Illustration: Chen Xia/GT
Fudan University's Luming Bookstore is once again in the public eye. Two years after the university saved a 200-squaremeter space on campus specially for the faltering off-campus bookstore, Oriental Morning Post recently reported that over the past two years, the university has rolled out other controversial preferential policies to support the unprofitable business.
Fudan, it turns out, not only leases the property for free to the store, but also grants swift approval of on-campus activities organized by the store such as lectures, and has even asked its own logistics staff to help place posters and adverts for the bookstore's events. Hearing this news, I asked a friend who graduated from Fudan how she feels about Luming. "It's pretty good," she said, echoing the general sentiment of customer reviews on Dianping.com.
"Books here are interesting, professional and not so commonly seen at other bookstores, and they can immediately arouse my interest to read and even take them home," wrote one account named Youyaoniea. "Here, the majority of books are about literature, history and philosophy, and there are also several shelves for secondhand books. New books are sold at a 15 percent discount," Shibuwoyu commented.
However, I also read some negative comments about Fudan's preferential kindness toward Luming. Fudan, the naysayers believe, should just let the bookstore survive (or not) on its own and transfer the bookstore's space to other businesses that can actually make money or at least pay rent to the campus.
I disagree with this. For me, it's the equivalent of telling a charity like the Red Cross that they should not help underprivileged people because they are poor. Of course Fudan's primary duty is to its students, not endangered bookstores, but since the university feels that a good bookstore will benefit its students, whom are also paying customers of the university, why not do something to support it?
In recent decades, more and more people around the world have become accustomed to a neoliberalistic economy, which emphasizes free trade, deregulation and fiscal austerity. Under this type of economy, to the industry victors go all the spoils while unprofitable sectors such as education and health care are left dwindling.
This situation has aroused concerns from experts across the world. In April, British writer and critic George Monbiot (author of The Age of Consent: A Manifesto for a New World Order) stated in an article that "financial meltdown, environmental disaster and even the rise of Donald Trump - neoliberalism has played its part in them all."
Maybe that seems far beyond the lowly destiny of a small bookstore in our city, but one thing that should be made clear is that neither market or money should control our lives. Instead, we must stay alert to potential societal problems and take actions to improve our situations. What Fudan did - help a bookstore that is trying to keep alive the dying art of printed literature - perfectly encapsulates this selfless ideology.
Luming is not alone amid the widespread shift from printed to digital content that China is currently witnessing. It's now far more expensive to buy a book from a brick-and-mortar shop than from a Chinese e-retailer, which can purchase books from publishers at a lower price due to its capacity to sell more and quicker. Because of this, a huge number of time-honored bookstores across Shanghai have shuttered in recent years.
However, other local bookstores are adapting to new market trends and transforming their business models in order to survive. Such changes include selling other in-demand merchandise such as digital devices, offering foodstuffs services like coffee and organizing in-store lectures and readings. Old China Handing Reading Room on Shaoxing Road and The Mixed Place on Hengshan Road are leading the pack in this regard, and hopefully other book shops will follow their lead so that they can stop relying on charity and return to good-old-fashioned capitalism..
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.