China’s Fiction and Nonfiction Bestsellers of 2017

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Fiction bestsellers in China last year were dominated by non-Chinese authors, according to OpenBook, while homegrown authors sold better in nonfiction.

Yanping Jiang, OpenBook managing director, at the OpenBook Conference in Beijing. Image: OpenBook Media Group

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

OpenBook’s Overall Fiction Bestsellers in China, 2017

One of the most reliable fixtures on the monthly fiction bestseller lists from China’s OpenBook has been Japanese author Higashino Keigo, best known for his mystery novels. In 2017, his Miracles of the Namiya General Store had its second year at the overall top of OpenBook’s China’s charts. In both 2016 and 2017, this was the biggest seller.

Keigo’s dominance doesn’t stop there. Three of his works are in the Top 5 on the annual charts, with Journey Under the Midnight Sun and The Devotion of Suspect X at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.

The Afghan-born American author Khaled Hosseini and Scotland-based Claire McFall complete the Top 5 on the list, with Hosseini’s The Kite Runner and McFall’s Ferryman.

One of the most noticeable trends in the fiction bestseller list is the dominance of foreign authors. When Publishing Perspectives pursued the question of why so many fiction bestsellers in China are by non-Chinese authors, we were told that there are three factors in play.

  • Many Chinese readers have an interest in leading international popular titles, a factor evident in the familiar Western books on the list.
  • Television and film production, often attached to one of these titles, can be a key driver.
  • And some authors—chief among them is Japanese author Higashino Keigo—gain a kind of cult status and can generate years of sales on reputation and across many books.

OpenBook in China is similar to Nielsen in the UK or NPD in the United States, providing research and analysis on the evolving Chinese publishing industry. Below is OpenBook’s list of bestselling fiction titles in China in 2017:

Rank ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 9787544270878 Apr-14 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
2 9787208061644 Apr-06 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
3 9787550013247 May-15 Ferryman Claire McFall Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
4 9787544258609 Jan-13 Journey Under the Midnight Sun Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 9787544267618 Jun-14 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 9787506365437 Jun-10 To Live Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
7 9787536692930 Jan-08 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
8 9787536693968 May-08 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
9 9787530216194 Jan-17 In The Name of People Zhou Meisen Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
10 9787229030933 Nov-10 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
11 9787540455958 Jun-12 The Shadow Thief Marc Levy Hunan Literature & Art Press
12 9787539971810 Apr-15 The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
13 9787540458027 Oct-13 I Belonged to You Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
14 9787544253994 May-11 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
15 9787500601593 Aug-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin, Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
16 9787020090297 Sep-12 White Deer Plain Chen Zhongshi People’s Literature Publishing House
17 9787544285148 Oct-16 Malice Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
18 9787530212004 Feb-12 Ordinary Word (3 Volumes) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
19 9787020090006 Jul-12 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
20 9787201091884 Mar-15 Just for Meeting You Zhang Haochen Tianjin People’s Publishing House
21 9787020098095 Jun-13 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
22 9787559608949 Sep-17 I’m Waiting for You in Future Liu Tong Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
23 9787544244190 Mar-09 The Alchemist Paulo Coelho Nan Hai Publishing Co.
24 9787544277617 Jun-15 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
25 9787201120713 Jul-17 A Matter of Love Zhang Haochen Tianjin People’s Publishing House
26 9787539989891 Mar-16 Fall of Giants Ken Follett Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
27 9787550293151 Dec-16 Laplace’s Witch Higashino Keigo Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
28 9787544246279 Apr-10 Rickshaw Boy Lao She Nan Hai Publishing Co.
29 9787020123728 Apr-17 Fang Hua Yan Geling People’s Literature Publishing House
30 9787550024212 Sep-17 Trespassers Claire McFall Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
OpenBook’s Overall Nonfiction Bestsellers in China, 2017

The late Yang Jiang’s ‘We Three’

In nonfiction, foreign authors have less of a grip on the bestseller list than in fiction.

The book about the youth of China’s president, Xi Jinping—Seven Years as an Educated Youth—was released in August and quickly claimed the top ranking.

The title in the second spot is Gao Ming’s Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right, which is described as an examination of “what the world is like from the psychological, philosophical, biological, and religious perspectives of abnormal human beings.”

And the No. 3 position in nonfiction for 2017 in China is held by We Three by the late author and playwright Yang Jiang, who died in May of 2016 at age 104. We Three—sometimes translated as A Family of Three—is a memoir comprising essays from 2003, primarily focused on the loss of the author’s daughter not long before her husband’s death.

