China Bestsellers in December: ‘The Charm of History’

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Avidly read history-and-humor book series continued their hold on the nonfiction bestseller list in China at the end of 2021.

In Shanghai, a newly staged vaccination center on January 14. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Robert Way

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Series Lead in Nonfiction and Childrens’ Charts
As accustomed as we are to the slow-moving nature of China’s bestseller lists, 2021 December’s charts performed a near double-down on the big market’s fondness for the tried, the true, and the historical.

‘First Person Singular’

Only two books entered Beijing OpenBook’s Top 30 in fiction for the first time, and one of them, at No. 8, was a 2021 reprint of Yu Hua’s 1993 To Live from Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House. The other newcomer is Haruki Murakami’s story collection from spring 2021, First Person Singular. Published by Flower City Press, it enters the list at No. 11.

In nonfiction, that interesting fondness for history in small, humorous formats now has reached the undeniable classification of a craze in China.

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with Hainan Publishing House’s “30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon” series from Chen Lei. In December, eight spots on the nonfiction list were held by Lei.

The competitor is Guangdong Tourism Publishing House’s “If History Were a Group of Cats” series from Fei Zhi, having surpassed Chen’s “30 Minutes” popularity with nine titles on the list. In Fei’s series, our associates at OpenBook assure us, “Twelve cute cats are transformed into classic characters to let readers experience the charm of history again.”

‘If History Were a Group of Cats’

In Western markets, there of course is a great deal of historical writing in the nonfiction super-category. But “the charm of history” is not necessarily public relations and marketing people will think to present it to potential consumers. “Charm” in this context in China embraces humor and the abiding pleasure of domesticated animals, pets, cats in particular. Clearly, there may be a connection, too, between comfort and COVID-19, as China experiences new outbreaks with the omicron variant, imposing lockdowns at times.

The first round of “If History Were a Group of Cats” series books was released in 2017 and featured the Xia, Shang, and Western Zhou dynasties. Each year has seen another volume’s release, with an acceleration of titles to such a point that in bookstores now you can find seven volumes of those cats to choose from and eight volumes in online retail, our OpenBook associates report.

And series reign in children’s books, as well, the “Treasure Hunting” series by Jingding Comic from 21st Century Press Group hitting No. 1 in December.

