Although China is a nation of avid readers, with large crowds browsing almost every urban bookstore and 100 million newspapers printed daily, China's rural residents have long had a dearth of reading material.
That's expected to soon change as the country plans to fund 200,000 village libraries to bring more of the written word to the country's 900 million farmers, according to the State Press and Publication Administration of China.
A prototype village library can be found in Zhuzuiling, a landlocked village in northwest China's Gansu Province. The 80-square-meter library has become a favorite leisure spot for villagers to read and learn. It's the first time many of them have had access to any reading or learning materials since they left school.
The library offers 5,000 books and periodicals and over 300 compact discs. Like all good libraries a borrower here can select books on a wide range of topics from planting and animal husbandry techniques to culture, art, law and children's literature.
Books have long been seen as a luxury to many Chinese farmers who toil all day simply to make ends meet. Now, though, more people in the countryside are realizing there is a figurative mountain gold to be found in books. This has made rural readers discerning readers, as they want publications that are about them and their needs.
"Only 3,800 books out of the 200,000 books published in China in 2005 are related to agriculture or farmers' lives," said Long Xinmin, director of the Press and Publication Administration.
The official pointed out that more cultural products are needed to cope with the rising demand for recreation and culture in the countryside.
Huo Chengxi, a farmer in Zhuzuiling Village, said that farmers with only a basic high-school education are coming to the library to learn about growing cash crops such as flowers and vegetables.
"With these borrowed books and materials, I can read and learn at my own pace," said Huo who also borrowed DVD's from the library.
So far, there are more than 300 such public libraries in Gansu Province, and some of them have been set up where ever there's a clean enough room.
Jin Hongfang, a villager in Fengjiawan village in Gansu, gave up a room in her house to set up a library and has become the village librarian.
"Over 300 people have borrowed books here. It is also a fun place for young people and kids. Right now I only have books to lend but soon we'll sell books too," said Jin, eyeing a new business opportunity.
(Xinhua News Agency July 27, 2006)