Used books online in China

Filed under: — Scott Relyea @ 7:36 am

The book markets and used bookstores of Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and pretty much everywhere in between; their dusty piles of colourful, frayed cultural revolution cartoon books interspersed with old dictonaries, Mao buttons, and piles of post-liberation 檔案 or pre-liberation photos… This is undoubtedly a scene those of us researching or studying in China have passed through numerous times. Sometimes on these hunts we’ve also found more than simple kitsch or interesting trinkets to disperse as gifts to friends and family on our return, sometimes even come across the odd Republican era textbook or early PRC atlas (one of which lies at the origin of my own dissertation project). The amount of particularly CR materials for sale at these markets may seem endless, but then again so too may the stacks of unsorted books in the more permanent, neighbouring bookshops seem almost limitless. It could take countless days of scrutinising, sneezing visits, though, to even begin to be aware of what’s available, and to find what’s related to your research…

So after getting consumed in the twice weekly book market near 杜甫草堂 Du Fu’s Cottage soon after arriving in Chengdu earlier this year, I was pleasantly surprised that some random, non-linear meandering online brought me to a web resource that has been absolutely invaluable for discovering just what lies within those dusty piles. 孔夫子旧书网 Kongfz (http://www.kongfz.com/index.php) is a bit like Biblio with which many of you might be more familiar. The site claims to be: 全球最大的中文旧书网站 Its constantly growing database renders easily searchable the holdings of literally thousands of bookshops in all corners of the PRC, large and perhaps surprisingly minuscule. Indeed, what I found when I went looking for one of these ‘shops’ in Chengdu was the owner and his brother having a quiet lunch in their sparsely furnished flat, while each room in the flat across the landing was overflowing with the books they had for sale. The booksellers themselves maintain their own online databases and many seem to add new books daily, as well as sell books daily, so there’s a bit of urgency sometimes to reserve what interests you the moment you see it as the next day it may already have been sold.

Most of the books on offer are out of print, published over the last two decades or so, (as print runs were generally quite small), but what’s available goes well beyond such more purely secondary sources. Many published collections of archival materials as well as 地方誌 both old and new and other collections of original materials are available for sometimes widely varying prices, as well as reprints of Qing or Republican era books. Among the items I’ve purchased was a 油印本 version of a book which original a certain library in Chengdu was only grudgingly willing to let me see, but certainly not photocopy or even photograph.

Original copies of some Republican and even Qing books also are listed on Kongfz, though the prices tend to be a bit high. Overall, the cost of most books is quite reasonable, but purchases can only be made in China as Kongfz has no online purchase facility; rather you must first make a deposit into the bookseller’s bank account and then wait for the books to arrive. Through quite a few orders, I’ve only had one small problem, and the ratings for each shop are quite high, so it seems overall quite a reliable service. And indeed extremely helpful for research. Check it out once in a while and you might just find that book that all your Chinese colleagues and friends have referred to but until now has been maddeningly elusive…

5 responses to “Used books online in China”

  1. zhw says:

    Kongfz.com is quite a useful service, especially if there’s a book you want and you don’t have the time to comb the used book markets week after week. Otherwise, it is *really* expensive – even for the cheap, 3 or 4 yuan books, postage and handling can add up, and for harder-to-find stuff, the markup can be 4x or 5x.

    The booksellers (and you’re right, the shops are often completely virtual) I’ve met have a completely different appreciation of printed material from the book buyers. My roommate, for example, frequented the used book stores and bought books to *read*. His classmate ran an online bookshop in southern Beijing and also frequented the used book markets, and while he knew printing runs, could quote publishers’ limited editions, ccould name the different covers attached to different printings, as for the content, he couldn’t really have cared less.

  2. Thanks a million. I have a long bibliography of historical works on the Ming dynasty in Chinese and no inclination to travel to west or a Chinese library to get them

  3. […] Yesterday I took a late afternoon stroll through Chengdu’s DuFuCaoTang (DuFu’s Thatched Cottage), a park dedicated to Dufu (杜甫)one of China’s all-time greatest poets who lived during the Tang dynasty. I am a big fan of Dufu and have read a good deal about his history and his surviving poems. Seeing this park/shrine dedicated to his life and works was on my list of must see things in Chengdu. The park was beautifully landscaped with ponds, rivers, tropical plants, and calligraphy. I was happy to see that so many Chinese appreciated their literary history and culture. Afterwards I was strolling around having absolutely no luck finding a taxi in the evening heat when I saw a string of bookstores. Now, I love bookstores here in China a lot. They are everywhere and always full of people. The Chinese seem utterly excited to learn everything, especially languages, and I respect them all the more for it. Bookstores are usually huge new department stores here but the neighborhood of bookstores I found in Chengdu was small and almost entirely full of used books and old propaganda posters. These places were like any good bookshop, or household, completely full of books. The floors were stacked with them, the walls filled to the ceiling and always a musty smell that made me want to look through every pile and every shelf. I didn’t do that, but I did buy a book of DuFu’s poetry and an old propaganda poster of a young communist soldier reading Mao’s red book (perfect for any reading area!). Anyway, yesterday looking through the amazing Danwei Blog I found link to a post about finding Chinese used books online (here). The author mentions the book market near the DuFuCaoTang, which was a cool coincidence. […]

  4. Lena Lencek says:

    I am actually soliciting help: I am here in Shanghai researching Russian Disaspora culture of the 1930s-40s. Shanghai “White” Russians published a number of journals and dailies. What is my best starting point on tracking these down? Any help on dealers? Thank you.
    Lena Lencek

  5. Lena Lencek says:

    Sorry about typo: make that “DiAspora”. L.L.

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