February 2018 Bestseller Lists from China: Classical Consistency

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Time-honored classics from Jules Verne, Charlotte Bronte, Helen Keller, Nikolai Ostrovsky, and Isaac Asimov vied with the endlessly popular Japanese writer Keigo Higashino in China’s February bestseller lists.

A classic ceiling detail from Beijing’s Forbidden City. Image – iStockphoto: Baramee Temboonkiat

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

Classics and a Japanese Star
The Chinese market can be surprisingly busy with international classics. Last month, for example—when 10 of the 30 top bestsellers were classics—the 1932 Russian novel, Nikolai Ostrovksy’s How the Steel Was Tempered. was at 15 on the overall fiction bestseller list and 10 on the foreign fiction list.

Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under the Sea’

And in fact, in our very first round of these lists last June, some readers were surprised to find Henry David Thoerau’s Walden, Francis Bacon’s Essays, and works by Gabriel García Márquez being avidly read in the Chinese market. In July, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea surfaced, as did Ernest Hemingways The Old Man and the SeaIn August, here was Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the next month, we found Ivan Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels on the lists, and in November, Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express made an appearance.

Both in fiction and nonfiction, this has been a theme, and the researchers who gather the data for us on these lists tell us that two things are at play here.

For one, there’s a curiosity among China readers about Western literature—seemingly the American and and Russian, in particular. And as a more affluent middle class forms in that vast country, some readers are catching up on titles considered to hold keys to Western thinking.

Second, as we find Verne’s 20,000 Leagues going the distance again—this time at No. 2 in both the overall and foreign-author fiction lists—primary and secondary school reading assignments and recommendations can propel such rankings. On the foreign-author list, Hemingway, Bronte, and Swift are also finding favor with the readers of China in our look-back at February.

Keigo Higashino

An even more dependable trend borne out again last month is Chinese readers’ fondness for Japanese author Kiego Higashino. This month, his Miracles of the Namiya General Store is again at No. 1 in overall fiction, as are three other titles. In the foreign-author fiction list, he turns up no fewer than seven times.

And when we ran our full-year 2017 lists, we wrote, “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.”

‘Pioneering’ by Liu Qing

What’s more, we have stories at Publishing Perspectives going back to 2014 on the author’s popularity. And a bit over a year ago, we had a story on how his Mysterious Night had become Peking University Library’s third most-borrowed book, whie his Miracles and Journey Under the Midnight Sun had been named “the two most reserved books” on the campus.

As each month, our rankings here are provided by Beijing’s OpenBook and the US-based distribution and import specialists Trajectory. 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.

Our colleague Rainy Liu points out this month that Chinese educational priorities can sway the focus on classics.

“With two editions of each, all listed in the Top 30 chart,” Liu says, “classics in February include Lu Yao’s Ordinary World, Lao She’s Rickshaw Boy, Yu Hua’s To Live, and Red Crag, along with Pioneering by Liu Qing, Jane Eyre, and Street Wizards by Feng Jicai—most of those titles recommended by the ministry of education.”

Isaac Asimov’s ‘Foundation’

A certain emphasis on science fiction can also be picked up February’s charts, she points out, including—in addition to the seagoing Verne—an appearance at No. 13 of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, which is part of a seventh-grade curriculum in some Chinese schools. And in Chinese science fiction, there’s Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, which has been featured before in the charts.

In nonfiction, there’s Fu Lei’s Letters for Home, in which the author describes his and his wife’s letters to their children between 1954 and 1966. The book is considered to depict a model of family education, and is said to be studied during winter holidays by many students together with their families.

Below are OpenBook’s overall lists from February of bestsellers in fiction and nonfiction, followed by its lists of bestselling fiction and nonfiction in China by authors from outside the country, which are of interest, of course, to those who are looking to sell rights into the huge Chinese market. At the end of our article, as always, you’ll find notes on how the lists are constructed.

