Chinese readers find new passion for scientific literature-Xinhua

A woman visits the Beijing Book Fair 2024 in Beijing, the capital of China, January 11, 2024. (Xinhua/Ju Huanzong)

by Xinhua writer Yuan Quan

BEIJING, April 21 (Xinhua) — On Douyin, China’s most popular video-sharing platform, a program dedicated to exploring essential science books has been viewed millions of times and attracted nearly 90,000 loyal viewers in just two years. Each week, esteemed scientists and scholars are invited to appear on the program to share their insights on scientific books ranging from Euclid’s ‘Elements’ to Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ and Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’.

Program planner Wu Guosheng said his sole goals were to stimulate public interest in science and promote the participation of both scientists and the public.

“We do not encourage people to engage with classic science books for academic purposes, but rather to make the experience of reading about science engaging, enlightening and rewarding,” said Wu, who is also dean of the History Department of the Sciences of Tsinghua. University. He and his team have promoted nearly 100 classic science books on social media since 2022.

In the past, the Chinese people preferred literary classics to scientific literature, and scientific books always received lukewarm responses. Today, however, China appreciates sci-tech innovation, and there is a growing enthusiasm for scientific literature.

According to data from Beijing-based research firm OpenBook, the market share of scientific books has continuously increased since 2019. Despite an overall decline in book sales during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a significant increase in the popularity of books about medicine. and health.

A similar trend is also visible in the popularity of children’s books, which represent the largest share of the domestic book market. Since 2021, sales of science books for young readers have surpassed those of children’s literature.

A child reads a book at a bookstore in Nanjing, east China’s Jiangsu province, July 8, 2023. Students across the country enjoy a variety of activities during the summer holidays. (Photo by Su Yang/Xinhua)

The rising trend is partly due to the fact that more and more experts are willing to share their knowledge through books, said Wang Dapeng, member of the China Research Institute of Science Popularization.

Tan Xianjie, a 54-year-old gynecologist, makes such a contribution. He has written a series of books and created short videos to present medical information about women’s health.

The doctor once received a thank you banner from a woman at his hospital who was not his patient. After watching Tan’s lecture on cervical cancer, she booked a check-up and underwent timely surgery after she was diagnosed with early-stage cancer.

The experience reminded Tan of the importance of popularizing science, which he said is “both a professional duty and a social responsibility for doctors.”

When he began popularizing science, this was not a common practice for Chinese physicians. In hospital evaluation systems, science popularization was not considered as important as the quality of surgery and the number of patients, and thus could not contribute significantly to a doctor’s professional reputation.

In 2016, there was a significant shift that saw national leaders recognize the importance of science popularization, describing scientific innovation and popularization as “the wings for realizing innovation-driven development.” Subsequently, government plans were implemented to underline the need to strengthen the creation of popular science works.

A Mars probe is launched on a Long March-5 rocket from the Wenchang spacecraft launch site in southern China’s Hainan province, July 23, 2020. (Xinhua/Guo Cheng)

The popularity of scientific literature is also boosted by the rapid sci-tech development in China. Recent developments in biomedicine, aerospace, astronomy, artificial intelligence and information technology have created waves of public enthusiasm for science and given new vitality to the publication and marketing of scientific books, said Xu Guoqiang, deputy editor of the World Publishing Company. .

This year, Xu’s company is releasing a series of popular astronomy books that cover fascinating topics such as the moon and Mars.

“The public needs books to better understand the country’s groundbreaking scientific achievements,” says Xu, citing examples such as China’s successful launch of a Mars rover and its future plans for manned moon landing missions.

Xu said the development of popular science, related publications and reading materials depends on the people’s scientific literacy. The latest data shows that 14.1 percent of Chinese citizens were scientifically literate in 2023, and China aims to increase this to 25 percent by 2035.

“Science popularization is a crucial means of increasing people’s scientific literacy, and in turn, an improvement would also contribute to the prosperity of popular science,” Xu noted.

A shop assistant poses with A Brief History of Time, the best-selling book by world-renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, at a bookstore in London, Britain, on March 14, 2018. (Xinhua/Stephen Chung)

Imported science books have long been highly competitive in the domestic market, with a typical example being Stephen Hawking’s ‘A Brief History of Time’, which has never left China’s top 10 popular science books since its introduction to mainland China in 1992. disappeared. .

Famous original Chinese popular science works include the children’s book “One Hundred Thousand Whys” from the 1960s, the biographical “Goldbach Conjecture” and the science fiction work “Little Smarty Travels to the Future” from the late 1970s. In recent years, indigenous books on genetics and quantum physics have also gained popularity among Chinese readers.

“But the problem we face now is still a shortage of original science books, and a lack of science books that can enhance readers’ intelligence, curiosity and inner strength,” Xu said.

This view is shared by Wang, who proposes more incentives to encourage professional participation in the cause, which can be achieved through projects such as financing.

“It can also be useful to provide scientific writers with training to sharpen their writing skills,” Wang added.