China Bestsellers March 2020: Bookstores Buck the Pandemic’s Paralysis

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One bookstore company has offered medical workers a lifetime 20-percent discount in China, as the virus pressures normal sales.

The reopening effort is well underway in Shanghai in this April 20 shot, citizens monitored and color-coded for access to public venues through a phone app. Image – iStockphoto: Robert Wei

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

Schools’ Gradual Reopening May Energize the Charts
As in most markets, bookstores in China have struggled to maintain traction as much of the market’s sale activity went into e-commerce channels.

At this writing, the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, sees China—once the world’s original epicenter—as the 10th market in caseloads, reporting 83,938 cases and 4,637 deaths (4,512 of those in Hubei Province, where Wuhan is set). Those figures are from Johns Hopkins’ 9:31 a.m. ET update (1331 GMT).

Beijing OpenBook, our partner in producing these reports, says that book recommendations with keywords virus and bacteria can be expected to influence the April charts to come, having already boosted enormous interest in Jeremy Diamond’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.

The original was published in 1997 by WW Norton. The publisher Shi Bao Chu Ban (Tsai Fong Books) produced its newly popular Chinese edition in 2015.

And during the crisis, many Chinese bookstores—already watching growing amounts of their business move online—have seen normal sales activity go over a cliff.

In the Shaanxi Province city of Xi’an, Jia Hui Han Tang Book City watched its business drop by a reported 85 percent over the same two-week January period in 2019. Taking a gamble on where the consumers would be going for essential goods and services, the company closed its bookstore on January 27 and set up at least 88 pop-up locations in local supermarkets where food is sold.

The company also worked to engage readers online, asking them to log their reading, even of physical books, and to follow WeChat book sales.

The Beijing Xinhua chain of more than 50 stores in the capital, staying closer to the ground, has provided contactless delivery for customers who place their orders online.

A delivery worker for the Beijing Xinhua chain of bookstores readies his rounds to customers’ homes. Image: Beijing Xinhua, OpenBook

In Shandong Province’s Qingdao, the largest bookstore, So Book, emphasized corporate social responsibility efforts.

On February 9, the company—which has three locations, each designed with its own theme—announced a 20-percent discount for all credentialed medical workers for life at all three stores. So Book also worked the ether, as many stores in many markets have learned to do, to rev a sense of community and engagement among consumers.

One of So Book’s three locations in Qingdao. Image: So Book, OpenBook

And the Jian Tou Shu Ju (JIC) bookstore group—with stores in Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Nanjing, and other first-tier and key second-tier cities—made the astute estimation that it could see a decline of more than 50 percent in physical retail sales in January. So the company went into an aggressive online marketing campaign with a film-savvy slant, on February 3 mounting an online edition of its “Hollywood Art Exhibition.” Each day, the company highlighted a character from film with celebrity performers’ support and related titles at the ready.

Like other booksellers, the JIC group, also has offered live-stream events—theirs branded “The Shop Manager’s Study Room” and timed to 10 p.m. nightly aimed at building an ongoing relationship with reader-consumers.

A screenshot from the JIC bookstore group’s nightly stream, “The Shop Manager’s Study Room” group for reader community. Image: OpenBook

Looking To Move the Charts With Schools Reopening

As has been reported in the Straits Times and other news media, thousands of students returned to classes Monday (April 27) in Shanghai and Beijing, following months of education facility closures in the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic. Wuhan is expected to reopen its high schools on May 6.

A student returning to classes has her or his temperature checked and must also be showing a green (not yellow or red) smartphone QR code, part of the government’s enforced contact-tracing system that monitors citizens’ proximity to known concentrations of the pathogen.

And these are only partial openings. In Shanghai, only high school students and those in their last year of middle school are entering classrooms with desks spaced at measure distances. And in the heavily protected capital, only graduating seniors are returning because they’re in preparation for university entrance exams, reportedly delayed to July because of the crisis.

The Beijing OpenBook staff, which provides us with data on the vast Chinese market’s dynamics, reports a kind of push and pull in place on the charts, which are always heavily impacted by educational trends and assignments.

On one hand, our associates say, the bestseller rankings in March were almost at a standstill because primary and secondary schools have postponed their normal curricula, digital programming being the norm for students at home. Classics, reflected in their reading lists, hold sway on the charts, as does self-help. Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline is at No. 2 in nonfiction for what any of us living through #StayAtHome orders can tell you are obvious reasons.

But on the other hand, adult readers reportedly been reading more as they worked from home–again, however, with a focus on classics, something seen in other world markets. “In these days of staying at home,” one OpenBook associate tells us, “time-tested masterpieces seem to be no longer daunting, as more people actively add them to their own must-read lists.”

