China Bestsellers January 2020: Educational Boosts in Tough Times

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson1 Comment

The January charts for book sales in China strongly reflect the reading recommendations of the national education system, as challenging news arrives hourly from this major world publishing market.

Students in Shandong province’s seaside Qingdao arrive with their parents for last June’s 2019 university entrance exams. Image – iStockphoto: Haiqing Zhong

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Difficult Days
Needless to say, a great deal of distressing news has become the recent norm from China. It’s astonishing, in fact, how much has changed since our December 2019 publication of our China bestseller charts on January 20.

Tara Westover’s ‘Educated’ holds the No. 1 spot in nonfiction in January, in its Chinese edition from the Nan Hai Publishing Company

At that point, we were watching the lunar new year come in, as the year of the rat lit lanterns and sent families into the streets and parks for happy annual festivities.

It wouldn’t be until January 30 that the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Regulations Emergency Committee would name the outbreak centered in Wuhan “a public health emergency of international concern.” And it wasn’t until February 11, eight days ago, that WHO dubbed the contagion the Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19.

Should you need updated, dependable information on the virus at this point, we’d like to recommend to you the US Centers for Disease Control’s dedicated page of resources with regular situation updates.

Here at Publishing Perspectives, we know of one Beijing-based employee at a company familiar to us who went to Wuhan to celebrate the spring festival with her family, only to find herself in a city under lockdown. We send our most compassionate wishes to our many associates and colleagues in that vast market, now undergoing such stress.

Also of concern: The Washington Post’s Anna Fifeld is reporting this morning (February 19) that Beijing has ordered the expulsion of three Wall Street Journal correspondents “in retaliation for a column headline that Beijing deemed racist, a dramatic escalation in the Communist Party’s efforts to silence criticism abroad as well as at home.” The piece in question is an opinion column critical of Beijing’s handling of COVID19, and written by another journalist–not one of the three expelled and not a journalist in China.

As the freedom to publish is critical to the world community of book publishing in lock step with journalism, we read with alarm this latest incident, which Fifeld at the Post is describing as “a clear signal from China, whose government has tightened censorship and repression in recent years.”

The Comfort of School Reading Lists

Curiously, at times like this, the institutional elements of a market’s governmental structure can provide a soothing factor of perceived normality. And we see this in our January bestsellers charts, as our associates at Beijing OpenBook point out that each year starts with the ministry of education’s recommendations for reading, relayed in curriculum materials distributed to every classroom in China.

‘Foundation’

Our colleague Rainy Liu at OpenBook says, “Along with every winter and summer vacation and the beginning of the school season, sales of recommended fiction and nonfiction books increase significantly.

“In the last two years, it has become particularly obvious that the recommended reading goes straight to the Top 5.”

So it is that in fiction we find 13 of these recommended titles in the Top 30 for January, five of them returnees to the charts, including Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series and Liu Qang’s Pioneering.

‘Joy of Life,’ volume 2

And also in the fiction category, we call your attention to two volumes of Mao Ni’s Joy of Life, a novel that originally was produced as “online literature” in 2007 and published in print in 2008. The 2019 edition is a tie-in with a television series adaptation and sales are being driven across three editions from the People’s Literature Publishing House by what’s reported to be avid viewership for the work on TV.

We’re told that China’s television-guided readership is especially fleeting, so the standing of the title can be expected to retreat quickly once the series ends its airings.

And in nonfiction, we see eight books returning to the list, including the family-fortifying Fu Lei’s Letters for Home–a title you’ll find entering the list both at No. 2 and No. 12. That happens because it’s selling in both paperback and hardback at a volume to propel it onto the list in both formats. Fu’s book is considered to be a model guide to strong family values in education and loving commitment.

