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A historical temple turned sanctuary for book enthusiasts

(China Daily USA) | Jan 20, 2018

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Dayin Books & Cook opened in Shanghai earlier this month. The books in the store, which is open till 2 am every day, are mostly related to literature, history, philosophy and art. Photo by Gao Erqiang / China Daily

Shanghai's charm lies in the fact that it has, despite rapid economic development and urbanization, retained much of its old soul, as evidenced by ancient buildings standing alongside modern skyscrapers with glass and metal facades.

One of the landmarks that has been around the longest is the Confucian Temple, which is today a popular site for students to pray for good results before they sit for their examinations. It is also the only temple left in the city that honors Confucius (551-479 BC), one of China's most famous philosophers.

Built in 1294 during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the temple occupies an area of 1.13 hectares on Wenmiao Road in downtown Shanghai. Listed by the local government as a cultural relic in 2002, the temple has undergone restoration works multiple times throughout its history.

Today, the temple is well-known for its book market that draws avid collectors looking for a rare tome to add to their collection. The market, which costs just 1 yuan (15 cents) to enter on Sundays, offers a host of publications from ancient to contemporary times, including comics, swordsman novels and magazines. Paraphernalia such as maps, postcards, advertisements, photographs, petition letters and diaries can also be found in the marketplace.

"This is a great place for Shanghai residents like me to reminisce about the 1960s and 1970s when reading comic books and watching movies were popular leisure activities," said Feng Haiming, who has been selling comic strips in the market for more than 17 years.

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A file photo shows visitors at a book fair held in the area near the Confucian Temple.

"Children today gain knowledge from the Internet and through their mobile devices. In the past, comic strips were our source of knowledge. We could learn so many things, such as history, geography and arts, from them.

Sometimes, the stories in the comics are also a valuable source of life wisdom," he added.

The 57-year-old pointed out that many middle-aged and elderly people visit the market not to buy books, but simply to chat with him about the past. He has also noticed that the market is becoming increasingly popular with young people and foreign tourists these days.

"The young adults we get here are eager to understand the lives of the previous generation through old pictures, books and letters. For foreigners, they find it interesting that they can still find some of their childhood comics, such as Astro Boy and Tintin, here at the market," he said.

Pei Xujiang, one of the young patrons of the market, said he is glad that such old venues have not disappeared despite the emergence of new book stores such as Dayin Books & Cook that is open daily till 2 am. The newly opened two-story book store occupies 1,300 square meters and features spaces for reading, dining and music recording.

Pei noted that the beauty of the old book market lies in the interaction between vendors and customers when bargaining, something that cannot be found in modern establishments.

"Some people may worry about traditional culture getting overwhelmed by the contemporary. However, this municipality has always been shaped by diversification and the blend of old and modern. The past will never be lost," he said.

caochen@chinadaily.com.cn

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