The Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore of Fuzhou Lu leaves an undoubted conclusion: skill books are omnipresent. In the cozy atmosphere of any bookstore worthy of the name, Chinese and expatriate customers are touring the shelves under the protective eye of a dozen security officers. Knowledge has a price: the cost of an imported book can easily rise to 80 ¥, a real investment when a meal in Shanghai cost barely not a quarter. Out of question to sneakily take a picture of those treasure or scratch its pages.
Chinese people read to learn skills
China is hungry for knowledge. Chinese people do not read to relax, they read to learn. They read to acquire a knowledge useful for their job, to become more efficient and to have an added value on the job market. To make twice use of the reading, they read in English to improve their reading comprehension.
The model of American entrepreneurship is closely followed. Chinese people rely on what is known and recognized, which is why the New York Times Bestsellers like Give and Take by Adam Grant and Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans are at the top of sales in China.
Fervent readers hope to find the key to start their own business or how to make money faster.
According to our bookseller, Chinese women readers will refer to Sheryl Sandberg‘s Lean In, while their male counterparts will prefer Thomas Friedman’s Thank You for Being Late. Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow appeals to both adults and teens. Unsurprisingly, we find Jack Welch’s eloquent title Winning on the shelves.
The American dream, a target for Chinese
American soft power has a strong impact on Chinese society. Nothing is more dreamy than the prestigious American universities. Families who can afford it will send their children to study in the US or in England. Oxford, Stanford and Harvard universities even receive visits from Chinese tourists to admire the place where they dream of sending their progeny.
However, it must be admitted, the around $ 40,000 registration fees to access to the best studies in the English-speaking world put the belief of an easy-affordable success out of reach.
Despite Xi Jinping’s pursuit of corruption, Chinese society keeps a strong attraction for ostentatious luxury. America is admired for its huge gleaming 4x4s, its villas with swimming pool, designer clothes, and elitist leisure, everything supposed to be exclusively due to professional merit.
Trump biographies sold well in China
US President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka do not meet with mixed feelings in China. Their biographies Women Who Work, Think Like a Billionaire and How to Get Rich are featured on bookstore displays.
Chinese will see first and foremost its professional success. A true representation of the American dream, the Trump family rose to the top of the fame and amassed a fortune. They are de facto an example to follow for Chinese seeking social prestige.
Ambitious Chinese readers do not care about the many controversies around the Trump’s actions, nor do they care to check how many failures have been accumulated and lawsuits filed over the years. They will only recognize efficiency. And the result is there: the businessman and his daughter at the head of the United States while leading several companies, they are both rich and famous. The West is protesting, China shrugs: when you are rich, you can afford to have the character you want, what criticism may reach you?
Understand the competition in Chinese society
The competitive spirit is instilled from childhood. Faced with a class of a hundred schoolmates, it is essential to obtain the best grades to stand out and receive the favors of the teacher, key to access the best universities. Universities will then give the best jobs.
In a territory of 1.3 billion inhabitants, competition is strong in all areas: finding a job, but also to distinguish oneself from others, to find one’s spouse, to prosper. The need for success is part of the culture, constantly comparing ourselves to our neighbor. Responsibilities are overwhelming: one must show one’s filial piety, honor one’s family and earn more and more money. This obsession with money let Chinese people being outstanding merchants and businesswomen/men. Confronted with the expectations of one’s social circle, individuality can hardly be expressed.
A fear of failure behind these readings
Behind these readings hides an underlying fear. Like Europeans, the age to marry is postponed later and later for young Chinese, much to the dismay of their parents who would like to see them settle down with 23. This societal gap between parents and children reflects China’s abrupt transition since its opening. Young Chinese people feel torn between family pressure to find a spouse and the competitive spirit they have always been taught, which keeps them focused on their work and education.
These skill books made in the USA reassure them: yes, they are right to think first of their own professional life, no, it is never too late to succeed or rewind.
Readings to better understand oneself
Readings in bookshelves show a need to define one’s own personality as well as questions about society such as Justice: What’s the right thing to do? by Michael J. Sandel.
Not surprisingly, there are series like How to Make Small Talk and How to Overcome Shyness, as Chinese people are increasingly hiding behind their touch screen to interact. Mobile dating apps off-set the problem: Internet users feel less lonely in their daily life but do not develop further social skills.
Chinese education is renowned for its tendency to format students with learning by-heart, which appears to be a handicap when they eventually aspire to major American universities. Rolf Dobelli’s The Art of Thinking Clearly or Rod Judkins’s The Art of Creative Thinking reflect the need to develop one’s creativity or to learn to argue to defend a point of view.
Other examples of popular Chinese readings
– Dale Carnegie’s books as How to Win Friends & Influence People and The Leader in You
– Books of Steven Pinker as The Sense of Style
– Brad Stone’s The everything store on Amazon’s success story
– Bibliographies on Chinese millionaires businessmen like Ma Yun or Wang Chuanfu
– 50 Successful Harvard Application Essays