8 local bookstores worth exploring in Beijing

You don’t need to master Chinese to appreciate these literary centres in the city

Photo: Zhongshuge/Wechat

You just need to look at a crowded subway car to know that China's brick‑and‑mortar bookstores are in trouble. Finding an individual hunched over a book rather than a smart phone on the commute is as hard as finding one of those electric shared bikes. It's possible, but rare enough that you celebrate when you spot one. But with the Beijing government dishing out subsidies since 2018 to encourage bookstores to open and stay open in this digital age, they have been slowly making a comeback. The first on our list – Zhongshuge – known for its thematic interiors – just opened its flagship branch in Beijing two weeks ago.

So while you might already know The Bookworm and Page One, here are eight local bookstores that are also worth checking out. They may not all have English books, but they are great places to check out the local reading scene and, with the summer heating up, brilliant quiet spots to hang out in air-conditioned comfort.

Zhongshuge 钟书阁

This Chinese bookstore chain has been a smashing success across the Mainland though mainly for its majestic interior designs, which is a huge draw for the selfie natives. Just opened two weekends ago, its Beijing outpost is as beautiful as its branches across China. It houses an endless maze of books packed on shelves that go along the walls and even suspended from the ceiling. You can spend the entire day here, and you might as well get some Instagram posts while you’re at it.

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Kexueyuan Nan Lu (Chaoyang, --select--)

Spring Whispers Book Club Sanlitun 春风习习朝阳城市书屋

We simply love how the owners of Spring Whispers decided on its name. It apparently attempts to describe the slight wind created when one flips a magazine page. The Sanlitun branch of the Spring Whispers Book Club is a sleek and beautiful magazine library, and a great place to step out of Taikoo Li’s maddening crowds. The space features tall glass windows, abundant natural-lit seatings and a minimalist aesthetic that is a contrast to the rampant consumerism outside. 

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Taikoo Li Bei (Chaoyang, --select--)

Quanmin Changdu Bookstore 全民畅读书店

Nestled inside a park near the Babaoshan metro station, this bookstore offers not only books, but is also a thriving community space for artists and literary types. It has a regular line-up of literary and lifestyle events that range from fine dining, coffee-tasting, indoor concert, film-screening to boxing lessons although you will need some proficiency in Chinese to participate. It’s an ideal weekend hangout spot to catch up with friends, or make more new ones. It has a wonderful glass ceiling letting in natural light and its space is divided up into smaller rooms and alcoves that bookworms can hole up in for hours.

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Shangzhuang Dajie (Chaoyang, --select--)

Sisyphe City Books 西西弗黑标旗舰店

You might possibly recognise this bookstore as you can find it in most malls in Beijing. But its latest opening in the CBD is apparently of its higher-end ‘City Books’ brand. We can’t honestly say there’s a difference in the books that they carry to appeal to this ‘higher-end’ market, but its design aesthetic at this venue is decidedly different from its other locations. Gone are the light woods and green-themed spaces. This branch features dark woods and panels, glass and is a lot more spacious with generous seating areas. 

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1 Jianguomenwai Dajie (Chaoyang, --select--)

Insight Books 由新书店

Insight Books is a whopping 1,000sqm space full of books in a warehouse-like setting. Though mostly packed with hip publications in Chinese, its wooden stair seating area encourages visitors to grab a book, relax or people-watch. It also has a cafe that serves up food and drink so that you can hang out there all day.

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56 Dongzhimenwai Xiejie (Chaoyang, --select--)

Paragon Book Gallery 佳作书局

Tucked away inside the 798 Art District is Paragon Book Gallery which history is worth writing a book about. It was first founded in Shanghai in 1942 by a Jewish refugee couple who closed it down and re-opened the bookstore in New York and then Chicago in the 50s. Then in 2014, it reopened its store in China in Beijing, almost 72 years after it left the Mainland. This outlet at 798 is its second store in the city. Paragon is regarded as a foremost source on Asian art books and is a literary paradise for academics and bibliophiles-alike. 

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4 Jiuxianqiao Lu (Chaoyang, --select--)

Mofanshuju Bookstore + Poetic Space 模范书局+诗空间

Formerly the home of the biggest and earliest Catholic church in north China, this bookstore has given the 112-year-old structure a new lease of life. Its wooden arches, domes and glass windows have been carefully restored and made modern, with a spacious interior. A bookstore and a historic attraction rolled into one, it’s worth coming during the weekends just to walk around and take in its majestic interiors.

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85 Tonglinge Lu (Chaoyang, --select--)

Wumei Bookstore 舞美书店

Nestled in an opera house east of Tiananmen Square is the Wumei Bookstore, the first bookstore of its kind that’s dedicated to the world of stage design for traditional Chinese stage performances. While it only takes up 82sqm, the bookstore is well-stocked with tomes about Peking opera, cross-talk, and a myriad of lesser known traditional Chinese theatrical arts.

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Dongyuan Xilou (Chaoyang, --select--)
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