China Bestsellers: Film Powers a 35-Year-Old Book

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The hit author Yu Hua reached seven spots on China’s fiction charts thanks to a 1988 novel’s new film adaptation and its star.

Early snowfall at Changchun’s Huanglong Royal Park in northeastern China’s Jilin province. The park was built during the Manchukuo period, in 1933. Image – Getty iStockphoto: Dandelion

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

See also:
Our China Bestseller reports go back to July 2017
More on author Yu Hua, a Colleen Hoover of China’s bestseller lists

‘Only the River Flows’ Into Western Cinemas in 2024
It was good to be Yu Hua in October. In that month’s very slow-moving changes on OpenBook’s fiction bestseller charts, the author of six bestsellers in September added a seventh for October, a novel titled Only the River Flows.

Yu Hua

Publishing Perspectives readers will recall from September’s bestsellers analysis that our associates at Beijing OpenBook made the wry observation that the comedian-author Yu has built his celebrity on his popularity among “many young people with colored hair” and big book-signing events. It all seems to be working.

Only the River Flows has something we know from our years of China Bestsellers is a great predictor of success: staying power. The book first appeared in the literary magazine Zhongshan in 1988. As we know, there are perennial favorites in the Chinese marketplace that can claim “classic” status for having stood the test of that much time.

Zhu Yilong

But another very familiar driver is behind the popularity of this born-again bestseller: a film. The screen treatment by director Wei Shujun of Only the River Flows was released on October 21, with Zhu Yilong (Lighting Up the Stars, 2022) playing the lead. In the irony department? Zhu—himself a writer as well as actor—was born in the same year that Yu’s book first appeared in the magazine Zhongshan, 1988. Now he’s knocking them out in the cinemas as Ma Zhe, a criminal police captain who’s haunted by nightmarish realities and perhaps coming unhinged.

In Liz Shackleton’s write-up for Deadline on Thursday (December 14), it’s revealed that the show’s  North American rights have been bought by KimStim, with MK2 Films in Paris working on the bookings outside of North America. Referred to by Shackleton as a Chinese noir, the film reportedly has grossed US$43 million at the box office (RMB309.5 million), “an exceptional number for an independent film in that market,” Shackleton writes.

‘Only the River Flows’

In China, it won the Fei Mu at Pingyao Film Festival, and in Cannes’ it premiered in the Un Certain Regard field at Salle Debussy.

After the release of the film, author Yuo participated in a series of publicity activities with Wei and Zhu, talking up his love of film and the way that in this case the director’s and actors’ work are “supplementing” the novel’s content. He has even been reported to have said the ending of the film adaptation is one he likes better than his own book’s conclusion. The trick to that comment is that the film doesn’t provide the “final answer” that viewers want to see. (Could a series be ahead?)

Our OpenBook associates point out that Hua’s appreciation made more fans head for the film, prompted by the author’s endorsement. Meanwhile, KimStim is expected to begin releasing the film outside China in arthouse cinemas in 2024.

Film posters for Wei Shujun’s film adaptation of Yu Hua’s ‘Only the River Flows.’ In the fourth on the right, some homage to Edvard Munch is at play

One more element of the Chinese market in October is “Singles Day”—a sort of answer to Valentine’s Day. On Singles Day, unattached people treat themselves to gifts, and the retail market is hardly shy about laying on big sales to attract those highly attractive solo acts to their wares. Our OpenBook research specialists tell us that this year, four of the Top 30 fiction titles were highly ranked in the sales offerings.

