal experiences."

Chen, a former executive editor-in-chief of New Weekly magazine based in South China's Guangdong Province, was inspired to leave her 16-year media career and join the bookstore by Chinese writer Li Juan's books about the pastureland life in the Altay Mountains, Northwest China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

"What I got from her books was that there is nothing in the world that is definitely correct. It is hard to say my decision to enter the new industry was correct or not and whether I will be successful or not, but it is worth trying," Chen told the Global Times.

"The books made me feel more calm and self-possessed when faced with changing and shifting in my career."

Free for all

As an enthusiast of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) classic Dream of the Red Chamber, Chen found that this novel also had important enlightenment significance in the modern workplace with its characters and their ways of doing things.

"Reading books is like icing on the cake to one's life, but I found there also might be a rigid-demand aspect in reading books, which can solve one's problems in real life. That contributed to the idea of initiating the bibliotherapy project," Chen said.

Chen found out that, at British writer Alain de Botton's London-based School of Life, a quartet of well-read bibliotherapists offer similar consultations of offering tailored reading lists, which they charge about $112 per hour for.

At JIC BOOKS' online-and-offline bibliotherapy workshop, readers don't have to pay a penny to obtain reading lists offered by well-known Chinese writers and cultural figures including Shi Hang, Yan Hong, Jiang Fangzhou, Zhi An, Cai Jun, Liushen Leilei, and Li Jian, who she said were happy to join in this program.

Photo: VCG


Chen Yantao (left) and Shi Hang have a discussion at the event in January. Photo: Courtesy of JIC BOOKS



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