OpenBook’s Fiction Bestsellers in China, February 2018
Jan 2018 Ranking Feb 2918 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787544270878 Apr 2014 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 2 9787544760874 Oct 2016 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne Yilin Press
7 3 9787544246279 Apr 2010 Rickshaw Boy Lao She Nan Hai Publishing Co.
15 4 9787544762519 Dec 2016 How the Steel Was Tempered Nikolai Ostrovsky Yilin Press
Not Ranked 5 9787500601593 Aug 2005 Red Crag Luo Guangbin, Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
4 6 9787208061644 Apr 2006 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
8 7 9787544291163 Aug 2017 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
23 8 9787544764254 Jan 2017 Rickshaw Boy Lao She Yilin Press
5 9 9787550024212 Sep 2017 Trespassers Claire McFall Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
10 10 9787544267618 Jun 2014 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
16 11 9787530216781 Jun 2017 Ordinary World (3 Volumns) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 12 9787539983295 Oct 2015 Foundation Isaac Asimov Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 13 9787500680239 Jan 2009 Pioneering Liu Qing China Youth Press
14 14 9787530215593 Jun 2017 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
13 15 9787550013247 May 2015 Ferryman Claire McFall Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
2 16 9787020123728 Apr 2017 Fang Hua Yan Geling People’s Literature Publishing House
21 17 9787530216774 Jul 2017 Ordinary World Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
3 18 9787505742338 Dec 2017 The Cat Emperor and His Friends (3) Bai Cha China Friendship Publishing Company
Not Ranked 19 Aug 2016 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte Yilin Press
Not Ranked 20 9787559611567 Dec 2017 Platinum Data Higashino Keigo Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers in China, February 2018
Jan 2018 Ranking Feb 2018 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
8 1 9787544765176 Aug 2016 Fu Lei’s Letters for Home Fu Lei Yilin Press
1 2 9787503561634 Aug 2017 Xi Jinping’s Seven Years as an Educated Youth Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press
7 3 9787544763981 Jun 2016 Fu Lei’s Letters for Home (Revised Edition) Fu Lei Yilin Press
3 4 9787549550173 Jan 2014 Seeing Off Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
5 5 9787550263932 Nov 2015 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
2 6 9787540482190 Aug 2017 I Won’t Da Bing Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 7 9787508684031 Dec 2017 Principles Ray Dalio CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
4 8 9787508660752 Feb 2017 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
9 9 9787108042453 Sep 2012 We Three Yang Jiang SDX Joint Publishing Company
6 10 9787508672069 Jan 2017 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
10 11 9787539999883 Mar 2017 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Er Hunzi Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 12 9787544760850 Jan 207 Michelangelo / Tolstoy / Beethoven Romain Rolland Yilin Press
12 13 9787530214787 Apr 2017 The Stories of the Sahara Echo Chan Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
18 14 9787535447340 Feb 2014 The Poignant Culture Traveling Yu Qiuyu Changjiang Literature & Art Press Co.,Ltd.
15 15 9787549564125 Apr 2015 Dear Andrea Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
20 16 9787533951092 Dec 2017 What is EQ? Li Xiaoyi Zhejiang Literature & Art Press
16 17 9787549550159 Jan 2014 My Child, Just Take Your Time Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
24 18 9787540476250 Jul 2016 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
11 19 9787530217856 Dec 2017 Encounter of Chen Luyu Chen Luyu Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
22 20 9787201088945 Ded 2014 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers in China, February 2018
Jan 2018 Ranking Feb 2018 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787544270878 Apr 2014 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 2 9787544760874 Oct 2016 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne France Yilin Press
10 3 9787544762519 Dec 2016 How the Steel Was Tempered Nikolai Ostrovsky Russia Yilin Press
3 4 9787208061644 Apr 2006 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
6 5 9787544291163 Aug 2017 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
4 6 9787550024212 Sep 2017 Trespassers Claire McFall United Kingdom Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
8 7 9787544267618 Jun 2014 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 8 9787539983295 Oct 2015 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
9 9 9787550013247 May 2015 Ferryman Claire McFall United Kingdom Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
2 10 9787020123728 Apr 2017 Fang Hua Yan Geling United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
19 11 9787544760843 Aug 2016 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte United Kingdom Yilin Press
Not Ranked 12 9787559611567 Dec 2017 Platinum Data Higashino Keigo Japan Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
11 13 9787544285148 Oct 2016 Malice Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
7 14 9787530217559 Nov 2017 The Murder in Mansion Masquerade Higashino Keigo Japan Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
13 15 9787544291170 Aug 2017 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 16 9787544760782 Aug 2016 Gulliver’s Travels Jonathan Swift United Kingdom Yilin Press
Not Ranked 17 9787544761680 Dec 2016 The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway United States of America Yilin Press
12 18 9787540455958 Jun 2012 The Shadow Thief Marc Levy France Hunan Literature & Art Press
15 19 9787544291224 Aug 2017 After School (2017 Version) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 20 9787544764469 Jul 2017 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne France Yilin Press
Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers in China, February 2018
Jan 2018 Ranking Feb 2018 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
Not Ranked 1 9787508684031 Dec 2017 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd
1 2 9787508660752 Feb 2017 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd
2 3 9787508672069 Jan 2017 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd
5 4 9787544760850 Jan 2017 Michelangelo / Tolstoy / Beethoven Romain Rolland France Yilin Press
4 5 9787514208788 Jul 2013 The Willpower Instinct (Hardcover) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
3 6 9787020116133 Jun 2016 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
6 7 9787301109489 Oct 2006 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.1) L.S.Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
7 8 9787535732309 Nov 2001 A Brief History of Time Stephen William Hawking United Kingdom Hunan Science & Technology Press
8 9 9787301110522 Oct 2006 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.2) L.S.Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
17 10 9787544768511 Jun 2017 Three Days to See (New Edition) Helen Keller United States of America Yilin Press
11 11 9787544768559 Jul 2017 Souvenirs Entomologiques Jean Henri Fabre France Yilin Press
10 12 9787544762885 Apr 2016 84, Charing Cross Road Helene Hanff United States of America Yilin Press
Not Ranked 13 9787544761031 Dec 2016 Stray Birds Rabindranath Tagore India Yilin Press
16 14 9787510855832 Sept 2017 100 Basics of Work & Life Matsuura Yataro Japan Jiuzhou Press
20 15 9787514219203 Sept 2017 The Willpower Instinct (New Edition) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
13 16 9787508650890 May 2015 Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd
15 17 9787300126210 Sep 2010 Mao: A Biography Ross Terrill United States of America China Renmin University Press
14 18 9787513903509 Nov 2014 Jerusalem: The Biography Simon Sebag Montefiore United Kingdom Democracy and Construction Press
18 19 9787220102912 Sept 2017 Rich Dad, Poor Dad Robert T. Kiyosaki United States of America Sichuan People’s Publishing House
12 20 9787308161459 Aug 2016 The Silk Roads: A New History of the World Peter Frankopan United Kingdom Zhejiang Eniversity Press Co.,Ltd

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 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 a total 3,115 stores located in 1,247 cities. 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 is 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 CEO James Bryant clarifies, 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.


More charts and rankings from Publishing Perspectives’ China bestsellers can be found here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He is also co-owner and editor with Jane Friedman of The Hot Sheet, the newsletter for trade and indie authors. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook, at London's The Bookseller. Anderson has also worked with CNN International, CNN.com, CNN USA, the Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and other media.