So what were the bachelors and bachelorettes buying on Singles Day? In order of sales volume:

  • Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha
  • Lu Xun’s A Madman’s Diary
  • Yan Zhen’s The Wavy Water
  • Bai Cha’s The Cat Emperor and His Friends

Below, then, are OpenBook’s overall lists from October 2023 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, October 2023
September 2023 Ranking October 2023 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787020139590 2019-06 The Last Quarter of the Moon Chi Zijian People’s Literature Publishing House
2 2 9787530221532 2021-10 To Live (2021 Edition) Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
4 3 9787572608582 2022-10 The Litchi Road Ma Boyong Hunan Literature & Art Press
3 4 9787513348744 2022-11 The Seventh Day Yu hua New Star Press Co., Ltd.
13 5 9787201141527 2018-10 Strait is the Gate Andre Gide Tianjin People’s Publishing House
6 6 9787540487645 2018-06 Moments We Shared Zhang Jiajia Hunan Literature & Art Press
5 7 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Nan Hai Publishing Co.
9 8 9787536097261 2022-07 Someone to Talk To Liu Zhenyun Flower City Press
15 9 9787500601593 2005-08 Red Crag Luo Guangbin, Yang Yiyan China Youth Press
16 10 9787572610912 2023-05 The Annoyance of the Gods Ma Boyong Hunan Literature & Art Press
7 11 9787536692930 2008-01 The Three-Body Problem Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
14 12 9787530221396 2021-06 Ordinary Word (3 Volumes) (2021 Edition) Lu Yao Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
8 13 9787536693968 2008-05 The Dark Forest Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
10 14 9787229030933 2010-11 Death’s End Liu Cixin Chongqing Publishing House
27 15 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee Yilin Press
17 16 9787530222454 2023-06 Cries in the drizzle Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 17 9787201112695 2017-03 Siddhartha Hermann Hesse Tianjin People’s Publishing House
11 18 9787020002207 1998-07 Dream of the Red Chamber Cao Xueqin People’s Literature Publishing House
19 19 9787506331746 2005-05 Distant Savior Dou Dou The Writer’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 20 9787020178063 2023-04 Notes on Principles Shi Tiesheng People’s Literature Publishing House
12 21 9787020008735 1998-07 Journey to the West Wu Cheng’en People’s Literature Publishing House
18 22 9787530216033 2017-09 Chronicle of a Blood Merchant (2017 Edition) Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
21 23 9787533966102 2021-12 Life and Death are Wearing Me Out Mo Yan Zhejiang Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 24 9787505738478 2016-10 A Madman’s Diary Lu Xun China Friendship Publishing Company
Not Ranked 25 9787530221525 2021-07 The Wavy Water Yan Zhen Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
24 26 9787530222324 2022-07 Brothers (2022 Edition) Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 27 9787538772166 2023-06 Only The River Flows Yu hua Time Literature & Art Publishing House
23 28 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini Shanghai People’s Publishing House
22 29 9787530221099 2021-02 Wencheng Yu hua Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 30 9787020181551 2023-07 The Cat Emperor and His Friends (7) Bai Cha People’s Literature Publishing House

