Technological advances like e-readers and tablets have been the death of common brick-and-mortar bookstores. For those who still miss the smell of paper and the experience of browsing, Beijing has a few interesting options.
Pass on the noisy Xidan Bookstore and Xinhua Bookstore: Beijing’s smaller bookshops offer a better reading experience and the chance to find less common books, often out of print or collected from abroad.
If we were ranking beautiful bookstores, Zhuandu Space would be the capital’s clear winner. It is located in the Pagoda of the Old Man of Wansong, a historical and cultural site under government protection.
The pagoda was built in the Yuan Dynasty in memory of the monk Wansong Xingxiu. It was off-limits before last April, as the pagoda had been swallowed into a government unit’s work area. To encourage modern use of the historical space, the authorities opened a modern bookstore in the ancient tower.
Readers can find precious historical documents and books about Old Beijing in Zhuandu Space. It’s also a place to learn more about Monk Wansong’s life and the changing role of the tower. If you tire of reading, head over to the nearby Zhuanta Hutong to relax.
According to historical records, the alley is Beijing’s oldest. Many classic stories have been written by the hutong’s residents, among whom were Lu Xun, Zhang Henshui and Lao She.
(010) 6303 9616 / 13810088721
Mofan Shuju is a combination bookstore and private museum of ancient engraving. In spite of its location on the commercialized Qianmen Street, Mofan has fought assimilation and preserved its traditional function.
During the Republican Era, Qianmen was home to seven big publishers: Shijie Publisher, Zhongzheng Publisher, Kaiming Publisher, Guangyi Publisher, Huanqiu Publisher, Dazhong Publisher and Zhonghuayin Publisher.
Inspired by the street’s past, the owner decorated the store with expensive early 20th century furniture. Its books are mainly about literature and art, though there are a few rare one the owner has amassed over the years.
The owner is a poet, designer and ancient books collector, and some of the books for sale are his own works.
31 Yangmei Zhuxie Street, Qianmen, Xicheng
(010) 6304 6321
Light in August Bookstore
This fifty-square-meter bookstore is situated near the famous campuses of Tsinghua University and Peking University.
Although small, it offers a very distinctive collection of books. Most of its space is devoted to used and out-of-print books rather than bestsellers. The owner usually purchases overstock books from publishing companies or books rejected by other bookstores.
Ignore the high prices that appear to be marked on each book. Everything in Light in August is 50 percent to 60 percent off. The owner sends out text message notifications whenever a new batch of books arrives.
262, Chengfu Lu, Haidian
(010) 8262 6408
Faced with the cruel decline of traditional bookstores, Beepub Press chose to open its small bookstore in the suburbs. Book fans seem happy to spend an hour commuting to its distant location.
Beepub’s collection does not include biographies, books on finance or young adult fiction. It specializes in books on art, painting and design.
B-106, Shangbao Art District, Xiaobaocun Village, Songzhuang Town, Tongzhou
(010) 6057 3326
The founder of Bi’an Bookstore attempted to unify a teahouse and a bookstore. For this store’s patrons, there is nothing is better than reading books while sipping on quality tea.
Bi’an often organizes cultural salons where you can find like-minded people.
306, Boyan Building, Haidian Mudan Technology Building, No.2, Huyuanlu Road, Haidian
(010) 8231 8486; (010) 8228 2696