‘Letters for Home’

Other titles returning to the list as a result of the ministerial recommendations:

  • The Poignant Culture of Traveling by Yu Qiuyu, ranked No. 20
  • Seeing Off by Long Yingtai, ranked No. 24
  • We Three (third edition) by Yang Jiang, ranked No. 26
  • Gag Reel by Li Dan, ranked No. 27
  • Two volumes of A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century by L. S. Stavrianos, ranked No. 28 and No. 29

Below, then, are OpenBook’s overall lists from (month) of bestsellers in fiction and nonfiction, followed by its lists of bestselling fiction and nonfiction in China by authors from outside the country.

At the end of our article, as always, you’ll find notes on how the lists are constructed.

OpenBook’s Fiction Bestsellers, January 2020
December 2019 Ranking January 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
11 1 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin,Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
1 2 9787506365437 2010-06 To Live Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 3 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
9 4 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder The Writer’s Publishing House
3 5 9787530216781 2017-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumns) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 6 9787500680239 2009-01 Pioneering Liu Qing China Youth Press
8 7 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
4 8 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
21 9 9787530216774 2017-07 Ordinary Word Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
5 10 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
6 11 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
27 12 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House
13 13 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
19 14 9787530219218 2019-02 Life is Like Ocean Mai Jia Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 15 9787544774635 2019-01 How the Steel Was Tempered (New Edition) Nikolai Alexeevich Ostrovsky Yilin Press
18 16 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 17 9787020154586 2019-11 Joy of Life (2) Mao Ni People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 18 9787020159055 2019-12 Joy of Life (3) Mao Ni People’s Literature Publishing House
17 19 9787020153541 2019-11 Joy of Life (1) Mao Ni People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 20 9787506344791 2008-12 Street Wizards Feng Jicai The Writer’s Publishing House
28 21 9787559620187 2018-10 Ran Freely Wu Zhe Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
10 22 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
7 23 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
26 24 9787020008735 1998-07 Journey to the West Wu Cheng’en People’s Literature Publishing House
16 25 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 26 9787544246279 2010-04 Rickshaw Boy Lao She Nan Hai Publishing Co.
2 27 9787559637949 2019-11 Short Stories from Notebook of a Grave Robber Chronicles Nanpai Sanshu Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
Not Ranked 28 9787020008728 1998-07 Romance of the Three Kingdoms Luo Guanzhong People’s Literature Publishing House
12 29 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
14 30 9787530211564 2012-03 Life Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers, January 2019
December 2019 Ranking January 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
2 1 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 2 9787544771627 2018-03 Fu Lei’s Letters for Home (2018 Edition) Fu Lei, Fu Min Yilin Press
3 3 9787544387866 2019-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (4) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
6 4 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
1 5 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
8 6 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
10 7 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
12 8 9787559418111 2018-04 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
9 9 9787540493691 2019-11 Because This is Your Life Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
5 10 9787508689586 2018-07 Economics Lecture Notes Xue Zhaofeng CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
28 11 9787540484880 2018-01 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo (Commemorative Edition) Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 12 9787544771610 201803 Fu Lei’s Letters for Home (2018 Edition) Fu Lei, Fu Min Yilin Press
30 13 9787544389372 2019-11 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon: Traditional Chinese Festivals Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
4 14 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg Huaxia Publishing House
7 15 9787540481551 2018-11 The Emotional Quotient Lesson of Kevin Tsai: Live for Yourself for One Time Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
16 16 9787559435552 2019-09 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
18 17 9787559436184 2019-05 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
23 18 9787559620125 2018-05 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version)(New Edition) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
14 19 9787201088945 2014-12 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 20 9787535447340 2014-02 The Poignant Culture Traveling Yu Qiuyu Changjiang Literature & Art Press Co.,Ltd.
24 21 9787544387873 2019-08 30 Minutes of Economics in Cartoon: Common Sense of Life Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
26 22 9787544388672 2019-09 30 Minutes of Economics in Cartoon: Financial Crisis Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
20 23 9787201094014 2015-09 Six Records of a Floating Life Shen Fu Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 24 9787549550173 2014-01 Seeing Off Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
22 25 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 26 9787108063106 2018-06 We Three (Third Edition) Yang Jiang SDX Joint Publishing Company
Not Ranked 27 9787540481827 2017-08 Gag Reel Li Dan Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 28 9787301109489 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.1) L. S. Stavrianos Peking University Press
