China Bestsellers: April’s Slow Ride on the Spring Charts

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The pandemic ‘year of the backlist’ is still in force in China, the fiction and children’s charts moving especially slowly in spring sales.

At Nanchang West railway station, March 26. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Undefined Photos

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘The Year of the Backlist’ Rolls On
During the May 4 presentation of the Jerusalem International Book Forum, the Taipei-based literary agent Gray Tan of the Grayhawk Agency, talked of the last year as a pandemic “year of the backlist” in the Chinese market, with many of the books on the bestseller lists titles that “have been there for years.” And regular readers of our China bestseller lists will know exactly what he means.

‘Distant Savior’

Here in our charts for April, we again find Liu Cixin’s 2008 Three-Body Problem (Chongqing Publishing House) at No. 1 in fiction, and Liu Cixin’s The Dark Forest (also from Chonquing) at No. 3. As in so many markets, of course, such perennials are often referred to as “classics,” but when placed in context of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic—and also in many markets, not just in China—there’s an indication of how hard the past year may have been for emerging authors and newly introduced work.

The moving sector in China continues to be work that has begun life as “online literature,” the preferred market phrase for serialized fiction eked out on huge reading-and-writing platforms. In April, our associates at Beijing Open Book point to three of the only four books newly arriving on the fiction charts as having first appeared as online literature:

  • You are My Desire by Xi Jian, ranked No.22
  • Douluo Continent (29) by Tang Jia San Shao, ranked No. 25
  • When Rumor Becomes Truth by Man Man He Qi Duo, ranked No. 27

The one newcomer to the fiction list is, actually, a book published in 2005, Distant Savior by Dou Dou, from the Writer’s Publishing House. It turns out that this is a book on which a television series, The Way of Heaven, was based. The book, it seems, spent some 13 months of primarily online-retail sales to work itself onto the list in April at No. 9.

‘Counselling for Toads’

In nonfiction, however, there’s something of a shakeup, the almost perpetual No. 1, Tara Westover’s Educated: A Memoir at last slipping and landing at No 3. Taking its place at the top of the list: Counseling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure by Robert de Board. The book is said to be “a classic introductory text in psychology.

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

In August 2020, Guomai redesigned the latest edition and planned a series of marketing promotions on social media platforms including Weibo, WeChat, Douban, Xiaohongshu, and TikTok. it all seems to have worked, with sales rising and making a first appearance on the chart.

And in kids’ books, the Top 30 in April were “nearly all ‘old friends'” as our associates put it, with those “classics” being spotted on the list up and down the chart.

‘Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain Teaser: Clever Little Prodigy’

But in fact, 24 of the Top 30 children’s books last month in China were all part of several sets of series from Bei Mao, the Mi Xiaoquan books, most from Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House. Within those multiple series, the Mi Xiaoquan School Experience held down 15 spots on the list in April, half the total 30 on the list, and Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain Teaser was next with eight titles on the list.

Author Bei Mao is at times likened, at least in scale of popularity, to Jeff Kinney, the talent behind the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series in the West. Suffice it to say, if you’re writing children’s books in China, it is good to be Bei Mao.

