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Bookstores rewrite villages' stories

By Yang Yang | China Daily| Updated: December 30, 2020 L M S


Rural buildings renovated by Librairie Avant-Garde: one bookshop in Daijiashan village, Tonglu county, Zhejiang province [Photo by Yao Li/Provided to China Daily]

Rural communities that were once condemned by departure of their young are seeing an upswing in popularity thanks to the vision of creative architects and the construction of new cultural spaces, Yang Yang reports. 

Urban life has too often sounded the death knell for tradition, especially the types of homes people live in. Villages have been depopulated in the rush by workers, mostly young people, the very lifeblood of any community, to the cities. Zhang Lei, a professor from the School of Architecture and Urban Planning at Nanjing University, wants to stop this by getting, as any good architect would, to the very foundations of the problem. Zhang's students are urged to go to the countryside to see old houses in traditional settlements and experience what is called "architecture without architects".

"For years, we had seen a lot of old villages dying slowly before being torn down. It's such a shame. So I wanted to do something," Zhang says.

Zhang's two design works for Librairie Avant-Garde, the Yunxi Library bookshop in Tonglu county's Daijiashan village and Chenjiapu Bookstore in Songyang county, both in East China's Zhejiang province, were opened respectively in 2015 and 2018. The villages have since seen an upswing in visitors.

Hostels have been built and, as a result, property prices in the villages have soared. For instance, the annual rent of a house in Daijiashan village was 2,000 yuan ($306) in 2015, but has now grown to 8,000 yuan.

Similarly, Chenjiapu village used to be a dying enclave despite a history stretching back 600 years. The bookstore, however, means that holidays bring so many visitors that there are often traffic jams on the road leading to the village.

"I never thought that a small bookstore could change the fate of a village," he says.

When Qian Xiaohua, founder of Librairie Avant-Garde headquartered in Nanjing, started opening bookstores in the countryside six years ago, he encountered a lot of doubts and questions. After all, bookstores in cities, with much bigger populations, could barely survive due to online competition.

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