Every morning on my way back to the office, I would meet people lining up in front of Futian District Library, waiting for the library to open. Whenever I visit Shenzhen Book City CBD Store, I find readers of all ages sitting on the floor, eyes fixed on the books in their hands, absorbed in the world of reading.
Reading, an ancient human activity that started more than 6,000 years ago after the invention of writing in Mesopotamia, since long ago has also become part of the daily life of Shenzhen residents.
According to the "2021 Reading Report among Shenzhen Citizens" released by Shenzhen Publishing Group, in 2020 Shenzhen ranked first in per capita annual expenditure on books compared to other Chinese cities, and it was the 29th year for the city to top the annual ranking.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, the city was captured in what media reports called "a reading fever." As Liu Chucai, former vice director of Shenzhen Library, wrote in an article titled "My Thoughts on Shenzhen Reading Month," because of reform and opening up, people found that the world was changing rapidly, and many of them turned to reading to keep themselves updated.
In the winter of 1987, when Shenzhen Library issued 2,000 readers' cards to celebrate its founding anniversary, readers waited overnight outside the library to get the cards, in much the same way people waited overnight for a new Apple product three decades later.
According to a report published in Guangming Daily on Feb. 3, 1990, in 1989, the Xinhua Bookstores in Shenzhen sold 12 million copies of books with a total sales volume of 22 million yuan (US$3.45 million).
When the seventh national book fair was opened at the Shenzhen Book City Luohu Store in November 1996, it raked in a record sales volume of 21.77 million yuan within 10 days.
In 1996 and 1997, Liu, as a political adviser, proposed to set up a reading festival in Shenzhen at the annual sessions of the city's political advisory body. "Shenzhen already had diversified reading activities organized by different organizations and libraries then," Liu wrote in his article. "It was the atmosphere of reading across the city that drove me to make the proposal."
On Nov. 1, 2000, the first Shenzhen Reading Month was launched at the Shenzhen Book City Luohu Store. It was a deep-rooted passion for reading that led to the launch of Shenzhen Reading Month.
Over the past 21 years, the same passion has fueled the continuing success of Shenzhen Reading Month, which, reciprocally, has involved a growing number of participants, contributing tremendously to the promotion of reading among the public.
According to a report by DT News, the first Shenzhen Reading Month presented 50 themed activities and attracted 1.7 million participants. In 2020, the number of participants of the Shenzhen Reading Month surged to 10 million.
What does it take for the reading festival to keep running for more than 20 years? I would say, generations of avid readers, a theme that catches the cultural trends of the year, and high-quality events.
According to the "2021 Reading Report among Shenzhen Citizens," 77.3 percent of adult residents in Shenzhen read books, compared to 59.3 percent for the national number, and 99.1 percent of Shenzhen residents enjoy digital reading, nearly 20 percent more than the national number.
Running under a general theme of "reading, progressing and fulfilling dreams," the reading month takes on a different theme each year. This year it runs under the theme of "Inspiring a New Vision" to focus on some of the most concerning topics in an era when new ideas and concepts are constantly generated from new technologies such as virtual reality. Participants in this year's festival can find events highly related to the theme, such as a science fiction week, lectures on science and technology, and book launches by Hao Jingfang, a Hugo Award winning science fiction writer, and Zhang Xiaoyu, a winner of the Asia Book Awards 2021 with his book "Technology and Civilization."
Since its birth in 2000, Shenzhen Reading Month has offered diversified high-quality events. It has invited some of the greatest thinkers in modern China to give talks and lectures, including renowned martial arts novelist Jin Yong, Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan, prominent writer and poet Yu Guangzhong and many more.
In addition, it has also created a series of events that have continued for years, such as the selection of the top 10 books of the year, an overnight reading event, and a recital of classic poems and essays. These events have become traditions that the city's readers can look forward to every year. Just like a music festival that brings passionate music lovers together, the reading month has become a carnival for the city's readers to connect with each other.
(The author is a Shenzhen Daily reporter.)