China Bestsellers May: ‘Online Literature’ Powers a Trilogy

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China’s popular ‘online literature’ sector creates new print power for the ‘Run Freely’ series by Wu Zhe, as bookstores battle to regain their pre-pandemic sales levels.

At the entrance to a Beijing shopping mall, consumers scan their smartphone tracking QR codes on April 17 to register their presence and get clearance to enter. Image – iStockphoto: Qizai

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

Growing Sales Amid Troubling Statistics
Our associates at Beijing OpenBook are reporting that from April to May, their research on physical bookstore sales activity shows a growth of 12.73 percent—another indication, of course, that the Chinese market is gaining more ground after its early encounter with the coronavirus COVID-19.

As we’ve understood from other reports from OpenBook this year, the plunge of brick-and-mortar book sales in China hit its deepest point in February as the most stringent lockdowns came into play. While the return of business is good to see, you’ll note that the ascent (the blue line in the chart below) is rather mild—not the “V-shaped” recovery that so many economists and international publishers would certainly like to experience.

Image: Beijing OpenBook

And media reports now tell of complications in the capital city’s status.

By Friday (June 19), CNN’s Nectar Gan was reporting that the new cases numbered more than 180 people, and in a report today (June 22), the network’s David Culver has updated that figure to a potential 230 cases. All this follows some 55 days without reports of new cases in Beijing, which authorities had strictly guarded against incoming cases from outside the city.

At Reuters, Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao are reporting 22 new cases in Beijing (population 20 million) for a total 227 confirmed cases, per the National Health Commission.

The 8:33 a.m. ET update (1233 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center has 84,573 cases, total, in China and 4,639 deaths. That caseload places the market at No. 21 in the world.

The Energy of ‘Online Literature’

Developments in the market in May point to new growth in the country’s already powerful “online literature” sector—usually characterized as series genre stories followed by enormous numbers of fans, not just in China but in several Asian markets.

‘Ran Freely,’ Volume 2

As our OpenBook colleagues point out, this is a phenomenon driven by readers’ attachment to authors, especially because the digital setting allows for reader-author interaction. When print editions of popular online literature are released, the normal marketing scheme includes a lot of swag—posters, stickers, bookmarks, and sometimes new writings by the most iconic authors, print-only pieces not published online.

Young-adult women make up the majority of consumers in this sector, and a look at their ability to affect the charts is right in front of us in May’s numbers.

The Ran Freely series by Wu Zhe is charting, as you’ll see, in all three of its print volumes, and it was created as an online literature series between October 2016 and May 2017.

  • The first volume in May jumps to No. 9 from No. 17 in April. Published in 2018, this title has appeared 18 times on the fiction bestseller list.
  • The second volume (in a new 2020 edition) is at No. 15, newly entering the list.
  • The third volume, just released in April, outdoes both No. 1 and 2, making its chart debut at No. 6. In short, you’re seeing a series-closer rekindle sales for its two predecessors.

‘Break the Cloud’

The next title of this kind to watch is Break the Cloud, which you’ll see at May’s No. 29.

This book, too, began as online literature which, of course, was accessible to readers right through the coronavirus mitigation efforts when physical bookstores were closed.

And the five books entering the fiction bestseller chart in May are:

  • Ran Freely (3) by Wu Zhe, at No. 6
  • Ran Freely (2) (2020 Edition) by Wu Zhe, No. 15
  • What Life You Want to Have by Yoshino Genzaburo, No. 24
  • Break the Cloud by Huai Shang, No. 29
  • Life by Lu Yao, No. 30
A Screen-Powered Japanese Favorite

In books imported into the Chinese market—our foreign author listings—there’s a demonstration at No. 8 of how much marketing can influence what otherwise might be a tough entry into the readership’s favor.

‘What You Have in Life’

What Life You Want To Have–also known as How Do You Live?–is a 1937 work by the Japanese author Yoshino Genzaburo, telling the story of a 15-year-old boy and his spiritual upbringing. When an animated film based on the book was announced by the now 79-year-old filmmaker and manga artist Miyazaki Hayao in 2017, three years of exposure for the screen work’s imagery helped build anticipation, with a special appeal to nostalgic memories of the work for consumers.

The tag line developed for the cinematic edition has been especially smart for capturing a sense of nostalgia for the work: “Miyazaki Read This Book From Age 10 to 70.”