OpenBook’s Nonfiction Bestsellers, October 2023
September 2023 Ranking October 2023 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
1 1 9787020084357 2011-04 I and the Temple of Earth Shi Tiesheng People’s Literature Publishing House
Not Ranked 2 9787522521503 2023-10 Master Control: Palace-Level Wisdom In Chinese History Bai Yu Jiuzhou Press
6 3 9787557019167 2019-10 Classic Quotes From Zeng Shiqiang Luo Fu Shan Guo Xue Yuan Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
Not Ranked 4 9787557695712 2022-01 Child psychology Liao Wei Tianjin Science & Technology Press
Not Ranked 5 9787555723004 2023-10 Entrepreneurship Changes Destiny Sun Yuzhong Chengdu Map Press
19 6 9787511065315 2023-09 Parents’ Language Guide (2 volumes) Shiguangxue Educational Research Center Dolphin Press
22 7 9787513934053 2021-04 Financial freedom Grant Sabatier Democracy and Construction Press
12 8 9787111495482 2015-04 The Courage to Be Disliked Ichiro Kishimi China Machine Press
8 9 9787521754803 2023-03 Believe Cai Lei CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd.
17 10 9787201161693 2020-08 Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure Robert de Board Tianjin People’s Publishing House
3 11 9787521758399 2023-09 Elon Musk Walter Isaacson CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd.
18 12 9787571315252 2021-01 Take Care of Children’s Spleen and Stomach Li Aike Jiangsu Science & Technology Press
Not Ranked 13 9787540483432 2017-11 Jottings in Sickbed (Commemorative Edition 2021) Shi Tiesheng Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 14 9787555722892 2023-10 30 Days To Become A Sales Champion Sun Yuzhong Chengdu Map Press
15 15 9787557030162 2023-05 If History were a Group of Cats: Late Yuan and Early Ming Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
5 16 9787559669131 2023-07 Cognitive Breakthrough Zhang Qi Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
4 17 9787559656995 2021-12 Winning The Three-year High School Critical Period Zhang Xuefeng Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
21 18 9787020135639 2018-03 I and the Temple of Earth Shi Tiesheng People’s Literature Publishing House
9 19 9787208171336 2021-08 In the Affair: Chinese Government and Economic Development Lan Xiaohuan Shanghai People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 20 9787559435224 2019-04 The Book of Answers Wei En Jiangsu Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 21 9787115543424 2020-09 Cognitive Awakening: The Driving Force Behind Self-Change Zhou Ling Posts & Telecommunications Publishing House
27 22 9787561346259 2009-05 Yi Ching is Really to Understand Zeng Shiqiang Shaanxi Normal University Press
Not Ranked 23 9787513942928 2023-10 Flexible: A Lifetime Of Learning Wen Yuan Democracy and Construction Press
30 24 9787557028657 2022-10 If History were a Group of Cats: Southern Song, Jin and Yuan Dynasty Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House
16 25 9787222204331 2021-11 Details of Law Luo Xiang Yunnan People’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 26 9787554609590 2017-11 Psychology of Female Communication Su Man Guwuxuan Publishing House
23 27 9787540484880 2018-01 The Gay Genius: The Life and Times of Su Tungpo Lin Yutang Hunan Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 28 9787555262800 2017-12 The Power of Insensitivity Junichi Watanabe Qingdao Publishing House
Not Ranked 29 9787553786353 2019-03 Make Baby Food with Me Yuan Bao Ma Ma Jiangsu Science & Technology Press
Not Ranked 30 9787557027063 2022-04 If History were a Group of Cats: Song, Liao, Jin Dynasty and the Western Xia Regime Fei Zhi Guangdong Tourism Publishing House

