July 12, 2016

Moscow gets its first Chinese-language bookstore


Epoch-making frenemies Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong. Via Wikipedia.

Epoch-making frenemies Nikita Khrushchev and Mao Zedong. Via Wikipedia.

Australian historian Ross Terrill once wrote, of a 1954 meeting in China between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong:

As men, the pair had little in common but a large girth. Mao was oblique; “I was never exactly sure,” said Khrushchev, who was as frontal as tractor, “that I understood what he meant.” Mao liked books. Khrushchev liked corn cobs. Mao (in Khrushchev’s words) “moved calmly and slowly as a bear.” Khrushchev jerked around like a bull. Mao gazed down the corridors of the world’s future. Khrushchev was dealing day by day with the challenge of American power.

If the description makes it sound like conflict was in the offing here, it was. By the end of the fifties, relations between the world’s two leading socialist countries (which share, among other things, a 2,600-mile border) had not only soured — they had, in what became known as the Sino-Soviet Split, curdled solid and cleaved apart entirely. For many years, the USSR and PRC were barely on speaking terms.

All that has been changing in recent years — China and Russia signed a Treaty of Good-Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation in 2001. When technocrat Xi Jinping acceded to the Chinese presidency in 2012, his first state visit was to Russia.  Just a few weeks ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin found himself in China, where he and Xi “vowed to unswervingly deepen their strategic partnership of coordination” (you know, like you do), signed “a joint statement on strengthening global strategic stability on promoting the development of information and cyber space” (like you do), and, judging by the optics, undertook some of the least convincing handshakes in the history of publicity photos.

It is perhaps against this backdrop that we should consider news that Moscow has just gotten its first Chinese-language bookstore.  The store is called Chance Beaucoup, and I will happily buy a beer for any MobyLives reader with actual knowledge or amusing guesses as to why, beyond the fact that it’s the shared project of a China-based international publishing company called “Chance” and the Zhejiang Publishing United Group. The store, which opened on July 6th, sells about 5,000 titles, mostly in Chinese, with some translated from Chinese into Russian.

In a statement to Russia’s Rossiyskaya Gazyeta, Zhejian Publishing president Tong Jian said:

This bookstore is the direct result of friendly collaboration between Russia and China in the realm of publishing. One might say it’s a window that opens new possibilities for cultural exchange between our two countries…. More than that, we hope it will provide a comfortable home for all of Russia’s readers who passionately love Chinese culture. In the world today, collaboration and cultural exchange are ever expanding, and the realm of publishing is no exception. In fact, it is precisely books that unite the peoples of our countries, despite the kilometers that separate them.

In a conversation with Russia’s Year of Literature 2016, Chance General Director Mu Ping said the store was aimed “primarily at students learning Chinese, but also at anyone with an interest in Chinese culture, or a desire to grow better acquainted with our literature.”



Ian Dreiblatt is the director of digital media at Melville House.