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, March 2020
February 2020 Ranking March 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787506365437 2010-06 To Live Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
9 2 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin,Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
2 3 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
3 4 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
4 5 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
7 6 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
8 7 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
10 8 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
5 9 9787530216781 2017-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumns) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
6 10 9787530219218 2019-02 Life is Like Ocean Mai Jia Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
12 11 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House
11 12 9787544277617 2015-06 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
15 13 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
16 14 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
14 15 9787559427434 2019-02 The Outsider Albert Camus Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
17 16 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
20 17 9787020008735 1998-07 Journey to the West Wu Cheng’en People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 18 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
13 19 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
23 20 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Shanghai Translation Publishing House
25 21 9787020008728 1998-07 Romance of the Three Kingdoms Luo Guanzhong People’s Literature Publishing House
27 22 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
19 23 9787500680239 2009-01 Pioneering Liu Qing China Youth Press
Not Ranked 24 9787506365680 2012-12 Chronicle of a Blood Merchant Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
18 25 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder The Writer’s Publishing House
30 26 9787559620187 2018-10 Ran Freely Wu Zhe Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
26 27 9787020008742 1998-07 Water Margin Shi Nai’an,Luo Guanzhong People’s Literature Publishing House
21 28 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
24 29 9787530216774 2017-07 Ordinary Word Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 30 9787020127894 2017-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers, March 2020
February 2020 Ranking March 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 2 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
2 3 9787201088945 2014-12 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
4 4 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg Huaxia Publishing House
3 5 9787544387866 2019-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (4) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
20 6 9787540489304 201-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Hunan Literature & Art Press
5 7 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
6 8 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
Not Ranked 9 9787540481827 2017-08 Gag Reel Li Dan Hunan Literature & Art Press
7 10 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
11 11 9787108063106 2018-06 We Three (Third Edition) Yang Jiang SDX Joint Publishing Company
14 12 9787559620125 2018-05 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version)(New Edition) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
18 13 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
8 14 9787508689586 201807 Economics Lecture Notes Xue Zhaofeng CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
9 15 9787559418111 2018-04 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
13 16 9787540481551 2018-11 The Emotional Quotient Lesson of Kevin Tsai: Live for Yourself for One Time Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
10 17 9787540493691 2019-11 Because This is Your Life Kevin Tsai Hunan Literature & Art Press
12 18 9787540484880 2018-01 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo (Commemorative Edition) Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
23 19 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
22 20 9787544389372 2019-11 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon: Traditional Chinese Festivals Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
28 21 9787521708554 2019-09 Style Wu Jun CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
15 22 9787559435552 2019-09 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
17 23 9787559436184 2019-05 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
19 24 9787544387873 2019-08 30 Minutes of Economics in Cartoon: Common Sense of Life Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
21 25 9787544388672 2019-09 30 Minutes of Economics in Cartoon: Financial Crisis Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
27 26 9787530214787 2017-04 The Stories of the Sahara Echo Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
29 27 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking Hunan Science & Technology Press
16 28 9787544771627 2018-03 Fu Lei’s Letters for Home (2018 Edition) Fu Lei, Fu Min Yilin Press
26 29 9787530216590 2017-04 Silent Majority Wang Xiaobo Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
24 30 9787549529322 2012-12 Insight Chai Jing Guangxi Normal University Press

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers, March 2020
February 2020 Ranking March 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
2 2 9787208061644 2018-02 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
3 3 9787544277617 2015-06 Love in the Time of Cholera Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
11 4 9787544280020 2019-08 What Life You Want to Have Yoshino Genzaburo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 5 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 6 9787559427434 2019-02 The Outsider Albert Camus France Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
7 7 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
13 8 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall Britain Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
4 9 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
10 10 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
8 11 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
9 12 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 13 9787544384636 2018-09 The Long Goodbye Raymond Chandler United States of America Hainan Publishing House
Not Ranked 14 9787539982830 2015-06 Everything I Never Told You Celeste Ng United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
12 15 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
14 16 9787539971810 2015-04 The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
16 17 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee United States of America Yilin Press
20 18 9787550032125 2019-02 Outcasts Claire McFall Britain Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
Not Ranked 19 9787201116693 2017-05 My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry Fredrik Backman Sweden Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 20 9787550024212 2017-09 Trespassers Claire McFall Britain Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers, March 2020
February 2020 Ranking March 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover United States of America Nan Hai Publishing Co.
2 2 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen United States of America Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
5 3 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg United States of America Huaxia Publishing House
4 4 9787540471194 2019-02 Relationship: Bridge to the Soul Christoper Moon Canada Hunan Literature & Art Press
13 5 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
11 6 9787201088822 2014-09 How to Win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie United States of America Tianjin People’s Publishing House
9 7 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
7 8 9787508687216 2018-08 Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty Abhijit V.Banerjee,Esther Duflo United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
12 9 9787514219203 2017-09 The Willpower Instinct (New Edition) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
14 10 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
17 11 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking Britain Hunan Science & Technology Press
15 12 9787301109489 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.1) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
16 13 9787301110522 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.2) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
10 14 9787108009821 2014-03 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States of America SDX Joint Publishing Company
18 15 9787514208788 2013-07 The Willpower Instinct (Hardcover) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
20 16 9787508672069 2017-01 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 17 9787515350622 2018-04 The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen R.Covey United States of America China Youth Press
Not Ranked 18 9787508692098 2018-07 21 Lessons for the 21st Century Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 19 9787020116133 2017-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 20 9787521702415 2019-02 The American Trap Frederic Pierucci, Matthieu Aron France 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 January 1, 2020, OpenBook monitored more than 10,000 online and offline bookstores.

The online channel includes digital retailers such as large self-operated online stores, platform stores, and small- and medium-sized stores. The offline channels include 4,495 bookstores. Coverage includes most of the state-owned and influential privately owned bookstores in 30 provinces, municipalities, and autonomous regions. Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet are not included in OpenBook’s system.

In 2019, OpenBook tracked around 71.72 billion RMB in sales (US$10.1 billion).

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. And more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

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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