BEIJING, March 7 (Xinhua) -- Premier Li Keqiang's vow in a key address this week that "we will encourage the people to read" has excited literati over chances of strengthening the population's appreciation for books.
Amid a wave of popular opinion that new media is distracting people from the more wholesome activity of reading, Li made his comment when delivering the government work report on Wednesday during the annual session of the National People's Congress (NPC), China's top legislature. It was the first time that "reading" has been mentioned in a government work report.
NPC representatives and members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) suggested measures to get more books in people's hands by assisting the publishing industry, encouraging innovation in communications, and distributing books to smaller cities and rural areas.
Xu Zhongliang, the head of Shanghai Yuandong Publishing House, who's thrilled about the premier's proposal, said that books are still irreplaceable in the new media era, and should be re-popularized.
Look around any Chinese public space and you will see people head down in smartphones and iPads, seemingly reliant on them for information and knowledge. Meanwhile, they have turned away from the printed word.
According to 2013 survey results published by the China Academy of Press and Publication, the average Chinese read 6.74 printed books and e-books in 2012. However, Koreans get through 10 books annually, and the number stands as high as 20 among Russians.
A popular online article published last year, and since reprinted in local media, bookmarked the concern. The piece, titled "Chinese who don't read" and written by an Indian engineer, said, "On the flight from Frankfurt to Shanghai, I saw so many people holding iPads, but no one was reading a book. It seems that Chinese people today lack the patience to sit down and read a book."
Some netizens even compare people's dependency on smartphones today with the addiction to opium a century before.
Wang Yongli, a 19-year-old from northwest China's Gansu Province who works in a hair salon in Beijing, bought a smartphone with his limited income. "Why should I buy any books when I have my phone? I can read news and find all the information with it. It's very convenient," he said.
According to Fan Xianzuo, a professor with the School of Education in Central China Normal University, new media has made information succinct and easier to obtain; however, it has shortened people's attention spans, making it hard for them to concentrate on books.
"Reading, to some extent, can determine the level of a country's civilization," said Fan.
CPPCC member Nie Zhenning echoed Fan's opinion.
"Reading is the foundation to inherit and develop a nation's culture. Although reading has been growing in China, it is still at odds with our history of civilization," said Nie.