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, May 2020
April 2020 Ranking May 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
10 1 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
2 2 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
1 3 9787530219218 2019-02 Life is Like Ocean Mai Jia Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
3 4 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
4 5 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
Not Ranked 6 9787559439482 2020-04 Ran Freely (3) Wu Zhe Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
11 7 9787559614636 2017-12 Fang Si-Qi’s First Love Paradise Lin Yihan Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
6 8 9787544280662 2020-03 Silent Parade Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
17 9 9787559620187 2018-10 Ran Freely Wu Zhe Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
8 10 9787506365437 2010-06 To Live Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
7 11 9787530216781 2017-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumns) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
5 12 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin,Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
9 13 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
13 14 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 15 9787559446848 2020-04 Ran Freely (2) (2020 Edition) Wu Zhe Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
20 16 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
15 17 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
19 18 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
18 19 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House
16 20 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 21 9787506344791 2008-12 Street Wizards Feng Jicai The Writer’s Publishing House
14 22 9787500680239 2009-01 Pioneering Liu Qing China Youth Press
26 23 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Shanghai Translation Publishing House
Not Ranked 24 9787544280020 2019-08 What Life You Want to Have Yoshino Genzaburo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
23 25 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee Yilin Press
27 26 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
24 27 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder The Writer’s Publishing House
25 28 9787020008728 1998-07 Romance of the Three Kingdoms Luo Guanzhong People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 29 9787559436399 2019-07 Break the Cloud Huai Shang Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 30 9787530217061 2020-01 Life Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers, May 2020
April 2020 Ranking May 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 2 9787559620125 2018-05 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version)(New Edition) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
2 3 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
4 4 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Hunan Literature & Art Press
3 5 9787201088945 2014-12 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
5 6 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg Huaxia Publishing House
Not Ranked 7 9787010219783 2020-04 100 Questions About National Security Compile Group of 100 Questions About National Security People’s Publishing House
8 8 9787503567292 2020-01 Xi Jinping in Ningde Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press
Not Ranked 9 9787505748736 2020-03 Grow Up with Your Child Fan Deng China Friendship Publishing Company
7 10 9787544387866 2019-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (4) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
10 11 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
12 12 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
9 13 9787108063106 2018-06 We Three (Third Edition) Yang Jiang SDX Joint Publishing Company
Not Ranked 14 9787201088822 2014-09 How to Win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie Tianjin People’s Publishing House
13 15 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
Not Ranked 16 9787532174997 2020-03 30 Minutes of Song Poetry in Cartoon Chen Lei Shanghai Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 17 9787201094014 2015-09 Six Records of a Floating Life Shen Fu Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 18 9787544391931 2020-03 30 Minutes of Economics in Cartoon: Financial Crisis (The End) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
23 19 9787503567285 2020-01 Xi Jinping in Xiamen Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press
20 20 9787540484880 2018-01 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo (Commemorative Edition) Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
16 21 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
17 22 9787508689586 2018-07 Economics Lecture Notes Xue Zhaofeng CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
27 23 9787503561634 2017-08 Xi Jinping’s Seven Years as an Educated Youth Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press
14 24 9787559436184 2019-05 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
15 25 9787559418111 2018-04 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
19 26 9787530216590 2017-04 Silent Majority Wang Xiaobo Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
11 27 9787559435552 2019-09 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
18 28 9787544387873 2019-08 30 Minutes of Economics in Cartoon: Common Sense of Life Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
21 29 9787544388672 2019-09 30 Minutes of Economics in Cartoon: Financial Crisis Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
25 30 9787530216712 2017-04 A Unique Pig Wang Xiaobo Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers, May 2020
April 2020 Ranking  May 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787544280662 2020-03 Silent Parade Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
2 2 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
3 3 9787208061644 2018-02 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
4 4 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 5 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 6 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
12 7 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
7 8 9787544280020 2019-08 What Life You Want to Have Yoshino Genzaburo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
9 9 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee United States of America Yilin Press
10 10 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
15 11 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
8 12 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
14 13 9787201116693 2017-05 My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry Fredrik Backman Sweden Tianjin People’s Publishing House
17 14 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall United Kingdom Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
13 15 9787544297059 2020-03 Love in the Time of Cholera (Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
11 16 9787221153159 2019-08 Kim Ji-young, Born 1982 Cho Nam-Joo Korea Guizhou People’s Publishing House
18 17 9787539982830 2015-06 Everything I Never Told You Celeste Ng United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
20 18 9787539971810 2015-04 The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry Gabrielle Zevin United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 19 9787544291224 2017-08 After School (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
16 20 9787544384636 2018-09 The Long Goodbye Raymond Chandler United States of America Hainan Publishing House

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers, May 2020
April 2020 Ranking May 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.
3 3 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
4 4 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg United States of America Huaxia Publishing House
6 5 9787540471194 2019-02 Relationship: Bridge to the Soul Christoper Moon Canada Hunan Literature & Art Press
8 6 9787547734315 2019-09 Life is Worth Living Nakamura Tsuneko Japan Beijing daily publishing house
12 7 9787201088822 2014-09 How to Win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie United States of America Tianjin People’s Publishing House
11 8 9787514219203 2017-09 The Willpower Instinct (New Edition) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
13 9 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
18 10 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking United Kingdom Hunan Science & Technology Press
17 11 9787108009821 2014-03 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States of America SDX Joint Publishing Company
16 12 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
20 13 9787508672069 2017-01 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 14 9787301109489 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.1) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
Not Ranked 15 9787301110522 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.2) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
Not Ranked 16 9787508692098 2018-07 21 Lessons for the 21st Century Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 17 9787020116133 2017-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 18 9787514208788 2013-07 The Willpower Instinct (Hardcover) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
Not Ranked 19 9787521702415 2019-02 The American Trap Frederic Pierucci,Matthieu Aron France CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 20 9787544762885 2016-04 84, Charing Cross Road Helene Hanff United States of America Yilin 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 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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