Below, then, are OpenBook’s overall lists from April of bestsellers in fiction, nonfiction, and children’s books, 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, April 2021
March 2021 Ranking April 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
4 2 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
3 3 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
7 4 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin, Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
5 5 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
2 6 9787530221099 2021-02 Wencheng Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
10 7 9787559452788 2020-12 First Frost Zhu Yi Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
9 8 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 9 9787506331746 2005-05 Distant Savior Dou Dou The Writer’s Publishing House
11 10 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 11 9787506344791 2008-12 Street Wizards Feng Jicai The Writer’s Publishing House
16 12 9787530216781 2017-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumns) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
6 13 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 14 9787530216774 2017-07 Ordinary Word Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
12 15 9787506365437 2010-06 To Live Yu hua The Writer’s Publishing House
13 16 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
8 17 9787555285298 2020-03 Hidden Love Zhu Yi Qingdao Publishing House
Not Ranked 18 9787521208740 2020-01 Street Wizards (3) Feng Jicai The Writer’s Publishing House
14 19 9787550032071 2019-02 White Olive Tree Jiu Yuexi Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
15 20 9787521210033 2020-09 Sit for a While Tea House Jia Pingwa The Writer’s Publishing House
24 21 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee Yilin Press
Not Ranked 22 9787550032859 2019-07 You are My Desire Xi Jian Baihuazhou Literature & Art Publishing House
21 23 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 24 9787557023225 2020-12 The Antidote Wu Zhe Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
Not Ranked 25 9787556257775 2021-03 Douluo Continent Ⅳ (29) Tang Jia San Shao Hunan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
20 26 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 27 9787559446886 2020-09 When Rumor Becomes Truth Man Man He Qi Duo Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
27 28 9787500680239 2009-01 Pioneering Liu Qing China Youth Press
Not Ranked 29 9787229100605 2016-07 The Three-Body Problem (Collector’s Edition) Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
Not Ranked 30 9787530219218 2019-02 Life is Like Ocean Mai Jia Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers, April 2021
March 2021 Ranking April 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
Not Ranked 1 9787201161693 2020-08 Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure Robert de Board Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 2 9787572201882 2020-08 The Value Zhang Lei Zhejiang Education Press Co.,Ltd
1 3 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover Nan Hai Publishing Co.
3 4 9787549632725 2020-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (5) Chen Lei Wenhui Publishing House
7 5 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
2 6 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
10 7 9787559640246 2020-04 Gag Reel (Signature Edition) Li Dan Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
4 8 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
5 9 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
6 10 9787544387866 2019-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (4) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
9 11 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg Huaxia Publishing House
8 12 9787559418111 2018-04 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
11 13 9787559639134 2020-06 The Rise of China Jin Yinan Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
18 14 9787108063106 2018-06 We Three (Third Edition) Yang Jiang SDX Joint Publishing Company
Not Ranked 15 9787557023041 2020-10 If History were a Group of Cats: Sui and Tang Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
Not Ranked 16 9787559313652 2017-09 If History were a Group of Cats: Xia, Shang and Western Zhou Dynasty Fei Zhi Heilongjiang Fine Arts Press
12 17 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 18 9787559330260 2018-06 If History were a Group of Cats: The Spring-autumn and Warring State Period Fei Zhi Heilongjiang Fine Arts Press
15 19 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 20 9787557017477 2019-02 If History were a Group of Cats: Qin, Chu, Western Han and Eastern Han Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
Not Ranked 21 9787557021856 2020-05 If History were a Group of Cats: Wei, Jin and the Northern and Southern Dynasties Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
Not Ranked 22 9787557020149 2019-09 If History were a Group of Cats: Three Kingdoms Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
Not Ranked 23 9787557020132 2019-09 If History were a Group of Cats: The End of Eastern Han Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
20 24 9787201088945 2014-12 No More Than Skins Cai Chongda Tianjin People’s Publishing House
14 25 9787540487850 2018-08 Guo Degang on Chinese Cultural History Guo Degang Hunan Literature & Art Press
16 26 9787508689586 2018-07 Economics Lecture Notes Xue Zhaofeng CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 27 9787505748736 2020-03 Grow Up with Your Child Fan Deng China Friendship Publishing Company
Not Ranked 28 9787540498627 2021-01 Guo Degang’s View: Jianghu Guo Degang Hunan Literature & Art Press
22 29 9787559436184 2019-05 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 30 9787559435552 2019-09 30 Minutes of Tang Poetry in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press