Yang Jiang, who was also a translator of European works into Chinese including Don Quixote, was still producing work at age 96 and is remembered for many sterling lines including this: “There is no absolute happiness in human life. Happiness always comes with worry and anxiety.”

Rank ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 9787503561634 Aug-17 Xi Jinping’s Seven Years as an Educated Youth Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press
2 9787550263932 Nov-15 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
3 9787108042453 Sep-12 We Three Yang Jiang SDX Joint Publishing Company
4 9787201094014 Sep-15 Six Chapters of A Floating Life Shen Fu Tianjin People’s Publishing House
5 9787540482190 Aug-17 I Won’t Da Bing Hunan Literature & Art Press
6 9787549550173 Jan-14 Seeing Off Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
7 9787508672069 Jan-17 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd
8 9787535488473 May-16 Walk Alone Freely Jia Pingwa Changjiang Literature & Art Press Co., Ltd.
9 9787540476892 Jul-16 Goodwill Da Bing Hunan Literature & Art Press
10 9787510842344 Mar-16 All the Lost Will Be Back in Another Way Geng Shuai Jiuzhou Press
11 9787508671505 Dec-16 Speak Well: Fresh and Interesting Speaking Skills Ma Weiwei, Huang Zhizhong, Zhou Xuanyi CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
12 9787201088945 Dec-14 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
13 9787540468798 Sep-14 Take It Easy Da Bing Hunan Literature & Art Press
14 9787020116133 Jun-16 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow People’s Literature Publishing House
15 9787540472238 Jul-15 May You Da Bing Hunan Literature & Art Press
16 9787549550159 Jan-14 My Child, Just Take Your Time Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
17 9787549564125 Apr-15 Dear Andrea Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
18 9787508660752 Feb-17 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
19 9787101054491 Feb-07 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang Zhonghua Book Company
20 9787550286092 Sep-16 The So-called High Emotional Intelligence Is Talking Zuozuomuguiyi Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
21 9787540467784 Jun-14 Way of Speaking Cai Kangyong Hunan Literature & Art Press
22 9787540476250 Jul-16 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
23 9787555235088 Feb-16 Do Just a Good Woman Wan Qing Qingdao Publishing House
24 9787535732309 Nov-01 A Brief History of Time Stephen William Hawking Hunan Science & Technology Press
25 9787535481108 Aug-15 Bai Yansong Talks Bai Yansong Changjiang Literature & Art Press Co., Ltd.
26 9787514205039 Jul-12 The Willpower Instinct Kelly McGonigal Cultural Development Publishing House
27 9787535482051 Dec-16 Loneliness is the Gigt of Life Yu Guangzhong, Lin Qingxuan, Bai Xianyong Changjiang Literature & Art Press Co., Ltd.
28 9787540468316 Jul-14 Way of Speaking 2 Cai Kangyong Hunan Literature & Art Press
29 9787508647357 Oct-14 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd
30 9787549529322 Dec-12 Insight Chai Jing Guangxi Normal University Press
Notes on the Charts

OpenBook is a privately owned industry-data research firm based in Beijing. It functions somewhat as Nielsen and NDP do from the West, and Nielsen Book Research International chief Andre Breedt tells us that Nielsen has worked with OpenBook in Asian operations.

Trajectory, based near Boston, is an importer of Western-language ebooks and audiobooks into China. Trajectory is also helping China’s largest publishers export their books and audiobooks through a proprietary global ebook distribution network that includes hundreds of retailers as well as library and school distributors.

This data is estimated by OpenBook to represent some 30 to 40 percent of the total sales activity in China. OpenBooks draws point-of-sale data from more than 6,000 retailers. These stores include:

  • Traditional bookstores
  • Supermarkets
  • Campus bookstores
  • “Professional” stores, which are said to be small stores with a specific industrial or trade focus
  • Airport stores

In addition, OpenBook is drawing data from online bookstores of two main types:

  • The “Tmall” stores, of Alibaba (Tmall described as a marketplace of companies that create storefronts online to sell products including books)
  • Ten independent online bookselling retailers

China has some 500 or more publishers in operation today. Most of them, Trajectory’s Bryant clarifies for us, are government-owned. Private publishers are required to purchase ISBNs for their titles from a publishing company that is government-owned—which, in other words, creates a system in which all ISBNs are in one way or another registered through government channels. The government approves each book published in China.


Our thanks to OpenBook’s Rainy Liu for contributing reporting to this article.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. Prior to that he was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, a channel at The Bookseller focused on digital publishing. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.

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