Not Ranked 29 9787301110522 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.2) L. S. Stavrianos Peking University Press
15 30 9787521701579 2019-09 Hi I’m China Institute for Planets, The China Society on Tibet Plateau CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers, January 2020
December 2019 Ranking January 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
20 1 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
3 2 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
2 3 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 4 9787208061644 2018-02 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 5 9787544774635 2019-01 How the Steel Was Tempered (New Edition) Nikolai Alexeevich Ostrovsky Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Yilin Press
4 6 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
1 7 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 8 9787544760874 2016-10 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (New Edition) Jules Verne France Yilin Press
7 9 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
8 10 9787544277617 2015-06 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 11 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 12 9787544774666 2018-12 Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte Britain Yilin Press
18 13 9787530217054 2017-12 The Alchemist Paulo Coelho Brazil Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
9 14 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
Not Ranked 15 9787506390903 2017-11 Sophie’s World (Hardcover) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 16 9787544775717 2019-06 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (New Edition) Jules Verne France Yilin Press
12 17 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall Britain Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
16 18 9787559427434 2019-02 The Outsider Albert Camus France Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
10 19 9787221153159 2019-08 Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 Cho Nam-Joo Korea Guizhou People’s Publishing House
13 20 9787550033566 2019-09 Weathering with You Shinkai Makoto Japan Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers in China, January 2020
December 2019 Ranking January 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
2 1 9787544276986 201910 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover United States of America Nan Hai Publishing Co.
1 2 9787550268517 201607 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen United States of America Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
3 3 9787508095226 201809 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg United States of America Huaxia Publishing House
5 4 9787508660752 201702 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
4 5 9787108009821 201403 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States of America SDX Joint Publishing Company
11 6 9787301109489 200610 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.1) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
12 7 9787301110522 200610 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.2) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
8 8 9787535732309 200111 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking Britain Hunan Science & Technology Press
6 9 9787508684031 201712 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
7 10 9787201088822 201409 How to Win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie United States of America Tianjin People’s Publishing House
9 11 9787540489304 201901 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
10 12 9787514219203 201709 The Willpower Instinct (New Edition) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
Not Ranked 13 9787201151304 201909 One Two Three . . . Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science George Gamow United States of America Tianjin People’s Publishing House
16 14 9787020116133 201706 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
19 15 9787514208788 201307 The Willpower Instinct (Hardcover) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
Not Ranked 16 9787544774673 201901 Michelangelo / Tolstoy / Beethoven Romain Rolland France Yilin Press
Not Ranked 17 9787544760850 201701 Michelangelo / Tolstoy / Beethoven Romain Rolland France Yilin Press
14 18 9787521702415 201902 The American Trap Frederic Pierucci, Matthieu Aron France CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
13 19 9787508672069 201701 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
18 20 9787508650890 201505 Who Moved My Cheese? Spencer Johnson United States of America CITIC Publishing House 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. With authoritative data and information resources, OpenBook is able to deliver consulting service to partners who would like to explore the Chinese book market and identify suitable partners.

Jiang Boyan LLC advises authors and right’s holders on global intellectual property and investment opportunities.

As of July 1, this data is estimated by OpenBook to represent some 60 percent of the total sales activity in China. OpenBook draws point-of-sale data from more than 7,000 bookstores in China, including a total 4,151 physical bookstores representative of all the provinces in China except Tibet, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.

Retail outlets include:

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

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

  • The “Tmall” stores of Alibaba (Tmall is described as a marketplace of companies that create storefronts online to sell products including books)
  • The “JingDong” Stores of JD.com (similar to Tmall as a marketplace of both individual companies and bookstores operated by JD.com)
  • Ten independent online bookselling retailers

China has 500 or more publishers in operation today. Most of them, Trajectory CEO James Bryant clarifies, are government-owned. Private publishers are required to generate 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 China bestseller reports from Publishing Perspectives are here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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