Cathay Bookshop, China’s first state-owned ancient and second-hand bookstore, celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this month. The shop, on eastLiulichang Traditional Culture Street, is also China’s largest bookstore specializing in thread bound books
There have been countless books printed and handcrafted over the centuries in China, however stories of book burning are also astoundingly abundant in history. The earliest recorded large-scale destruction of books occurred during the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC), when Emperor Qinshihuang ordered all the books in the entire country to be burnt. Six years later, a fire that blazed for three months reduced the newly printed imperial book collection to ashes.
In the modern history of China, with the arrival of the foreign invaders after the Opium War, there was an upsurge in the loss and damage of books. Many scholars involved in the book industry then took upon themselves the responsibility of preserving the classics of Chinese culture. It is largely thanks to them that so many rare editions, treasured private editions, and unique editions have been preserved.
Origins of the second-hand book trade
The book trade in China can be traced back some 2,000 years, to the late Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD) in Chang’an (now Xi’an). According to historic records from the fourth century, on the 1st and the 15th day of every lunar month, students would gather in an open area calleHuaishi. They took belongings such as Confucian classics, commentaries, biographies, or musical instruments to exchange with others.