BEIJING, April 22 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Internet users have been mourning the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the literary titan and Nobel laureate, by lighting candles on social networking sites and reciting the opening of his famous "One Hundred Years of Solitude".
But in a country where more than 600 million people have access to the Internet, it is hard to say how many netizens truly worshipped Garcia Marquez, who died last week, by reading his printed books.
Perhaps it is also the case for William Shakespeare, another literary giant revered by the Chinese but very few are willing to read his works. Wednesday is the 450th anniversary of the playwright's birthday, as well as World Book and Copyright Day.
According to a survey published by the Chinese Academy of Press and Publication (CAPP) on Monday, Chinese people read 4.77 books per capita in 2013, 0.38 more than the previous year but still far fewer than those in major developed countries.
Sharmistha Mohapatra, a Shanghai-based Indian expatriate, wrote an article on Chinese people's lack of reading habit, saying he was worried about young people's obsession with social networking.
The Indian engineer said that he found on a flight from Frankfurt to Shanghai that very few of the people who had iPads were reading books, most of them were playing games or watching movies.
Worse still, many book lovers don't buy books anymore.
Last weekend, Law of Gravitation, an independent bookstore in Zhongshan City in south China's Guangdong Province, held an "Open all night" event before its planned closure by the end of this month due to rising rental fees.
"Reading is our highest belief and we believe reading will never die," said the general manager Liao Jianbo on Weibo, China's most popular twitter-like service.
The planned closure is part of a nationwide trend in which many bookstores have disappeared. In southwest China's Chongqing, 301 bookstores closed their doors between 2009 and 2012. Book lovers have been wooed by new forms of entertainment and online retailers like Dangdang.com and JD.com, which sell books at discounted prices.
Kevin Guo, a Chinese student who now studies in Kyoto, Japan, said that reading pocket books is very common for Japan's commuters, a stark contrast from what he saw in China's big cities, where subway passengers are continually checking on updates of Weibo or WeChat, another popular social networking service.
REMODELING CHINA'S READING CULTURE
However, at street corners and airport terminals, people are still buying best-sellers from Steve Jobs' biography to Stephen Covey's "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People", said publisher Lu Guojun.
According to Lu, child-rearing manuals, cookbooks, health and fitness guides as well as teaching materials are also gaining popularity in China's book market.
Though some experts have warned that Chinese people's reading habits will be further shattered by fragmented shallow content, some people see a chance in remodeling reading culture.
Former journalist-turned product manager Zuo Zhijian started MZ Read, a reading application run on iOS and Google's Android platforms. It tries to bring readers together by offering them a social networking platform solely focused on reading serious content.
"Printed books can no longer suffice, in its portability, spreading scale and the quality of content," said Zuo, adding people's not buying printed books does not mean they are abandoning reading.
According to Zuo, his team has received several million yuan from investors, a sign that "in a world of information overload, to know what readers really want is the key for further development."
Wei Yushan, who heads CAPP research, said Chinese people spend more time reading digital content, on smartphones, tablets and reading devices. "Convenient access to digital content is the primary reason that Chinese people read on their phones and electronic devices," said Wei.
The market is not short of competitors. Duokan.com and Douban.com, two major e-book service providers in China, both offer content on iOS and Android platforms as well as on Amazon's Kindle device.
Before the online sales company brought its Kindle to China, many Chinese customers were able to buy the device from overseas via e-commerce platform Taobao.
Because of a prevalent pirated e-book market, many analysts expected Amazon to incur heavy losses.
However, Amazon announced earlier this year that its Kindle business started making profits in China.
Kurt Beidler, head of Amazon's Kindle Content Unit in China, said at a press conference in January that Amazon and publishers would work together to expand the e-book market and win people over from online games, web browsing and online chatting.
FOR THOSE WHO LOVE BOOKS
Still, many people do prefer reading, even the country's top leaders. Reading is part of my life, said Chinese President Xi Jinping in an interview with Russian media, adding he read and clearly remembered the plots of Russian writers' works, including Pushkin, Gogol and Turgenev.
In a government report at the just ended National People's Congress in March, Premier Li Keqiang also vowed to motivate people to read.
One beneficiary is Sanlian Taofen Bookstore, whose 24-hour trial since April 8 has been so successful that even its manager Fan Xi'an said they received unexpected customer flow.
Fan also said that the 24-hour initiative was supported by a government subsidy scheme from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Film and Television and the Ministry of Finance.
According to an official with the finance ministry, the scheme, which covered 56 bookstores in 12 cities, will be expanded.
Zuo Zhijian's MZ Read is also expanding. "Quality content is always what drives people to read," said Zuo.