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Beijing Bestsellers: Brothers, CCTV 10, and expensive books

Heshen on CCTV 10's "Lecture Room."
Yu Hua's new novel, the second volume of Brothers, was the top-selling book in Beijing in its first full week on shelves. Yu Hua himself spent last week and the better part of this week addressing criticisms of the book - or rather, declaring that there were certain types of criticism that he would not deign to address. The first volume of Brothers also sold well, making it to #7 on the fiction list.

Also new on the list this week are two books adapted from CCTV 10's "Lecture Room" program (百家讲坛). The Heshen of History (#3), in its televised form, was the most popular "Lecture Room" program last year. In both the program and the book, Beijing Normal University High School professor Ji Lianhai reveals to viewers a more nuanced portrait of the popular character, countering both Wang Gang's portrayal of a corrupt schemer as well as the tragic young courtier played by Chen Rui.

A second "Lecture Room" book on the list is Laozi and Common Life (#4), which attempts to make the Daodejing and other Taoist texts relevant to the lives of modern readers.

How to properly use your body.
One additional newcomer to the list this week is Human Body User's Manual (#8). A general wellness text, it provides an overview of human body operation before going into a description of various chronic conditions and how to avoid them. There's a section at the back on losing weight.

Also in book news this week was an announcement that the overall list price of books increased 30%-50% last year, to a large degree because of the increased cost of paper: a sheet that cost 1.8 yuan in 2004 ran between 2.4 and 2.8 yuan in 2005. The industry report also revealed (without mentioning any hard numbers) that total sales had increased just 7.34%, a good deal below 2004's growth rate of 11.8%.

One interesting statistic is that of mass-market books, just 5% of titles accounted for 53.35% of sales. It's also estimated that the market for mass-market books contracted 30%-50% last year.

The report goes on to cite market share for different categories of books based on some meaningless number generated by the product of books in print and list price (码洋). Chinese publishers like to cite their total annual retail value in print as a mark of their size, when a sizeable fraction of that value may be sitting in storage and few if any books are sold at a price approaching retail. Dozens of publishers surveyed have more than twice their annual output in storage, and 70% are insolvent, says the report, which has the bleak subtitle: "Industry Problems and Thoughts on Reorganization." But they can crow about 300-million-yuan mayang numbers, despite Lu Xun's expectant words in 1930: "The practice of books using a real price, eliminating the bad practice of a 'list price', first began in Beijing's New Tide Society Bookstore, and later was followed in Shanghai."

The overall bestseller list for the week of 03/18--03/30:

  1. (-) Brothers (part II) by Yu Hua. (余华, 《兄弟》下)
  2. (1) Padma by Annie Baby. (安妮宝贝, 《莲花》)
  3. (-) Laozi and common life by Yao Ganming. (姚淦铭, 《老子与百姓生活》)
  4. (-) The Heshen of History by Ji Lianhai. (继连海, 《历史上的和珅》)
  5. (2) Deception Point by Dan Brown. (丹·布朗, 《骗局》)
  6. (4) Impression by Fu Biao and Zhang Qiufang. A memoir by beloved actor Fu Biao and his wife. Fu passed away last year after a long illness; this book came out on Valentine's Day and was snapped up by fans. (傅彪,张秋芳, 《印记》)
  7. (3) Outsider 3 by Gwiyeoni. Earlier article on Danwei. (可爱淘, 《局外人3》)
  8. (-) Human Body User's Manual by Wu Qingzhong. (吴清忠, 《人体使用手册》)
  9. (5) The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. (丹·布郎,《达·芬奇密码》)
  10. (6) Tibetan Mastiff by Yang Zhijun. Another "Way of the Animal" book. See brief note here. (杨志军, 《藏獒》)

Bestseller rankings are taken from the Friday Book Review section in The Beijing News, which compiles its data from the city's major online and brick & mortar bookstores.

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