About 100 reading spaces have been established across Anhui's provincial capital, Wang Kaihao reports in Hefei.
For Hu Xunyou,
68-year-old resident of Luyang district, Hefei, the capital of Anhui
province, Xinghua Park was an ideal spot for him to have fun with his
the child has grown and seems to have developed many more interests
beyond walking in the park, the name of which means "apricot flowers",
the senior Hu has found himself a new reason to remain a frequent
visitor. In December 2018, the Apricot Flowers Academy opened in the
It's a bookstore, a library and a place for people to enjoy some downtime during the scorching summer afternoons of August.
"I always like
to read," Hu says. "It's not particularly for any pragmatic purpose,
and it's never too late to learn new things, especially in such a nice
building, with its lakeside view, was originally planned to be a private
club, the construction of which was not finished. However, as China
launched a national campaign in recent years demanding such places in
shared spaces like parks be returned to public use, it was repurposed to
cater to the wider public interest.
renovation has taken place on 92 idle buildings in Hefei, just like the
one in Xinghua Park, and turned them into what are called urban reading
spaces, according to Meng Xianlei, director of the public cultural
service office of the city's culture and tourism bureau.
three provincial and city-level public libraries in Hefei, which has
over 3 million residents in its city core, and several other
smaller-scale district-level libraries.
"But they are
unable to meet citizens' needs at a community level," Meng says. "That
was why more spaces for reading have to be created."
In 2017, Hefei
city government drafted a blueprint to set up 100 urban reading spaces
like Apricot Flowers Academy by 2020, and has spent 200 million yuan
($29.6 million) from its budget on the program.
impact of COVID-19, which saw some construction postponed, Meng says the
number of urban reading spaces will reach 113 by the end of this year,
exceeding the expectations of the original plan.
government budget only covers the cost of constructing the reading
spaces, operators of the venues have to create their own income.
sustainable development in the long run, it's better to blend the
government support with dynamic business models," Meng says.
government has waived the rental costs and charges for water and power
at the reading spaces, and the money to buy new books for the libraries
will also be covered by the public purse. However, other outgoings, like
employee wages, have to be met by profit generated by the venue.
operators of the reading spaces are encouraged to develop their own ways
of attracting more visitors and making ends meet at the same time. Meng
says seasonal evaluations involving 32 criteria have been done on the
dozens of reading spaces, and bonuses will be granted to those
displaying excellent performance. About 6 million yuan will be allocated
Fangfang, the manager of Apricot Flowers Academy, understands the
challenge. Every week, her team will buy about 100 new items for the
bookstore, and rotate them weekly to introduce resources from the
"We take the
responsibility of making up the gaps in the public library system," she
says. "But at the same time, we need to keep pace with the market."
cultural souvenirs, food and beverages, as well as holding paid-up
training programs have helped Apricot Flowers Academy to blossom in the
community. However, Zheng has a bigger ambition－to revive reading among
the general public, whose time and attention has been seized by digital
devices and social media.
organized reading clubs," Zheng says. "People share the books they are
reading in our WeChat group, and they are invited to attend in-person
salons in our reading space. Sometimes, they talk about movies.
to create an environment for people to share their knowledge and
re-establish face-to-face interaction with real people," she adds.
wanes in China, such events have gradually resumed. Zheng is now
drafting a list of planned, long-awaited lectures to cater to eager
estimates that about 40 percent of readers at the Apricot Flowers
Academy are elementary and high school students. The urban reading
spaces seem to have become asylums for these regular denizens of
cyberspaces to escape from their digital lives.
14-year-old junior high school student Sun Tengfei 20 minutes to travel
to Xinghua Park via the subway, including the walk from the station.
However, compared with home, this place offers a more immersive
atmosphere for absorbing knowledge.
don't want me to spend too much time playing with my smartphone," he
says. "But there are too many digital distractions at home, so I often
come here during summer break to spend an afternoon reading several
novels I like. It feels cozy."
And many more
students treat the reading spaces as their study rooms. Sometimes, a
spot will be reserved so they can have a quiet area in which to work.
However, it is
difficult to cut ties with the digital world. After the outbreak of
COVID-19, the reading space was temporarily closed, so an online
bookstore was launched by Zheng's team to better serve the readers. It
is now maintained to provide its patrons an extra option.
reading spaces have proved that staring at their phones around the clock
is not the only way for urban residents to spend their spare time.
According to the statistics from the city government, Hefei's reading
spaces jointly attracted a total of 8.73 million visits in 2019.
hiatus lasting months and the current restrictions on the numbers of
readers allowed in the venues at any one time due to pandemic prevention
protocols, there still have been more than 2 million visits as of July.
boasts the highest number of these urban reading spaces among China's
provincial capitals, and more are on the way to "enable any urban
resident in Hefei to reach a reading space within 15 minutes", according
He says more
work needs to be done. For example, only 10 spaces, including Apricot
Flowers Academy, are currently capable of earning over 50,000 yuan a
month, and around 50 are still operating in the red.
operation of bookstores is a global challenge, let alone the reading
spaces which also assume the duties of libraries," Meng says. "In the
future, the government may pay them to provide more services, thus
further facilitating residents' requirements."
functions like hacker spaces, small theaters and package collection
stations are planned and blended into the mix of services offered by the
reading spaces, there are even more reasons for people to visit.