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LI SIHUI: Happy Reading booths offer new way to revitalize urban culture

| 2018-05-09
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Six public telephone boxes in Xuhui District, Shanghai, have been turned into Happy Reading booths, and appeared on street corners recently. Through the booths, citizens can participate in some small-scale book exchange activities, or come to know the historical culture of the surrounding areas. According to earlier news from the Shanghai Municipal Government, there are altogether 263 public telephone boxes that will be transformed into such small but beautiful libraries.


With the widespread application of mobile communication, telephone boxes have fallen into disuse and Xuhui District’s initiative is transforming them into reading spaces and cultural stations scattered all over the streets, strengthening the scholarly atmosphere of the city, which is an exercise in good taste. In contrast, some cities have wantonly dismantled the telephone boxes and even newspaper kiosks, which has limited the reading space of citizens and caused reading materials to be removed from public view.


There are many reasonable reasons for dismantling telephone boxes or newspaper kiosks, such as beautifying a city, widening roads and walkways, conforming to the market law and eliminating obsolete facilities. However, the beauty of the city lies not only in orderliness and the uniformity of high-rise buildings but also in the culture between the streets and alleyways. Do not belittle that small kiosk that stands there—each of them is a place that brings access to reading, a space where cultural communication occurs, and an exhibition window through which urban culture and the aesthetic tastes of the city are displayed.


In a context in which the national reading rate today is not that satisfactory, the newspaper kiosks and Happy Reading booths, as the source of nourishment for urban culture, thus need solicitude and care in order to enhance the cultural literacy of the citizens by cultivating a culture permeated by reading atmosphere and fostering a nationwide reading habit. The market should play a decisive role in the economic sector, but it should not be allowed to take full control of cultural development. Instead, the initiative of the government should be enhanced. If only a few libraries and cultural centers are kept as symbols but cities lose newspaper kiosks, which are more densely distributed, flexible, convenient and offer primary-level cultural services, the national reading rate on the whole may even drop.


Moreover, the newspaper kiosks, in fact, have not really lost their market. The newspaper kiosks in the street corners of Shanghai and Wuhan are usually surrounded by the elderly and children. They are places where the young people stop to wait for a bus. The decline in the desire to purchase books has not diminished the value of newspaper kiosks as a public cultural facility. In the past few years, thousands of people were surveyed on the topic of removing newspaper kiosks, and 95 percent objected to demolition. Why is that? “Though I don’t usually buy a lot of books, I hope that when I want to read, I can easily see and buy a book right adjacent to my house.”


The beauty of a city lies in its culture, and in that small newspaper kiosk standing in the corners of the city.

 

This article was edited and translated from Guangming Daily. Li Sihui is a distinguished research fellow from the Research Center for journalism and Commentary at Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

(edited by BAI LE)