Below, then, are OpenBook’s overall lists from December 2021 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, December 2021
November 2021 Ranking December 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 9787506331746 2005-05 Distant Savior Dou Dou The Writer’s Publishing House
2 3 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
3 4 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
5 5 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
18 6 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin, Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
6 7 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 8 9787530221532 2021-10 To Live (2021 Edition) Yu Hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
16 9 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House
9 10 9787572602825 2021-08 Always Have, Always Will Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 11 9787536094857 2021-11 First Person Singular Haruki Murakami Flower City Press
12 12 9787506368698 2013-06 The World Under the Sky Dou Dou The Writer’s Publishing House
23 13 9787020164776 2020-07 A Late Bloomer Mo Yan People’s Literature Publishing House
14 14 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Keigo Higashino Nan Hai Publishing Co.
20 15 9787530219218 2019-02 A Wavy Life Mai Jia Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
13 16 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee Yilin Press
25 17 9787530221099 2021-02 Wencheng Yu Hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
22 18 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Keigo Higashino Nan Hai Publishing Co.
26 19 9787544298995 2020-09 Miracles of the Namiya General Store (2020 Edition) Keigo Higashino Nan Hai Publishing Co.
17 20 9787020008735 1998-07 Journey to the West Wu Cheng’en People’s Literature Publishing House
24 21 9787020090006 2012-07 Fortress Besieged Qian Zhongshu People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 22 9787559452788 2020-12 First Frost Zhu Yi Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
11 23 9787530221396 2021-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumns)(2021 Edition) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
27 24 9787559455000 2021-06 First Frost (The End) Zhu Yi Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
10 25 9787530215593 2017-06 To Live Yu Hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 26 9787557024147 2021-09 FOG Man Man He Qi Duo Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
29 27 9787555285298 2020-03 Hidden Love Zhu Yi Qingdao Publishing House
Not Ranked 28 9787229100605 2016-07 The Three-Body Problem (Collector’s Edition) Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
15 29 9787559614636 2017-12 Fang Si-Qi’s First Love Paradise Lin Yihan Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
28 30 9787540491949 2019-06 I Belonged to You (Revised Edition) Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers, December 2021
November 2021 Ranking December 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787201161693 2020-08 Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure Robert de Board Tianjin People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 2 9787544334792 2011-01 Close to The Buddha Khenpo Sherab Zangpo Rinpoche Hainan Publishing House
Not Ranked 3 9787557025847 2021-11 If History were a Group of Cats: Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
8 4 9787557024413 2021-05 If History were a Group of Cats: Prosperity of the Tang Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
9 5 9787559313652 2017-09 If History were a Group of Cats: Xia, Shang and Western Zhou Dynasty Fei Zhi Heilongjiang Fine Arts Press
11 6 9787557023041 2020-10 If History were a Group of Cats: Sui and Tang Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
10 7 9787559330260 2018-06 If History were a Group of Cats: The Spring-autumn and Warring State Period Fei Zhi Heilongjiang Fine Arts Press
Not Ranked 8 9787111495482 2015-04 The Courage to Be Disliked Ichiro Kishimi China Machine Press
13 9 9787557020149 2019-09 If History were a Group of Cats: Three Kingdoms Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
3 10 9787539999883 2017-03 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
14 11 9787557021856 2020-05 If History were a Group of Cats: Wei, Jin and the Northern and Southern Dynasties Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
12 12 9787557017477 2019-02 If History were a Group of Cats: Qin, Chu, Western Han and Eastern Han Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
4 13 9787549632725 2020-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (5) Chen Lei Wenhui Publishing House
15 14 9787557020132 2019-09 If History were a Group of Cats: The End of Eastern Han Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
5 15 9787544382045 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
6 16 9787544387866 2019-09 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (4) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
7 17 9787544382052 2018-05 30 Minutes of Chinese History in Cartoon (3) Chen Lei Hainan Publishing House
2 18 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover Nan Hai Publishing Co.
17 19 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
16 20 9787547739549 2021-05 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon (2) Chen Lei Beijing daily publishing house
19 21 9787559418111 2018-04 30 Minutes of World History in Cartoon Chen Lei Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
27 22 9787559639134 2020-06 The Rise of China Jin Yinan Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
18 23 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
23 24 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Eiko Yamashita Hunan Literature & Art Press
21 25 9787572603839 2021-09 Sai Lei’s Party History in Comics Sai Lei Hunan Literature & Art Press
24 26 9787555912156 2021-10 30 Minutes of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms in Cartoon Chen Lei Henan Literature & Art Press
26 27 9787521210255 2020-08 The Tough Brilliance Jin Yinan The Writer’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 28 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
Not Ranked 29 9787521701579 2019-09 Hi I’m China Institute for Planets,The China Society on Tibet Plateau CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
Not Ranked 30 9787213102615 2021-08 Centennial Party History in Cartoon: 1921-1949 Chen Lei, Chen Jin Zhejiang People’s Publishing House

