China Bestsellers in July: Student Reading Drives the Charts

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Having had ‘almost a full semester’ of virtual classes by July, vacationing school students in China turned to recommended reading lists, a seasonal effect holding up in the pandemic year.

In the Beijing subway system, June 18. Image – iStockphoto: Sibway

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

School Reading Lists Rule During Summer Break
By July, primary and secondary students in the Chinese educational system had had what our associates at Beijing OpenBook describe as “almost a full semester of distance learning at home,” and were able to enjoy a summer vacation.

‘Red Crag,’ moved in July to No. 6 on OpenBook’s overall fiction list

Despite the impact of the coronavirus COVID-29 pandemic, the winter and summer holidays basically stood as bookends to the heaviest of the spread-mitigation restrictions on much of Chinese society, and thus “holiday characteristics” are showing up in the July data. Specifically, the lists show student-vacation recommended reading underway, with classic titles–some of these classics relatively contemporary and politically based–seeing their sales increasing.

For example, here is the durable Red Crag (sometimes translated as Red Rock), a 1961 novel, partially autobiographical, by Chinese authors Luo Guangbin and Yang Yiyan. The writers were inmates in a Nationalist Party prison in Sichuan. The book is set in Chongqing during the Chinese Civil War in 1949, and involves communist agents under the command of Zhou Enlai fighting an espionage battle against nationalists.

There’s also Ordinary World, by Lu Yao, set in the autumn of 1975, a year before the end of the Cultural Revolution in Shanxi province in China, a coming-of-age saga played out against a backdrop of economic and policy upheaval.

And from outside China, One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) by Gabriel García Márquez moves up on the lists, a perennial favorite.

‘Break the Cloud, Book 2

There are, however, three new entries in fiction in July, at least two of them parts of bestselling series, which—as in many Western markets—can help authors and publishers develop some dependable traction among loyal fans.

As OpenBook’s staffers are noting, when a consumer encounters a new entry in a series, it’s not unusual to see that reader buy the earlier series installments–good for sales–much as television series viewers will go back and watch a first season they missed before turning to a new second or third season.

Both Break the Cloud (Book 2) and The Cat Emperor and His Friends (Book 5) were released in June. They arrived with a large number of loyal readers ready to support subsequent distribution and sales of ensuing titles.

By contrast, Street Wizards (Book 3) is a new work by Feng Jicai and it has had a slower uptake in the charts. It was released in January of this year, and continues its two predecessor books in the series in format–the book comprises 18 short stories, each selected through primary and secondary school teaching materials. Built as it is on curriculum preferences, the summer school-reading break can be expected to boost its sales.

’30 Minutes of Science History’

The frequently expanding “30 Minutes” series of cartoon-format informational books from author and illustrator Chen Lei has grown again, this time taking on scientific history, with 30 Minutes of Science History standing at No. 20 in nonfiction after its release in May.

And, after two years on the market, Guo Degang on Chinese Cultural History reached No. 3 in July, its highest ranking to date. The book is an oral history designed to bring folk history into a concise, modern idiom, and its sales have benefitted from digital sales campaigns offering deep discounts.

Also newly on the list this month, When They Were Young Poets of Tang and Song Dynasty by Shao Nian Nu Ma.

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.

And at this writing, the 5:27 a.m. ET update (0927 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center shows China with a caseload of 89,695 infections in its population of 1.4 billion, with 4,711 deaths.

OpenBook’s Fiction Bestsellers, July 2020
June 2020 Ranking July 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
6 1 9787506365437 2010-06 To Live Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
1 2 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
3 3 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
4 4 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
2 5 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
9 6 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin,Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
12 7 9787530216781 2017-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumns) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
5 8 9787559439482 2020-04 Ran Freely (3) Wu Zhe Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
13 9 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
10 10 9787559620187 2018-10 Ran Freely Wu Zhe Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
Not Ranked 11 9787020008742 1998-07 Water Margin Shi Nai’an,Luo Guanzhong People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 12 9787559442680 2020-06 Break the Cloud (2) Huai Shang Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
23 13 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House
14 14 9787559446848 2020-04 Ran Freely (2) (2020 Edition) Wu Zhe Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 15 9787020008735 1998-07 Journey to the West Wu Cheng’en People’s Literature Publishing House
17 16 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
7 17 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
15 18 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 19 9787506344791 2008-12 Street Wizards Feng Jicai The Writer’s Publishing House
24 20 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder The Writer’s Publishing House
11 21 9787544280662 2020-03 Silent Parade Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 22 9787530216774 2017-07 Ordinary Word Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 23 9787020162796 2020-06 The Cat Emperor and His Friends (5) Bai Cha People’s Literature Publishing House
27 24 9787559436399 2019-07 Break the Cloud Huai Shang Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 25 9787020008728 1998-07 Romance of the Three Kingdoms Luo Guanzhong People’s Literature Publishing House
8 26 9787530219218 2019-02 Life is Like Ocean Mai Jia Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
21 27 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
28 28 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 29 9787521208740 2020-01 Street Wizards (3) Feng Jicai The Writer’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 30 9787569930337 2019-06 Underachieve Mu Gua Huang Bejing Times Chinese Press

