April 21, 2016

Inside a feminist bookstore in China


Image via New York Times

Image via New York Times

The owner of Lady Book Salon in Beijing, Xu Chunyu describes herself as a “mild feminist.” Encouraging women to “focus on empowering themselves and improving their own lives,” rather than working towards political change led Ms. Xu to open a chain of bookstores.

Javier C. Hernandez at the New York Times reports:

Ms. Xu, 41, opened her first female-oriented store in Beijing a decade ago in hopes of giving women a forum for expanding their knowledge of culture, history, feminine identity and relationships. She now operates nine stores in mainland China, each with the slogan, “Be a literary lady!”

Ms. Xu said many Chinese women, especially those between the ages of 20 and 45, led a “volatile life,” overwhelmed by the demands of work, family and love.

“I wanted to establish a place for women to express themselves and to show their independence,” Ms. Xu said. “Together, they can overcome obstacles and broaden their horizons.”

Speaking with Hernandez, the customers at Lady Book Salon discussed life for women in China, and the pressures they face. Some customers visit the bookstore to find peace of mind.

“We long for some place to rest the soul,” she said. “This is an oasis in such a chaotic city.”…Ms. Ma said she sometimes struggled to assert herself at work, drowned out by the din of male voices, and that managers often assigned women less work, assuming they wanted to spend more time at home with their families. “We have to be brave and speak up,” she said.

Some women find direction.

Su Qing, 33, a manager at a financial services company, started coming to Lady Book Salon last year to read books on business, Chinese history and Buddhism…After coming here, I found the direction of my life,” Ms. Su said. “Being here has shown I have something beyond my family life, that I have my own interests and activities.”

In the wake of the Communist Party’s pushing back against feminist advocacy—according to Hernandez, “last year, it detained five activists who were planning a campaign against sexual harassment”—Zhang Yuan Yuan‘s statement feels vital.

At another table, Zhang Yuan Yuan, 31, a financial services manager, said she was distraught by the lack of outrage over domestic violence in China. Earlier this month, a video showing a woman being attacked by a stranger in the hallway of a four-star hotel in Beijing went viral. The hotel staff stood idle.

“It’s not an isolated incident,” Ms. Zhang said. “There’s not enough respect for women.”

Lady Book Salon stocks Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Feminism by the Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe, alongside how-to guides on finding husbands.

Julia Fleischaker is a former director of marketing and publicity at Melville House.