February 6, 2018
Jifeng, Shanghai’s bastion of liberal bookselling, goes out with a bang
by Michael Barron
Back in July, we wrote, “Shanghai’s liberal Jifeng bookshop, which never propelled anyone through a tear in the fabric of spacetime but has nonetheless been a bastion of progressive thinking and literary bridge-building for twenty years, is closing.” As Eva Li wrote then in the South China Morning Post, the store has long been “known for its high-quality academic books on politics, philosophy, law and history, topics that [were] also explored by well-known scholars at regular seminars held in a large room at the shop.”
The shop’s last location, which had been operating for four years at the Shanghai Library metro stop, had a lease with the state-run library set to expire at the end of January 2018, and majority owner Yu Miao told Li his attempts to find another space had met with “non-commercial” (i.e. governmental, presumably) interference. That’s something the government can do in an authoritarian country.
Another thing an authoritarian government can do is ensure you don’t get a goodbye party. According to Charlotte Gao at the Diplomat, the store had planned a farewell celebration for its second-last day in business, with a film screening and a last chancec to do some shopping. But just a couple of hours before the party, library officials informed the store, on ten minutes’ notice, that power and water would be shut off for “equipment maintenance” — something that had never happened in the store’s previous four years of operation.
Some party-pooping bullshit, right?
Jifeng and the customers who planned on attending the event apparently thought so as well. Instead of returning home, Gao reports, “Jifeng’s loyal customers refused to leave. They used their cellphones to provide light and kept looking for the books they wanted. An employee started to play the guitar and sing songs. Some customers began sharing personal stories related to Jifeng.”
If that wasn’t the most joyful bit of clandestine bookselling activity that happened last week, I don’t know what was. Eventually the power was turned back on, just past 9 pm, which caused one last unexpected felicity: “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miz began playing from the register counter.
Michael Barron is an editor at Melville House.