China has successfully copied many things from the West, but clearly not this one.
Inspired by Books on the Underground, a program that provides rail commuters in London free books to read, a Chinese firm launched a book-sharing scheme recently for people using subway lines in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.
However, the company behind the initiative — a Beijing firm named Xinshixiang — is finding, to its dismay, that the project is proving to be something of a damp squib.
The response from commuters has been cold, and even the rail authorities don’t seem to be too enthused about it.
While the program generated a lot of buzz on social media and won praise from citizens, not too many people have actually bothered to pick up the free books placed at the rail stations.
One reason is the crowded trains, which make book-reading somewhat difficult while traveling.
But another, and perhaps more important, reason is that many commuters were just not interested in reading books as they had become fixated on their smartphones and other mobile devices.
Adding to Xinshixiang’s woes, rail authorities began expressing concern that the book-sharing scheme was giving rise to a littering problem on trains and stations, according to mainland media.
Under the program, commuters can pick up books for free at rail stations and carry them away to read.
Once they are done with the books, the people should bring them back and leave them again at stations so that other commuters can enjoy the same books.
When a person picks up a book, it is suggested that he or she scan a QR code, which helps track the journey and location of the book and leaves a trail.
The scheme was modeled on London’s Books on the Underground, who is also known as the Scattering Books project, which was championed by celebrities such as Emma Watson.
In the London campaign, books were distributed randomly in subway stations for commuters to read, drawing enthusiastic response from commuters.
Following the success of that campaign, which was aimed at promoting book-reading habits among people, Xinshixiang sought to put in place a similar arrangement for Chinese travelers.
It began to distribute 10,000 books for subway passengers with the help of celebrities such as actor Huang Xiaoming and actress and director Xu Jinglei.
While Xinshixiang had a laudable objective, not many Chinese commuters seemed to appreciate it.
As only a small number of people picked up the books, one could see the titles stacked up at the stations.
The untouched books, in many cases, ended up being taken away by cleaning staff at the stations.
It is not known what was done with them.
There are suspicions that some of the books have ended up in trash bins.
- Contact us at [email protected]