Commuters encouraged to put down their phones, pick up books

By Liu Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2016-1-20 20:38:01

Book lovers stage a flash mob on a Beijing subway train on Sunday to promote reading. Photo: Courtesy of He Guanxin

 At 7:00 am on Sunday morning, when most Beijing commuters were enjoying a lie-in before another busy week, around two dozen people waited quietly at the city's busy Xizhimen station, carrying their favorite books.

They took the train and began to read on their 30-minute-long trip.

Wang Chong, one of the people behind the flash mob that widely circulated online, said its purpose was to call for people to read more books amid the decline of reading in China in recent years.

"We named this performance art 'occupy the subway and read books' and we hope to inspire people to read books," Wang told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"Many people seem to be occupied by various entertainments nowadays, including TV shows or browsing gossip news on their phones."

Bold bookworms

Wang and the other readers started the activity on January 6, when they called for 40 people to sit together on the subway and read books through a WeChat public account.

More than 200 people joined a WeChat group about the stunt and about 20 people participated in the Sunday morning activity and more than 50 people joined the second stunt in the same place in the evening of that day.

Rum, another person behind the stunt, told the Global Times that the readers were from different professions and are either bookworms or people who want to ignite their own enthusiasm for reading.

"Some passengers were astonished to see us in the carriage and asked whether we were having a reading party on the subway," Wang said. "One passenger said reading under the light in the carriage is harmful for our eyes."

Wang said pictures taken on subways in some Western countries show many passengers reading while most Chinese passengers play games or watch videos on their phones.

The number of entertainment TV shows available today has squeezed the time people spend reading books, said Wang, adding that he thinks the trend needs to be changed. 

The average number of books an adult read in the past year was 4.56 in China, according to the 12th report on reading habits released by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publicity in April 2015. The average number was 6.74 in 2011.

According to a report published by Goldsea Asian American Daily, comparable surveys show that South Koreans read 11 books a year, the French read 20 books and the Japanese read 40 books on average.

Yet China is one of the world's leading nations in terms of the number of books published each year, according to UNESCO. At the top of the list are the UK with 206,000, US with 172,000, China with 136,226 and Germany with 96,000.

Less subway reading

Their reading parties drew public attention when reports about them were released and pictures and videos of the activity were uploaded on social media.

Some netizens applauded their efforts while others said that the activity is nothing more than a show as most people find it difficult to read while on a noisy subway train

Wang Kun, a Beijing resident who has the habit of reading on the subway, told the Global Times that the intent of the activities was good and they did attract public attention to reading books.

"I've seen fewer and fewer people reading books on the subway over the past five years and more people are just busy playing with their phones," said Wang Kun.

He said that although some people say commuters read articles recommended by media apps on their phones, it may contribute little to their accumulation of knowledge.

"I used my time on the subway to read 54 books in 2015 and I want to say that reading a book can truly enlighten us to think comprehensively and deeply," Wang Kun said.

Wang Kun said that he hoped that activities to promote reading could be held regularly and more reading parties in communities in China could be organized for bookworms to share their reading experiences or to encourage more people to read.

Rum and Wang told the Global Times that they are planning similar flash mobs in some other cities in China, including Wuhan, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

Newspaper headline: Subway studies

Posted in: Society

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