China Bestsellers in September: Education Runs the Charts

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The reopening of China’s school system returns the autumn charts in the Chinese market to their familiar curriculum-weighted patterns.

On Jianghan Road in Wuhan, October 6. Image – iStockphoto: Robert Wei

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Back to School
Now, amid fast-rising coronavirus COVID-19 surges in so many parts of the world, it’s interesting to look back at Javier Hernández’ New York Times article from the month we’re looking at today in China’s bestseller lists.

‘Journey to the West’

And the connection there, of course—as we’ve observed in past years—is the education system as a driver in September’s book market in China.

What’s remarkable to watch in action this year, as Hernández wrote, is how “China’s top-down, state-led political system allows the party to drive its vast bureaucracy in pursuit of a single target—an approach that would be nearly impossible anywhere else in the world.”

By comparison to many other nations’ on-again, off-again efforts to reopen and maintain in-person school programs, the distinction is clear. In mid-September, Hernandez wrote, “Medical staff stood guard at school entrances, taking temperatures. Administrative officials reviewed the students’ travel histories and coronavirus test results. Local Communist Party cadres kept watch, making sure teachers followed detailed instructions on hygiene and showed an ‘anti-epidemic spirit.’”

‘Danshari’

And so it is that the book market, then, is seeing the normal autumn impact of the school year’s return, which our associates at Beijing OpenBook note is normally more easily observed in physical store channels than at digital points of sale.

The resulting September fiction bestseller chart, has stabilized in traditional education-driven patters, then, with Journey to the West by Wu Cheng’en from the People’s Literature Publishing House jumping, for example, from No. 20 in August to No. 3 in September as the curriculum lists kick in.

In nonfiction, the team in Beijing points out, more differences in what sells online and off-line surfaces in September’s charts. Self-help and family education books seem to be performing well in the online sales environment. There appears to be a particular interest in books that address the pressures of what’s described as “workplace success” and “social network development”—elements of peer pressure especially for younger adults who are newly navigating careers and business positioning.

‘Nonviolent Communication’

Yamashita Eiko’s Danshari is such a title, from Hunan Literature and Art Press.

Perhaps in relation to families’ efforts to bolster educational efforts at home, titles including Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson (Beijing Union Publishing Company) and Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenburg (Huaxia Publishing House) are showing resilience in September’s upper notches.

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, September 2020
August 2020 Ranking September 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
2 1 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
3 2 9787506365437 2010-06 To Live Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
20 3 9787020008735 1998-07 Journey to the West Wu Cheng’en People’s Literature Publishing House
5 4 9787530216781 2017-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumes) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
13 5 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
8 6 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
4 7 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
6 8 9787020164776 2020-07 A Late Bloomer Mo Yan People’s Literature Publishing House
17 9 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin,Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
9 10 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
10 11 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House
11 12 9787559620187 2018-10 Ran Freely Wu Zhe Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
7 13 9787559439482 2020-04 Ran Freely (3) Wu Zhe Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
1 14 9787559439833 2020-07 The Only One Mu Suli Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
12 15 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
14 16 9787559446848 2020-04 Ran Freely (2) (2020 Edition) Wu Zhe Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
15 17 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
18 18 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
19 19 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
22 20 9787544280662 2020-03 Silent Parade Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 21 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
24 22 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
25 23 9787020008742 1998-07 Water Margin Shi Nai’an,Luo Guanzhong People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 24 9787530219218 2019-02 Life is Like Ocean Mai Jia Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 25 9787020008728 1998-07 Romance of the Three Kingdoms Luo Guanzhong People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 26 9787530217061 2020-01 Life Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 27 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
26 28 9787569930337 2019-06 Underachieve Mu Gua Huang Bejing Times Chinese Press
Not Ranked 29 9787530679272 2020-08 Bloom of Youth (2) Wu Zhe Baihua Literature & Art Publishing House
16 30 9787559442680 2020-06 Break the Cloud (2) Huai Shang Jiangsu Literature & Art Press

