Roughly a month after passing a law requiring adults to regularly visit their elderly parents, Chinese policy makers are considering legislation to encourage another activity the country’s people have neglected: reading.
The General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television announced that it had drawn up the first draft of a new Regulation on Public Reading Promotion, which it planned to submit to the country’s cabinet, the State Council, for approval by the end of the year.
The regulation, which has been in development since the country’s annual legislative conclave in March, is motivated by new research showing Chinese people reading books at a relatively low rate despite the country being one of the world’s most prolific book producers.
Chinese people between the ages of 18 and 70 read 6.7 books on average last year, including paper books and e-books, an increase of roughly one book per year compared with 2011, according to a national public reading survey conducted by the state-affiliated Chinese Academy of Press and Publication.
American readers consumed an average of 15 books per year in 2012, according to a survey by Pew. Three-quarters of Americans read at least one book last year, Pew found, which means that Americans read 10.5 books on average in 2012 when nonreaders are factored in.
China publishes more than 400,000 different book titles last year ─ a 14.4% increase from 2011 ─ according to official statistics.
Such a low reading rate is disturbing to leaders in a country that once chose its officials according to how well-read they were. Yet social-media users haven’t taken kindly to the announcement of the law, details of which have yet to be released.
“I totally agree with promoting reading, but doing it by law is totally crap and useless,” wrote one user of Sina Corp.’s popular Weibo microblogging service.
“Will people get sentenced for not reading enough?” asked another.
Even the Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper was skeptical about legislating better reading habits, though it defended the spirit of the proposed regulation.
“No matter whether (the law) can really improve the reading rate, it is true that more and more Chinese don’t read,” People’s Daily said in on its verified Weibo feed.
Given China’s long history of valuing scholarly pursuits, it isn’t clear why Chinese people have such a weak appetite for the written word, though some say it is precisely the country’s obsession with education and stiff competition on the college entrance exams ─ that’s too blame.
“To score high in exams, we are forced to read something outdated and valueless,” said Kang Kai, editor of CS-BOOKY, a Beijing-based publishing company. “The painful experience leaves a negative impression on people’s mind and later leads to the popular idea that ‘reading is useless.’”
Others point to censorship. The publishing regulator maintains strict control over the issuance of book numbers, which are required for a book to be published or sold legally, denying them to books it deems inappropriate. Topics that allude to violence, religion, sex and politics are strictly controlled. Some publishers say this year, novels about Chinese officialdom an immensely popular genre widely embraced by Chinese readers in recent years have been unable to get book numbers.
“It’s not that Chinese don’t like to read,” said Wang Xiaodong, president of China Pioneer Culture & Media Co., whose company has many published books that later were adapted into films and dramas, including “The Flowers of War.” “It’s that Chinese don’t like to read what the government publishes.”
新华先锋文化传媒有限公司总裁王笑东说，并不是中国人不喜欢读书，而是中国人不喜欢读官方出版的书。新华先锋文化传媒有限公司出版的很多书后来被改编成了电影和电视剧，包括《金陵十三钗》（The Flowers of War）。
The wide availability of pirated books online is another problem, according Mr. Wang. “It will be more meaningful for the government to try harder to curb online piracy and protect writer’s rights,” he said.
Finally, there are the bad memories many Chinese have of the last time Beijing tried to force its citizens to read.
“It is fine to recommend good books to the public, but compelling people to read may lead to mental oppression,” said Mr. Kang, referring to the Cultural Revolution when the public was commanded to read works by Mao Zedong.
1. The General Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television：中国国家新闻出版广电总局。中华人民共和国新闻出版总局(国家版权局)是国务院主管新闻出版事业和著作权管理的直属机构。
2.the State Council：国务院。中华人民共和国国务院，即中央人民政府，是最高国家权力机关的执行机关，是最高国家行政机关。
3.皮尤（pew）：皮尤研究中心（Pew Research Center）是美国的一间独立性民调机构，总部设于华盛顿特区。该中心对那些影响美国乃至世界的问题、态度与潮流提供信息资料。
5.Communist Party’s mouthpiece newspaper：这里指的是《人民日报》。
6. have a ... appetite for：有什么样的喜欢/口味