OpenBook’s Children’s Bestsellers, April 2021
March 2021 Ranking April 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787521726473 2020-12 A Dog Named Money Bodo Schafer CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
10 2 9787536593749 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Game of the Wise Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
9 3 9787536574397 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Clever Little Prodigy Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
7 4 9787536574366 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Stratego Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
12 5 9787536593756 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Password Discovery Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
15 6 9787536593459 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: ‘Have a Meal’ Restaurant Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
2 7 9787534633362 2005-05 Bronze and Sunflower Cao Wenxuan Jiangsu Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
13 8 9787536574380 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Who’s the Smart Guy? Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
16 9 9787536593442 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: The Magic Lamp Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
14 10 9787536574373 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: The Great Adventure of the Castle Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
5 11 9787536587694 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: I am a Pupil Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
6 12 9787536587724 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Look at This Family Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
8 13 9787536587717 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: A Dog Called Rat Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
11 14 9787536587700 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: My Good Friend Tie Tou Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
20 15 9787536587762 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: If I Have a Time Machine Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
22 16 9787536587755 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Secrets of Nature Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
21 17 9787536587731 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Trouble of the New Deskmate Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
23 18 9787536587748 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: A Lot of Fun Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
19 19 9787544288590 2018-06 Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window (2018 Edition) Kuroyanagi Tetsuko Nan Hai Publishing Co.
3 20 9787559706522 2018-05 The Foolish and the Unhappy (With Chinese Pinyin) Ren Rongrong Zhejiang Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
28 21 9787536587793 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Comedy King Comes Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 22 9787536587809 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Cheers, Soccer Boy Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 23 9787536596313 2019-12 Mi Xiaoquan’s Idioms Comic Games Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 24 9787536587786 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Naughty Boy and Grandpa Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 25 9787536587779 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: I Have a Super Follow Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
24 26 9787536588103 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: The Future Me Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
25 27 9787536588110 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Undercover Deskmate Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 28 9787536588202 2017-11 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Meet Mr. Cat Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
4 29 9787533299224 2018-10 Fantastic Mr. Fox Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake Tomorrow Publishing House
18 30 9787558900648 2017-07 Winter of Three Hairs (With Chinese Pinyin) Zhang Leping Juvenile & Children’s Publishing House

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers, April 2021
March 2021 Ranking April 2021 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 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 3 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee United States of America Yilin Press
4 4 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
5 5 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood (30th Anniversary Edition) Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
12 6 9787532175512 2020-05 13 Steps Kazuaki Takano Japan Shanghai Literature & Art Press
8 7 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
11 8 9787544298995 2020-09 Miracles of the Namiya General Store (2020 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
3 9 9787208061644 2018-02 The Kite Runner (2018 Edition) Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
15 10 9787544297059 2020-03 Love in the Time of Cholera (3 Million Sold Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
9 11 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
10 12 9787544291224 2017-08 After School (2017 Edition) Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 13 9787532786831 2021-03 Klara and The Sun Kazuo Ishiguro United Kingdom Shanghai Translation Publishing House
16 14 9787201116693 2017-05 My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry Fredrik Backman Sweden Tianjin People’s Publishing House
7 15 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States of America Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
14 16 9787544281102 2016-01 Newcomer Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
13 17 9787544280662 2020-03 Silent Parade Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 18 9787544280020 2019-08 What Life You Want to Have Yoshino Genzaburo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
17 19 9787555910749 2020-12 The Silent Patient Alex Michaelides United Kingdom Henan Literature & Art Press
20 20 9787544270878 2014-04 Miracles of the Namiya General Store Higashino Keigo Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers, April 2021
March 2021 Ranking April 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787201161693 2020-08 Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure Robert de Board United Kingdom Tianjin People’s Publishing House
2 2 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover United States of America Nan Hai Publishing Co.
3 3 9787111495482 2020-03 The Courage to Be Disliked Kishimi Ichiro Japan China Machine Press
4 4 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen United States of America Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
5 5 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg United States of America Huaxia Publishing House
7 6 9787540471194 2019-02 Relationship: Bridge to the Soul Christoper Moon Canada Hunan Literature & Art Press
6 7 9787111635574 2019-10 The Working Methods of Kazuo Inamori Kazuo Inamori Japan China Machine Press
8 8 9787520711531 2019-11 A Compass to Fulfillment Kazuo Inamori Japan Orient Press
9 9 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Yamashita Eiko Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
14 10 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
12 11 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
11 12 9787220114045 2019-07 Rich Dad Poor Dad Robert T. Kiyosaki United States of America Sichuan People’s Publishing House
10 13 9787115536198 2020-05 Heart: Kazuo Inamori’s Philosophy of Life Kazuo Inamori Japan Posts & Telecommunications Publishing House
15 14 9787547734315 2019-09 Life is Worth Living Nakamura Tsuneko Japan Beijing daily publishing house
16 15 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 16 9787508672069 2017-01 Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
18 17 9787108009821 2014-03 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States of America SDX Joint Publishing Company
19 18 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W. Hawking United Kingdom Hunan Science & Technology Press
20 19 9787521713305 2020-03 What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence Stephen A. Schwarzman United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
17 20 9787020116133 2017-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House

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, Jiang Boyan 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.

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.

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