OpenBook’s Children’s Bestsellers, October 2023
September 2023 Ranking October 2023 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Chinese Publisher
3 1 9787218169095 2023-09 Su Shu (2 volumes) Huang Shigong, Han Tu Guangdong People’s Publishing House
2 2 9787533274269 2013-08 Guess How Much I Love You Sam McBratney, Anita Jeram Tomorrow Publishing House
11 3 9787533299224 2018-10 Fantastic Mr. Fox Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake Tomorrow Publishing House
4 4 9787549288861 2023-08 Good Night Baby: Classic Early Childhood Reading (40 volumes) Wen Zhi Chang Jiang Press
13 5 9787516835708 2023-08 This Is The Psychological Self-Help Book That Children Love Li Shaocong Taihai Publishing House
Not Ranked 6 9787533259617 2009-03 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake Tomorrow Publishing House
8 7 9787521739077 2022-07 The Grolltroll (4 volumes) Barbara van den Speulhof CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd.
14 8 9787533273460 2013-05 Something from Nothing Phoebe Gilman Tomorrow Publishing House
12 9 9787559015266 2017-06 Friendship, to be Rented (with Chinese Pinyin) Fang Suzhen, Hao Luowen Xinjiang Children and Youth Publishing House
1 10 9787558336942 2023-05 Knowledge Has A Picture: Manga Chinese and Foreign History Chen Lei, Hun Zhi Team Guangdong New Century Press
9 11 9787532767373 2014-08 Charlotte’s Web Elwyn Brooks White Shanghai Translation Publishing House
20 12 9787536587694 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: I am a Pupil Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 13 9787511065810 2023-10 Children Must Memorize 144 Ancient Poems For Enlightenment Shiguangxue Educational Research Center Dolphin Press
25 14 9787536587724 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: Look at This Family Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
23 15 9787536587717 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: A Dog Called Rat Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
26 16 9787536587700 2018-04 Mi Xiaoquan School Experience: My Good Friend Tie Tou Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
19 17 9787558900648 2017-07 Winter of Three Hairs (With Chinese Pinyin) Zhang Leping Juvenile & Children’s Publishing House
10 18 9787115545824 2020-10 Lamb Going Up the Mountain: Chinese Graded Reader (Lv.1)(10 volumes) Sun Bei Posts & Telecommunications Publishing House
Not Ranked 19 9787533264062 2010-12 Let’s Get Mung Beans, Momma! Zeng Yangqing, Wan Huaguo Tomorrow Publishing House
22 20 9787559706522 2018-05 The Foolish and the Unhappy (With Chinese Pinyin) Ren Rongrong Zhejiang Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 21 9787533259563 2009-03 Fantastic Mr. Fox Roald Dahl, Quentin Blake Tomorrow Publishing House
16 22 9787570818648 2023-06 The Diary of Smiling Cat: Smiling Cat in the Forbidden City Yang Hongying Tomorrow Publishing House
Not Ranked 23 9787536574366 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Stratego Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
28 24 9787559621337 2019-04 Butt Detective: Detective and the Fraud Troll Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
Not Ranked 25 9787536574397 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Clever Little Prodigy Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 26 9787531493471 2023-06 50 Chinese Historical Allusions Children Should Know Chen Qun Liaoning Fine Arts Press
Not Ranked 27 9787536574380 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: Who’s the Smart Guy? Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 28 9787536574373 2016-01 Mi Xiaoquan’s Brain-teaser: The Great Adventure of the Castle Bei Mao Sichuan Juvenile and Children’s Publishing House
Not Ranked 29 9787531967682 2021-01 What’s the Point of Maths Dorling Kindersley Limited Heilongjiang Juvenile and Children’s Press
Not Ranked 30 9787543464575 2007-06 My Mum Anthony Browne Hebei Education Press

Foreign Author Fiction Bestsellers, October 2023
September 2023 Ranking October 2023 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
2 1 9787201141527 2018-10 Strait is the Gate Andre Gide France Tianjin People’s Publishing House
1 2 9787544291170 2017-08 One Hundred Years of Solitude (50th Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
4 3 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee United States of America Yilin Press
7 4 9787201112695 2017-03 Siddhartha Hermann Hesse Germany Tianjin People’s Publishing House
3 5 9787208061644 2006-04 The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini United States of America Shanghai People’s Publishing House
5 6 9787544291163 2017-08 Journey Under the Midnight Sun (2017 Edition) Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
6 7 9787521200836 2018-08 Thiaoouba Prophecy Michael Desmarquet Australia The Writer’s Publishing House
8 8 9787521748239 2022-12 Goodbye, Eri Tatsuki Fujimoto Japan CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd.
10 9 9787544269452 2021-12 Malice (2022 Edition) Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
12 10 9787544296274 2019-09 Summer, Fireworks, and My Corpse Otsuichi Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
14 11 9787559614711 2018-01 Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Jeanette Winterson Britain Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
9 12 9787544298995 2020-09 Miracles of the Namiya General Store (2020 Edition) Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
16 13 9787544297059 2020-03 Love in the Time of Cholera (3 Million Sold Anniversary Edition) Gabriel García Márquez Colombia Nan Hai Publishing Co.
11 14 9787573503053 2023-02 Swans and Bats Keigo Higashino Japan Nan Hai Publishing Co.
Not Ranked 15 9787540485337 2018-03 Tsubaki Stationery Store Ito Ogawa Japan Hunan Literature & Art Press
15 16 9787530217054 2017-12 The Alchemist Paulo Coelho Brazil Beijing October Art & Literature Publishing House
19 17 9787532175512 2020-05 13 Steps Kazuaki Takano Japan Shanghai Literature & Art Press
Not Ranked 18 9787532776771 2018-03 Norwegian Wood Haruki Murakami Japan Shanghai Translation Publishing House
13 19 9787544766500 2017-01 To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee United States of America Yilin Press
20 20 9787513348362 2022-08 Look Back Tatsuki Fujimoto Japan New Star Press Co., Ltd.

