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Wisdom of the printed page

By Raymond Zhou | China Daily | Updated: 2014-02-22 07:56

Wisdom of the printed page

Chinese reluctance to read deeply underlines the nation's recent departure from the era of subsistence and its current obsession with affluence.

On a flight from Frankfurt to Shanghai, an Indian engineer noticed row after row of Chinese passengers deep into their iPads, playing games or watching movies. None was doing any reading.

Meng Shamei, the Chinese name of this engineer, posted his or her observation online and got a tidal wave of responses, most of which corroborated his or her view.

I have to admit I have not done my due diligence to verify the identity of this person. There have been frequent stories of Chinese posing as foreigners to give a semblance of objectivity to their criticism of China. The title "Harvard professor" has been used or rather, abused, so often it has turned into something of a joke.

To even a casual observer, what Meng wrote was not surprising. Another posting a few years ago by a Chinese passenger noticed the difference between first class and regular class: Those sitting in first class tend to read while those in regular class play games.

For me, the biggest shock came when Han Han, the young writer with enormous influence on China's youth, was asked by a reporter about his reading habits and he answered that he read only magazines. As if to show some proof, the accompanying photo revealed very few books on his bookshelf.

Before we get to "Why Chinese do not read", I'll reveal the spoiler, which is the most frequent defense. "We read. We just do not read in the same way as the old generations do. We rely on modern gadgets for faster access."

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