OpenBook’s Children’s Bestsellers, December 2021
November 2021 Ranking December 2021 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
4 1 9787556855339 2021-08 Treasure Hunting in Heilongjiang Jingding Comic 21st Century Press Group
5 2 9787521726473 2020-12 A Dog Named Money Bodo Schafer CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
10 3 9787536574397 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Clever Little Prodigy Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
14 4 9787536574366 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Stratego Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
17 5 9787536574380 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Who’s the Smart Guy? Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
18 6 9787536574373 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: The Great Adventure of the Castle Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
15 7 9787533274269 2013-08 Guess How Much I Love You Sam McBratney, Anita Jeram Tomorrow Publishing House
9 8 9787536593749 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Game of the Wise Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
11 9 9787536593756 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Password Discovery Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
16 10 9787556848515 2020-04 Treasure Hunting in Hainan Jingding Comic 21st Century Press Group
13 11 9787536593442 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: The Magic Lamp Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
12 12 9787536593459 2020-05 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: ‘Have a Meal’ Restaurant Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
6 13 9787543464582 2007-05 My Dad Anthony Browne Hebei Education Press
20 14 9787556834549 2018-04 Treasure Hunting in Beijing Sun Jiayu, Wu Chengqi 21st Century Press Group
19 15 9787556844128 2019-10 Treasure Hunting in Xinjiang Jingding Comic, Sun Jiayu, Wu Chengqi 21st Century Press Group
21 16 9787556834532 2018-04 Treasure Hunting in Shanghai Sun Jiayu, Wu Chengqi 21st Century Press Group
25 17 9787536596313 2019-12 Mi Xiaoquan’s Idioms Comic Games Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
7 18 9787543464575 2007-06 My Mum Anthony Browne Hebei Education Press
Not Ranked 19 9787556854028 2020-12 Treasure Hunting in Qin Dynasty Jingding Comic 21st Century Press Group
23 20 9787536587731 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Trouble of the New Deskmate Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
24 21 9787536587694 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: I am a Pupil Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 22 9787556834624 2018-04 Treasure Hunting in Shaanxi Sun Jiayu, Wu Chengqi 21st Century Press Group
26 23 9787536587762 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: If I Have a Time Machine Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
28 24 9787536587748 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: A Lot of Fun Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
27 25 9787536587755 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Secrets of Nature Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
8 26 9787533299224 2018-10 Fantastic Mr. Fox Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake Tomorrow Publishing House
29 27 9787536587724 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Look at This Family Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 28 9787536587717 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: A Dog Called Rat Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 29 9787559649461 2021-06 Spirited Away Hayao Miyazaki Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
30 30 9787536587700 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: My Good Friend Tie Tou Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers, December 2021
November 2021 Ranking December 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.
Not Ranked 2 9787536094857 2021-11 First Person Singular Haruki Murakami Japan Flower City Press
4 3 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
3 4 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee United States Yilin Press
7 5 9787544285148 2016-10 Malice Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
9 6 9787544298995 2020-09 Miracles of the Namiya General Store (2020 Edition) Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
10 7 9787532175512 2020-05 13 Steps Kazuaki Takano Japan Shanghai Literature & Art Press
6 8 9787544267618 2014-06 The Devotion of Suspect X Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
2 9 9787506394864 2017-09 Sophie’s World (New Edition) Jostein Gaarder Norway The Writer’s Publishing House
12 10 9787544291224 2017-08 After School (2017 Edition) Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
18 11 9787544297059 2020-03 Love in the Time of Cholera (3 Million Sold Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 12 9787539967448 2014-02 The Godfather Mario Puzo United States Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
16 13 9787544281102 2016-01 Newcomer Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
20 14 9787539983295 2015-10 Foundation Isaac Asimov United States Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
5 15 9787539967363 2016-12 Dune Frank Herbert United States Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
11 16 9787208061644 2021-03 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini United States Shanghai People’s Publishing House
17 17 9787201116693 2017-05 My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry Fredrik Backman Sweden Tianjin People’s Publishing House
13 18 9787544297905 2021-06 The Nameless Town Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
19 19 9787530217054 2017-12 The Alchemist Paulo Coelho Brazil Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 20 9787532786831 2021-03 Klara and The Sun Kazuo Ishiguro Britain Shanghai Translation Publishing House

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers, December 2021
November 2021 Ranking December 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 Britain Tianjin People’s Publishing House
3 2 9787111495482 2020-03 The Courage to Be Disliked Ichiro Kishimi Japan China Machine Press
2 3 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover United States Nan Hai Publishing Co.
4 4 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline Jane Nelsen United States Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
9 5 9787210096528 2017-09 Mindset: The New Psychology of Success Carol S. Dweck United States Jiangxi People’s Publishing House
8 6 9787540471194 2019-02 Relationship: Bridge to the Soul Christoper Moon Canada Hunan Literature & Art Press
7 7 9787520711531 2019-11 A Compass to Fulfillment Kazuo Inamori Japan Orient Press
5 8 9787508660752 2017-02 Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind Yuval Noah Harari Israel CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
10 9 9787540489304 2019-01 Danshari Eiko Yamashita Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
11 10 9787547734315 2019-09 Life is Worth Living Tsuneko Nakamura, Hiromi Okuda Japan Beijing daily publishing house
12 11 9787220114045 2019-07 Rich Dad Poor Dad Robert T. Kiyosaki United States Sichuan People’s Publishing House
18 12 9787115536198 2020-05 Heart: Kazuo Inamori’s Philosophy of Life Kazuo Inamori Japan Posts & Telecommunications Publishing House
17 13 9787020116133 2017-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States People’s Literature Publishing House
13 14 9787508633558 2012-07 Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kanneman United States CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
16 15 9787108009821 2014-03 1587, a Year of No Significance Ray Huang United States SDX Joint Publishing Company
6 16 9787508095226 2018-09 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B. Rosenberg United States Huaxia Publishing House
14 17 9787535732309 2001-11 A Brief History of Time Stephen W. Hawking Britain Hunan Science & Technology Press
Not Ranked 18 9787301109489 2006-10 A Global History: From Prehistory to the 21st Century (Vol.1) L. S. Stavrianos United States Peking University Press
19 19 9787508684031 2017-12 Principles Ray Dalio United States CITIC Publishing House Co.,Ltd
15 20 9787508687216 2018-08 Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty Abhijit V.Banerjee, Esther Duflo United States 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, 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. More from us on history writing and publishing is here.

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 is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 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 was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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