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers, September 2020
August 2020 Ranking September 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
Not Ranked 1 9787540487850 2018-08 Guo Degang on Chinese Cultural History Guo Degang Hunan Literature & Art Press
4 2 9787020116133 2016-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow People’s Literature Publishing House
3 3 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
2 4 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 5 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 6 9787101127867 2017-09 Translation and Annotation of the Analects of Confucius Zhonghua Book Company
12 7 9787540484880 2018-01 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo (Commemorative Edition) Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
6 8 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg Huaxia Publishing House
7 9 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
8 10 9787544387866 2019-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (4) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
1 11 9787559643872 2020-08 May You 2.0 Da Bing Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
11 12 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
14 13 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
18 14 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
15 15 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
24 16 9787549631698 2020-05 30 Minutes of Science History in Cartoon Chen Lei Wenhui Publishing House
16 17 9787559418111 2018-04 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
21 18 9787559436184 2019-05 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
9 19 9787559620125 2018-05 Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right (Full Version)(New Edition) Gao Ming Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
Not Ranked 20 9787020135639 2018-03 I and the Temple of Earth Shi Tiesheng People’s Literature Publishing House
13 21 9787201088945 2014-12 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
26 22 9787559435552 2019-09 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
17 23 9787532174997 2020-03 30 Minutes of Song Poetry in Cartoon Chen Lei Shanghai Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 24 9787544768535 2017-06 Dawn Blossoms Plucked at Dusk Lu Xun Yilin Press
27 25 9787549550173 2014-01 Seeing Off Long Yingtai Guangxi Normal University Press
19 26 9787503568404 2020-07 Xi Jinping in Fuzhou Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press
25 27 9787530214787 2017-04 The Stories of the Sahara Echo Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 28 9787503567285 2020-01 Xi Jinping in Xiamen Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press
Not Ranked 29 9787503567292 2020-01 Xi Jinping in Ningde Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C Central Party School Press
28 30 9787521708554 2019-09 Style Wu Jun CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers, September 2020
August 2020 Ranking September 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
2 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.
3 3 9787208061644 2018-02 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
4 4 9787544280662 2020-03 Silent Parade Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
9 5 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X 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.
8 7 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
14 8 9787544297059 2020-03 Love in the Time of Cholera (3 Million Sold Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
11 9 9787544291224 2017-08 After School (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
7 10 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
6 11 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
12 12 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee United States of America Yilin Press
10 13 9787544299015 2020-05 The Camphor Keeper Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
13 14 9787544280020 2019-08 What Life You Want to Have Yoshino Genzaburo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
16 15 9787530217054 2017-12 The Alchemist Paulo Coelho Brazil Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
15 16 9787544281102 2016-01 Newcomer Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
20 17 9787201116693 2017-05 My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry Fredrik Backman Sweden Tianjin People’s Publishing House
17 18 9787550013247 2015-05 Ferryman Claire McFall United Kingdom Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
19 19 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
18 20 9787550032125 2019-02 Outcasts Claire McFall United Kingdom Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers, September 2020
August 2020 Ranking September 2020 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
Not Ranked 1 9787115536198 2020-05 Heart: Kazuo Inamori’s Philosophy of Life Kazuo Inamori Japan Posts & Telecommunications Publishing House
2 2 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen United States of America Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
3 3 9787020116133 2017-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 4 9787111635574 2019-10 The Working Methods of Kazuo Inamori Kazuo Inamori Japan China Machine Press
1 5 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover United States of America Nan Hai Publishing Co.
4 6 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 7 9787520711531 2019-11 A Compass to Fulfillment Kazuo Inamori Japan Orient Press
Not Ranked 8 9787540471194 2019-02 Relationship: Bridge to the Soul Christoper Moon Canada Hunan Literature & Art Press
5 9 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg United States of America Huaxia Publishing House
Not Ranked 10 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
6 11 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 12 9787210096528 2017-09 Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Carol S.Dweck United States of America Jiangxi People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 13 9787220114045 2019-07 Rich Dad Poor Dad Robert T.Kiyosaki United States of America Sichuan People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 14 9787807639817 2013-07 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Japan Guangxi Science & Technology Press
7 15 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
15 16 9787547734315 2019-09 Life is Worth Living Nakamura Tsuneko Japan Beijing daily publishing house
Not Ranked 17 9787521713305 2020-03 What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence Stephen A. Schwarzman United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
12 18 9787201088822 2014-09 How to Win Friends & Influence People Dale Carnegie United States of America Tianjin People’s Publishing House
8 19 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W.Hawking United Kingdon Hunan Science & Technology Press
Not Ranked 20 9787108009821 2014-03 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States of America SDX Joint Publishing Company

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.

Students at the entrance to Tongii, a junior high school on Zhengtong Road in Shanghai’s Yangpu district. Image – iStockphoto: SCQBJ-JZ


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.

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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