Why you should care

Because five of China’s best-sellers could give us some telling insights into the nation’s psyche.

What does the Chinese population of 1.35 billion read, and what are they interested in? How is the bookselling market of that rising Asian giant looking? OZY turned to China’s Amazon, Zhuoyue — one of the three most competitive online bookstores in the country — for a glimpse.

1. Passing by Your Whole World: Stories That Melt Everyone’s Heart

Written by Zhang Jiajia, who is known by many as the best storyteller on Weibo, this is a touching book of short stories about life experiences such as youth and first love that many readers can connect with — not unlike the American young-adult hit The Fault in Our Stars. The writer’s work spread like wildfire online, with 1.5 million shares in the first few days and more than 400 million reads. The author immediately sold the movie rights to five of his stories. What’s the appeal? “Youth literature” is sweeping the Chinese book market of late. But it’s probably a well-deserved break from the heavy school workload.

2. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It

Based on Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal’s wildly popular course “The Science of Willpower,” this book sold more copies in China than in the U.S. Wei Xiaofeng, vice president of Shanghai Science and Technology Press, says these Western books highlighting newest trends in business and technology written by scholars and professors are hot in China.

3. Genius on the Left, Lunatic on the Right

Author Gao Ming, originally a film producer, devoted four years of intense research and reporting inside Chinese mental clinics and police stations in order to write this book about what the world looks like from the psychological, philosophical, biological and religious perspectives of abnormal human beings. The fact that it’s popular is a huge deal. Chinese society hasn’t always been friendly toward the mentally ill, and the country’s public health system is struggling to keep up with the demand for mental health care. However, according to Tao Peng, senior commissioning editor of China Citic Press, books like these show that a certain class of Chinese society is paying attention to these social issues.

4. Charlie IX

Think of it as China’s Harry Potter. Written by Chinese author Lei Ou Huan Xiang, Charlie IX is a series of 22 fantasy books (so far) about a little boy, DoDoMo, who received a royal dog (no joke) from his grandfather as a present, and spends his days adventuring. When Harry Potter and the Goosebumps series landed in China a few years ago, they took the market by storm. This is China’s homegrown response.

5. Xinghuo English Practice Tests: New Problem Explanations and Standard Prediction

Yup, this is a student workbook … that made the top 10 on the best-seller list on Zhuoyue (China’s Amazon). Not surprising, since educational materials make up 52 percent of total book sales in China, according to Tao. If you went to school in China, you’d understand why. During my elementary and middle school years in Beijing, I’d have to make multiple trips to the Zhongguancun bookstore every semester for supplemental textbooks, workbooks, exam practice tests and math olympiad exercise books. The huge bookstore dedicated half a floor and a couple dozen bookshelves to educational materials. A friend who works for the Chinese government recently told me, “The Chinese know more about America than the Americans know about China.” Which should be a warning bell for the West. Even the first lady urged American students to study abroad in Asia after her tour to China.

But if you don’t have the luxury of crossing the globe in person, then reading some of China’s hottest books might just fill you in on what you need to know.

Michelle Tang is a summer intern at OZY. She lives in Palo Alto and grew up in China.

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