Finished Reading?

December 2004 Read Cover
Danwei has commented previously on the inventive covers and New Yorker aspirations of China's Read magazine (书城). Rumors have been swirling about lately that it has hit on hard times, that the long-delayed December issue (cover at left) would be the last one before an extended hiatus. Lending weight to these suspicions was the fact that the post office was no longer offering subscriptions for 2005.

Had it really burned through three- or four-million yuan in three years? Or had it merely fallen victim to a general malaise affecting China's whole crop of literary magazines in a market where "thought" runs a distant second to "entertainment"? Editor-in-chief Li Ermin (李二民) refuted these allegations, stating that the publishers, a cooperative venture between Shanghai Joint Publishing and the Southern Media Group's 21st Century News Department, had no intention of ceasing publication and that funding was adequate. The first two issues of 2005, morever, are scheduled to come out before the Spring Festival.

A long hiatus would not be out of the ordinary for Read magazine, however. Founded in 1993 to cover books in the humanities and aimed at a popular audience with a relatively high level of education, tt was only after the original publishers sold it to Shanghai Joint Publishing in 1998, changing editors in the process, that the focus began expand. With another change of editors in 2000, the magazine ceased publication for a year only to relaunch in November 2001 as a Chinese copy of The New Yorker. The large format, high price (10 yuan versus 5 or 6 for competing magazines), and unclear focus contributed to a loss of the original readership without a clear replacement.

Panorama Monthly Cover

Other literary magazines are facing similar problems. Panorama Monthly (cover at left) was rumored to be in danger of stopping in early 2004, while the granddaddy of them all, the more academic Dushu, seems to frequently disappoint, every issue a staid and boring reflection of its former self. Since hearing the rumors last December, many writers and readers have written nostalgic pieces about their experiences with the early Read, while confessing that they do not really care for most things about the current incarnation. One reader made the evaluation that Read confused "humanities" (人文rénwén) with "intellectuals" (文人 wénrén), mistaking both its subject and its audience. Perhaps it will metamorphose into yet another form, one that this time will attract more readers.

Links and Sources
  • Earlier Read covers featured on Danwei (search).
  • He Xiaopeng in China Newsweek on Read (via, Chinese)
  • Beijing News feature (Chinese)
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