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Homeless sleep in Shanghai's all-night bookstore

Updated: 2012-04-11 11:18
By Zhou Wenting in Shanghai ( China Daily)

Homeless sleep in Shanghai's all-night bookstore

A man sleeps at a branch of Shanghai Popular Bookmall, a 24-hour private bookstore, on Monday. Xiao Junwei / for China Daily

A 24-hour bookstore in Shanghai has become an irresistible free guesthouse for the homeless after getting a facelift last month.

At 10 pm on Monday, more than 20 customers were browsing and choosing books in the downtown Fuzhou Road branch of Shanghai Popular Bookmall. A middle-aged man, wearing a suit, huddled in a corner. He took some books from the shelf, put them under his body and lay down.

A female staff member in the bookshop walked up and warned him not to fall asleep in the store.

"A reminder works now, but doesn't work after midnight when they are sleeping soundly," said Liu Yuanyuan, the staff member.

"Those two will also lie down soon," said Jia Anming, shift manager of the store, pointing at two young men, who were sitting against a bookshelf on the ground, reading.

These people, some of them carrying scavenged empty bottles and scraps, keep appearing every night after 9 pm, Jia said, and the number is rising to seven or eight.

"As long as they don't lie on the ground, snoring or disturbing other readers, we will let them spend the night," he said.

However, some customers have voiced distaste that the reading atmosphere is being destroyed by the prone figures.

"I hesitated when walking in. I will go elsewhere, if the bookstore becomes a night shelter for the homeless," said Wu Jian, a white-collar man, working nearby.

Others said they did not feel disturbed by the sleepers.

"I saw some of them reading in earnest. Having the right to read is fair for people in any condition," said Li Mutong, a 20-year-old university student.

Some public libraries do not turn out vagrants or beggars.

The Hangzhou Public Library, in Zhejiang province, has been open for free to the public, including disadvantaged patrons, since 2008. The only requirement for readers is to wash their hands before reading.But the 24-hour private bookstore, which must function as a place for cultural experiences, said it has to consider more detailed management for sustainable development.

"We've considered the possibility that only those with member cards could enter during the night, but we don't want to set a threshold or divide people by rank,"said Dong Chenxu, assistant general manager of the bookmall.

It seems inevitable that any shops or other venues open around the clock will receive the homeless, he added. Vagrants also congregate in railway station waiting rooms and 24-hour McDonald's.

In March 2010, Li Feng, a 24-year-old waiter at a McDonald's outlet in the municipality's bustling Xujiahui shopping area, was stabbed to death after he tried to persuade a man, Yang Yang, not to sleep in the restaurant.

"It's a frustrating social problem rather than a conflict between vagrants and other readers," said Wang Wenqin, a woman college student and a regular patron at the bookstore. "The store cannot solve the problem by itself," she said.

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