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World Book Day: How To "Let Shakespeare Find You"
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World Book Day: How To "Let Shakespeare Find You"

“Does listening to an audiobook count as 'reading'?” “Will the influx of information anytime and anywhere affect the essence of reading?” “Will fragmented reading destroy reading itself?”. This years’ World Book Day focuses on how reading must coexist with civilization and adapt to the constant evolving and changing of modern human society.

Literary Critic, Poet and Deputy Dean of The School of Literary Studies at Renmin University of China, - Qingxiang Yang revealed in an exclusive interview with China News Agency’s East Meets West, that reading is a very personal experience and although it can become more convenient to read on a daily basis, true readers need to accept new challenges in their abilities. He firmly believed that free reading is a way to “let Shakespeare find you”.

Qingxiang Yang – Poet, Critic and Professor and Doctoral Supervisor at The School of Literary Studies, Renmin University of China - whose main works include the critical collection: Post-80s; What to Do; Social Problems and Literary Imagination. The poetry collection: I Choose to Cry and Love You; The World Equals Zero, and so on. The Editor-in-Chief includes the large-scale young writers research series: “New Coordinate Book Series”, and the English version of “Post-80s” short story collection: The Sound of Salt Forming.


German aesthetician Jauss once said that even if a work has been printed into a book, it is only a semi-finished product before the reader reads it. What kind of relationship do you think the reader has with the text?

Jauss is the representative of “Aesthetic of Reception”, which is based on how the final completion of all texts must be based on the reader's reading comprehension. Since readers are “infinite”, the intelligibility of the text also tends to be “infinite”. This is similar to the saying: “a thousand Hamlets in a thousand eyes”, which can be used to describe how the same text can evoke different emotions and judgments in each individual, depending on the individual’s state of mind and personal values that the individual holds at that specific time in their life, when they are consuming the text - therefore, reading is a human behavior with a high degree of subjectivity and free orientation.

For example, readers who read Dostoevsky's works at a certain moment may struggle to connect to the text, but at another time, they may be moved by the greatness and richness of the works. Reading experience has a subtle and close relationship with the reader's age, experience, daily life experience, and even the mood and weather of the day.

Reading is a personal act that, although it can be repeated - never completely coincides, and cannot be sampled or labelled. This is precisely what I find most fascinating about reading – it is completely personal and experiential. Because of this, readers can gain a unique and wonderful experience every time they “encounter” the text. When readers are moved by a book, they can experience a powerful and deep connection with the beauty of life - evocative of the feeling of romantic love. At times we can become so enraptured in a book that we may be reluctant to finish it.

Of course, the emergence of this kind of experience is by no means inevitable every time we consume a text, and we may need to seek a large number of readings over a long period of time, but no matter how the times change - the charm of reading is eternal. Read freely and widely, as the critic Bloom put it: “let Shakespeare find you”, as the influences of the classics will only further develop your taste and appreciation of literature.

Visitors view Shakespeare's manuscripts on display in the National Library of China. Credit: China News Agency, Ni Ying.


Data shows that in recent years, the reading rate of books and the contact rate of digital reading methods have been on the rise, especially the number of "audiobooks" has grown exponentially. Will reading in different platforms affect the essence of reading?

The audiobook market has exploded in recent years, but this way of consuming literature is not strictly a new concept. Storytelling has always been a part of Chinese culture, which is also a form of audio reading in broader terms, but it is the development and popularisation of the internet and various smart devices, which has expanded the “audio” approach.

In terms of the effect that audiobooks have had on the traditions and culture of reading - I think that they are completely different platforms, which can add different context, evoke different reading states and moods, comparable to emotional experiences in life. It is difficult to tell if one form is necessarily good and the other is bad. The so-called “good reading experience” is actually a state of establishing a common emotional space with the text. This can be the moment of reading or hearing a sentence, or it may be a long-term experience in an in-depth reading.       

Of course audiobooks also have their limitations. At present, the most popular ones are mainly novels, inspirational works, biographies, historical popular science and other content, and the common ground is that they are relatively unchallenging and easy to understand.

Overall, I hold a very positive view on the broadening of reading platforms. Audiobooks and paper books meet different reading needs, and there will be no so-called audiobooks hindering the development space of paper books. On the contrary, with the development of science and technology, different platforms or mediums will inevitably surface, which are in line with the expectation of more personalized and diversified reading.

Digital intelligent reading “listening experience” at the 2020 Shanghai Book Fair. Credit: Yuyu Chen, issued by China News Agency.


People live in a flood of information every day. When knowledge becomes readily available, the original functions of reading, such as seeking knowledge and self-cultivation, seem to be affected. What do you think about people's ability to read?

Before, we had a somewhat elitist and humanistic vision of reading. In fact, reading itself has many aspects, sometimes for practical information, sometimes for entertainment or relaxation, even for socializing. Each reading aspect has its emotional logic and value acquisition.

The multi-medium dissemination method makes our understanding towards the world very broad, but the influx and reading of information is also very likely to lead to unilateral transmission of information, forming the so-called “information cocoon states”. Filtering and pushing notifications in the big data era can exacerbate the issue, for example, mobile phone readers may only consume what the big data thinks readers want to see, which actually leads to self-enclosure of information. This is what people nowadays need to be especially vigilant in the current reading environment.

For readers, the key is to develop a discriminative ability to deal with large amounts of information and to consume critically. The paradox here is that if readers want something accurate, they require more information. In the context of the “post-informatization era”, the first thing to do is not to refuse or deliberately cut off some information receiving channels, but to gain stronger judgment ability through more free reading without prejudice. This judgment determines whether a person can be a competent reader.

In the past, the main basis for judging capable readers was how much knowledge and information they could obtain, but now the criteria have changed. Being able to distinguish which is valuable and which is really related to oneself from the uninterrupted mass of information is a truly capable reader, and it is also the challenge posed by the reading conditions of the current cultural climate to every reader.

Passengers in a Beijing subway. Credit: China News Agency, Yu Hu.


In the age of touchscreens, the sheer abundance of information, both draws and distracts the reader’s attention. What's your opinion on the saying that fragmented reading will ruin reading?

I don't quite agree with this point of view. First of all, I don't think the so-called fragmented reading is caused by the era of technologies. The act of reading itself can be consumed in various forms, which is an inevitable manifestation of the individualization of reading.

Secondly, what is a “complete reading” compared to the so-called fragmented reading? “Complete reading” may be construed as the act of hunkering down and completing a large-scale reading in one session. This form of reading is almost never suitable for most situations, however the precious act reading a complete work, in its entirety is worth pursuing for various reasons and is very rare for many people to be able to achieve. Therefore, in reality, there is no binary opposition between the so-called complete reading and fragmented reading.

I have always believed that formalities do not affect the meaning of reading. Whether emotionally or cognitively, what truly effects reading is the ability to gain an intimate relationship with the text, and there should be no grading of reading itself.


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