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On your Marx, get set, read

By ZHANG ZHOUXIANG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-05-05 09:30


An increasing number of people are reading communist literature, which is reaching readers in new forms, thanks to evolving technologies and media

While marking the 27th World Book and Copyright Day on April 23, it is interesting to note how the popularity of classical books on Marxism is rising. And this is happening just nine months after the Communist Party of China celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding on July 1, 2021.

Classics are bestsellers

On a domestic book-selling website, dangdang.com, readers have posted a record 120,376 comments about Karl Marx's Capital. "By reading the book, we are seeing the world," said a reader called "nxg1020".

Another reader called "Scalers" wrote how he/she had formed an online reading group with friends. They would wake up at 6 am every morning, read the same pages decided in advance and then hold discussions. This way, they were able to finish the entire three volumes of the book in a little over two months.

Capital also ranks 22nd on the list of most popular philosophical and religious books in China, while 19 of the books that are more popular than it are simple, popular interpretations of philosophical classics. Also, the book is one of just two original philosophical classics among the top 30, the other one being Plato's The Republic.

On JD.com, another major domestic e-commerce portal that also features books, there are at least 20 versions of the Communist Manifesto. Language-wise, there are the Chinese, English, German and French versions. As regards content, there is the first translated edition of the book in 1920, a cartoon edition, and another edition with QR codes. Scanning the codes a reader is taken to relevant animations. In terms of style, there is a specific version for university students, one for government employees, and one for children.

Also gaining popularity are the classics by domestic revolutionary leaders such as Mao Zedong, one of the founders of the People's Republic of China. In 1937, the year when the imperial Japanese forces launched a full-scale invasion of China, Mao wrote two major essays, On Practice and On Contradiction, delivering them as speeches to the Party. The two essays were published as books in 1952 and are long regarded as guiding books on Marxist philosophy.

Seventy years later, they have become bestsellers again. On JD.com, the two books and guide books on them have received over 20,000 comments from readers. One says: "Hurry up and equip our minds with great philosophers' wisdom. They still torch the way forward for us today."

He Jianhua, a professor doing research on the two essays, said the books continue to shape people's thoughts today, as they concentrate on how to determine the main aspect of a problem and how to solve it. "Dialectic as a methodology will never get outdated," she said. "It applies to all times in helping people solve problems."

The online buzz

On douban.com, China's equivalent and bigger version of IMDb-which rates not only movies, but also books, TV dramas, and all kinds of cultural products-there have long been groups of people reading Marxist classics such as Capital and the Communist Manifesto. But over the past five years, books on Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era have become increasingly popular.

And since it was first published in 2014, more than 10 million copies of The Governance of China have sold domestically. Overseas, it has been translated into more than 10 languages, covering more than 170 countries and regions.

Yao Lian, chief manager of the People's United Books, which is a major domestic publishing house on social sciences and is affiliated to the Oriental Press, said that the popularity of Marxist classics would not have been possible but for the improvement in strategy in today's publishing sector.

"To make it a commercial success, one must respect the readers and get to know what they want," she said. "Currently, the majority of readers in the market are those born from the 1980s to 2000s, who have their own clear characteristics in language and aesthetics. Improvement in the quality of books, such as putting in more cartoons and writing introductory books in a more humorous way, has helped make the classics more attractive to young people, who are the main target reader group. What we need is to make the right thing more interesting and more appealing to readers in the market."

New livestreaming books

With the emergence of new media, increasingly more organizations and individuals have practiced the habit of video-recording their reading activities and sharing them on short video-sharing apps.

Bilibili, one of the leading domestic short video-sharing apps, is livestreaming videos of people reading Marxist classics almost every day. While most of the bestsellers are theoretical books such as Capital or On Practice and On Contradiction, the reading materials on livestreaming platforms include mostly stories about the revolutionary days before 1949. In the run-up to April 5, which was the Qingming Festival that is marked by the sweeping of tombs of ancestors, reading martyrs' works and letters was trending.

Among the things being read online, those that are most popular are words by Li Dazhao, one of the founding members of the CPC who was hanged by the warlords in 1925. His famous quote "The future of the globe will be full of red flags" has of late been cropping up in one video clip after another.

Answers in Marxist classics

Lyu Jia, an associate professor at Tsinghua University, said that the rising popularity of classics on Marxism shows that the Party's history education campaign launched on its 100th anniversary in 2021 is reaching people's hearts. "Only when we know where we come from, will we know better where we are headed," he said. "The fact that more people are reading Marxist classics these days shows that people want to know about our roots, which in turn grants them more confidence and more knowledge about building society. That will also serve as an essential constructive force in the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."

Yao said that they have seen a noticeable rise in the sales of Marxist classics in the past two years. But the commercial success of Marxist classics should not be viewed as merely a moneymaking process, Yao says. "Sales volume is a key index of people's enthusiasm. The fact that more people are willing to pay for a book says more than any ranking or survey. It reflects people's love for it."

Niu Xianfeng, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Central Committee, talked about the reading of Marxist classics at a lecture in March. "You need to read the original text to understand the nature of Marxism," he said. "As a country that holds communism as its guiding thought, China needs to strengthen its education among students, and to organize them in reading classical scripts is a good practice of implementing that."

"Some tend to say that classical readings are 'outdated', but that's not true," Niu said. "They are like a torch that lights the way toward the future for the Chinese nation."

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