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers, July 2020
June 2020 Ranking July 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
15 1 9787020116133 2016-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow People’s Literature Publishing House
1 2 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 3 9787540487850 2018-08 Guo Degang on Chinese Cultural History Guo Degang Hunan Literature & Art Press
2 4 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
6 5 9787544387866 2019-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (4) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
7 6 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
4 7 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg Huaxia Publishing House
10 8 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
8 9 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
3 10 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Hunan Literature & Art Press
11 11 9787559418111 2018-04 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 12 9787540484880 2018-01 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo (Commemorative Edition) Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
14 13 9787532174997 2020-03 30 Minutes of Song Poetry in Cartoon Chen Lei Shanghai Literature & Art Press
17 14 9787559436184 2019-05 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
19 15 9787559435552 2019-09 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
12 16 9787108063106 2018-06 We Three (Third Edition) Yang Jiang SDX Joint Publishing Company
28 17 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
5 18 9787559620125 2018-05 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version)(New Edition) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
9 19 9787201088945 2014-12 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 20 9787549631698 2020-05 30 Minutes of Science History in Cartoon Chen Lei Wenhui Publishing House
Not Ranked 21 9787549550173 2014-01 Seeing Off Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
24 22 9787530214787 2017-04 The Stories of the Sahara Echo Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 23 9787535447340 2014-02 The Poignant Culture Traveling Yu Qiuyu Changjiang Literature & Art Press Co.,Ltd.
Not Ranked 24 9787540493653 2020-01 When They were Young: Poets of Tang and Song Dynasty Shao Nian Nu Ma Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 25 9787020116379 2016-08 The Long March (Revised Edition) Wang Shuzeng People’s Literature Publishing House
30 26 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking Hunan Science & Technology Press
18 27 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
16 28 9787544389372 2019-11 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon: Traditional Chinese Festivals Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
22 29 9787508689586 2018-07 Economics Lecture Notes Xue Zhaofeng CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
20 30 9787503567292 2020-01 Xi Jinping in Ningde Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers, July 2020
June 2020 Ranking July 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
3 1 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
1 2 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 3 9787208061644 2018-02 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
2 4 9787544280662 2020-03 Silent Parade Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
13 5 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
9 6 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
17 7 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
6 8 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
4 9 9787544299015 2020-05 The Camphor Keeper Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
11 10 9787544267618 201406- The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
12 11 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee United States of America Yilin Press
14 12 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
10 13 9787544291224 2017-08 After School (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
7 14 9787544297059 2020-03 Love in the Time of Cholera (3 Million Sold Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 15 9787530217054 2017-12 The Alchemist Paulo Coelho Brazil Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
8 16 9787544280020 2019-08 What Life You Want to Have Yoshino Genzaburo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 17 9787544774666 2018-12 Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë Britain Yilin Press
15 18 9787544281102 2016-01 Newcomer Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
18 19 9787201116693 2017-05 My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry Fredrik Backman Sweden Tianjin People’s Publishing House
20 20 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall United Kingdom Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers, July 2020
June 2020 Ranking July 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
12 1 9787020116133 2017-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
1 2 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover United States of America Nan Hai Publishing Co.
2 3 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen United States of America Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
5 4 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg United States of America Huaxia Publishing House
3 5 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
16 6 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
20 7 9787301110522 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.2) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
19 8 9787301109489 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.1) L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
14 9 9787514219203 2017-09 The Willpower Instinct (New Edition) Kelly McGonigal United States of America Cultural Development Publishing House
17 10 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W. Hawking United Kingdom Hunan Science & Technology Press
15 11 9787201088822 2014-09 How to Win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie United States of America Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 12 9787108009821 2014-03 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States of America SDX Joint Publishing Company
18 13 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 14 9787544775830 2019-07 Souvenirs Entomologiques Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre France Yilin Press
Not Ranked 15 9787544768559 2017-07 Souvenirs Entomologiques Jean-Henri Casimir Fabre France Yilin Press
Not Ranked 16 9787508672069 2017-01 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 17 9787544768511 2017-06 Three Days to See (New Edition) Helen Keller United States of America Yilin Press
8 18 9787547734315 2019-09 Life is Worth Living Nakamura Tsuneko Japan Beijing daily publishing house
Not Ranked 19 9787301269381 2019-09 A Global History:From Prehistory to 21ST Century L. S. Stavrianos United States of America Peking University Press
Not Ranked 20 9787508650890 2015-05 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 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 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. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.