Foreign Author Nonfiction Bestsellers, October 2023
September 2023 Ranking October 2023 Ranking ISBN Release Date Title (Translated) Author Author nationality Chinese Publisher
4 1 9787513934053 2021-04 Financial freedom Grant Sabatier United States of America Democracy and Construction Press
2 2 9787111495482 2015-04 The Courage to Be Disliked Ichiro Kishimi Japan China Machine Press
3 3 9787201161693 2020-08 Counselling for Toads: A Psychological Adventure Robert de Board Britain Tianjin People’s Publishing House
1 4 9787521758399 2023-09 Elon Musk Walter Isaacson United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd.
6 5 9787555262800 2017-12 The Power of Insensitivity Junichi Watanabe Japan Qingdao Publishing House
9 6 9787550268517 2016-07 Positive Discipline (Revised Edition) Jane Nelsen United States of America Beijing Union Publishing Co., Ltd.
8 7 9787801445445 2003-04 You Can Heal Your Life Louise L.Hay United States of America China Astronautic Publishing House
Not Ranked 8 9787557699826 2022-05 Sell It Like Serhant: how to sell more, earn more, and become the ultimate sales machine Ryan Serhant United States of America Tianjin Science & Technology Press
5 9 9787544276986 2019-10 Educated: A Memoir Tara Westover United States of America Nan Hai Publishing Co.
10 10 9787508653389 2015-07 The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War Ⅱ Iris Chang United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd.
13 11 9787521741124 2022-04 The Almanack of Naval Ravikant: A Guide to Wealth and Happiness Eric Jorgenson United States of America CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd.
11 12 9787111551287 2016-10 Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise Anders Ericsson, Robert Pool United States of America China Machine Press
12 13 9787522200514 2021-05 Nonviolent Communication Marshall B.Rosenberg United States of America Huaxia Publishing House
18 14 9787521719253 2020-08 The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (and Your Children Will Be Glad That You Did) Philippa Perry Britain CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd.
Not Ranked 15 9787552029185 2020-04 The Awakened Family: How to Raise Empowered, Resilient, and Conscious Children Shefali Tsabary United States of America Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences Press
16 16 9787520711531 2019-11 A Compass to Fulfillment Kazuo Inamori Japan Orient Press
15 17 9787521733679 2021-09 The Most Tender Upbringing: Be a Gentle but Steadfast Parent Oh Eun-young Korea CITIC Publishing House Co., Ltd.
Not Ranked 18 9787508090191 2016-12 Apology Plato Ancient Greece Huaxia Publishing House
7 19 9787020116133 2016-06 Red Star Over China Edgar Snow United States of America People’s Literature Publishing House
17 20 9787542669018 2020-06 The Memoir of Literature (1989-1994) Mu Xin, Chen Danqing United States of America Shanghai 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.

At last report, OpenBook monitored more than 18,000 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 more than 4,800 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 2022, OpenBook tracked around 76.21 billion RMB in sales (US$10.62 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 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 registered through government channels. The government approves each book published in China.


More China bestseller reports from Publishing Perspectives are here, and more on the Chinese book publishing market 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 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 (Fellow, 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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