Not so long ago, the word “harmony” was inescapable in China. More recently however, the simultaneous musical notes intended to unify a nation have been oddly quiet.
Now that the orchestra has left the building, who is the next tenant? Odds on favourite is a library, and China’s women are likely to be first though the doors.
Money worship, unreasonableness and emptiness are but three labels sometimes attached to the modern Chinese woman. Zhu Hong, a teacher in Nanjing University, thinks the best cure is to read.
“We all have many problems in life, and some of us may feel embarrassed and upset. I think it is connected with money, but is more about lack of spiritual wealth. And I think reading is the best medicine,” Zhu commented after three years of experience in hosting reading parties, during which she found women attended more than men. Then she came up with the idea of starting a platform for women to get in touch with more high quality books.
“Chairman Mao said that women hold up half of the sky. Our aim is to appeal to urban females to read, so we call it Halfcity,” Zhu said of the WeChat public account made by her and some of her friends (search “banchengdushu” in WeChat to follow it). “Our target audience is women living in cities. They are well-educated and have the ability to understand these deep classics [of literature]. We also welcome those who want to be a better self, no matter man or woman, Chinese or foreigner.”
Galvanising their online community in the physical world, Halfcity holds regular activities in which their members can participate. Of particular note was one held at Christmas; a French-themed party, the China-France Christmas & New Year Celebration Salon, held in the Phoenix Bookstore on Hunan Lu, on 20th December and attended by the French Ambassador.
To some, a reading club might seems a bit dull, but here, Music Consultant for the event Fan Lihong wore an ornate dress, while Public Relations Director Wen Jie wore an elegant white qipao. Meanwhile, some of the guests wore qipaos, too.
“We want to show Chinese classical civilisation in this international theme party. The mix of Chinese and international culture seems quite fantastic,” Wen said.
Chen Jinghe, from the Phoenix Bookstore, was once headmaster of Nanjing Foreign Language School, where Shen Hang studied. He said, “Gathering those young people who love reading and thinking, letting intellectuals contribute to build a better society, this is my dream.”
Besides these parties, Halfcity also recommends good books to its readers; some classics, some by modern writers, explaining what a successful woman is in Halfcity's value system. Zhu Hong points to those who say the three key points to judge a woman are money, beauty and an enviable husband. “My friend showed me another WeChat public account about reading this morning; I think we are quite different from this kind of account,” she said. “We do not use amazing looks to conquer the world. We are going to be independent, free, fantastic and funny.”
Statistic show that women spend more time than men reading on their phones. WeChat accounts are one way to get the nation reading again, while more traditional methods have also been recently employed. The Pudong Library of Shanghai celebrated its fifth birthday on 22nd December with a forum that invited scholars and experts to discuss ways of promoting a love of reading among all Chinese people.
For the modern woman in China, Zhu Hong considers reading as a gentle way to resist traditionalist, male-oriented views of feminism. “A group of people reading is a social activity. Reading changes women, women change families, and in the end families change the world. Our target is to let more women understand where they are standing, and help them find spiritual power from those classics.”