Deprived of Literature? Where to Find English Books in Kunming

Deprived of Literature? Where to Find English Books in Kunming
By Matt Poulter ,

Tucked away in southwest China, far from the major international metropolises of the east coast, Kunming might seem like one of the last places to find English reading material. In the past, a Kunming bookworm’s worst fate was to finish reading their stash of books and have to go cold turkey before the next batch could be flown in. Thank goodness those days are long gone! Kunming now boasts several English language book hangouts, stuffed full of everything from Jeffrey Archer to Jane Austen.

1) Mandarin Books昆明漫林书苑 View In Map
Mandarin Bookstore is a small, unassuming shop slotted between several clothes boutiques, around the bend on Wenhua Xiang. It is conveniently located near the crowd of western cafes on Wenlin Jie, so you can read your latest purchase while sipping a fresh cappuccino. Mandarin Bookstore is crammed full of novels, journals, magazines, self help guides and language learning material. On the second floor you’ll find a fairly large grouping of second hand books. Material is predominantly in English although there is also a French, German and Dutch section. Above all, Mandarin is best for its new book selection. It is not uncommon to find the latest releases from London or New York sitting on a display table (although whether they are actually genuine or high class photocopies is hard to tell). The shop also has a good selection of literature regarding Yunnan. An easy read for a coach or bus journey is James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, which gave name and fame to Shangri-La; now it is not so lost and firmly established on the tourist trail in the north of Yunnan. Also good are one of the many articles by Joeseph Rock, an eccentric polyglot anthropologist/botanist who rocked (no pun intended) around Yunnan in his sedan with rubber bathtub in tow during the early 20th century.

Downstairs next to the cashier, you will find a selection of latest issue magazines, including National Geographic, The Economist, Newsweek and others. It must be said, Mandarin Bookstore is not the cheapest place to find reading material, especially if you are a traveler on a tight budget. New popular fiction retails for around 100 RMB. However, you are unlikely to find a better selection of fiction anywhere else in southwest China.

Add: Buildings 9-10, 52 Wenhua Xiang, Kunming
地址: 昆明市文化巷52号附9-10
Tel: 087 1551 6579
Opening hours: Daily, 10:30-19:00

2Chapter One View In Map
Chapter One, as the name none too subtly hints, used to be one of the first refuges of choice for a Kunming bookworm. The owner, an ex English literature student by our guess, had stuffed the entire top floor of this Wenlin Jie café with a huge selection of English literature, from Chaucer onwards. Last year the café changed ownership and the reading selection has been dramatically reduced in the revamp. The café still makes a nice spot to go to however, and a scattering of Shakespeare, Bronte and Hemmingway continue to haunt the shelves between the tables of drinkers. Although not specifically literature related, there is a well attended quiz held monthly, which is always good fun. Look out for the locally placed adverts. The winning team walks away with a case of Beer Lao and the honour of thinking up the next quiz topics and questions. Quiz aside, the bar’s second floor area has open windows facing on to the street, which always ensure a relaxed, cool setting for an afternoon with a cold beer and your novel. 

Add: 146 Wenlin Jie, Kunming
地址: 昆明市文林街146号
Tel: 087 1536 5635
Opening hours: Daily, 10:30-until late

3French Café 兰白红 View In Map
Just down the road from Chapter One is the French Café, or Blue, White and Red in Chinese. The café is typical of those in Kunming in that it has a small selection of books in a wide variety of languages locked away next to the bar. These are available to paying customers. Alternatively, for a deposit of 250 RMB, you are able to loan books for short periods. The novels on selection are of mixed quality but usually include a few classics as well as a sprinkling of popular modern fiction, especially things by Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks and other well known living authors. The café itself also makes a nice place for a sandwich or coffee. The bread is very good quality, the cakes and tarts delicious and the outside tables make an excellent place for watching the hustle and bustle of Wenlin Jie.  

Add: 70 Wenlin Jie, Kunming
地址: 昆明市文林街70号
Tel: 087 1538 2391
Opening hours: Daily, 10:00-23:30

Xinhua Bookstore (Nanping Jie Location) 新华书店(南屏街) View In Map
Before the howls of protest reach our ears, not every Xinhua has the same selection of literature on offer and Kunming’s largest Xinhua Book Store on Nanping Jie seems to be one of the better suppliers.

If you’re after an English literature classic, you’re likely to find it in Xinhua. Most major works with expired copyright have been reprinted on ultra thin, easy to tear soft-backs, presumably with the Chinese-English language student market in mind. Before making your purchase, have a quick flick through to make sure that the text is contained in its full version. Our last book from Xinhua, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, only had the first 100 pages. Rather frustrating to say the least! If you’re not one for classic English literature, Xinhua also has many contemporary publications for sale. These tend to be recent autobiographies or memoirs - Barack Obama is one of their favourites. It remains to be seen whether Mr Blair’s recently published memoirs will make the Xinhua cut! The shop also has lots of self help/lifestyle guides, although the text is often presented in both Chinese and English. 

Add: 56 Nanping Jie, Kunming
地址: 昆明市南屏街56号
Tel: 087 1363 4490
Opening hours: Daily, 10:00-20:00 

The Book ExchangeView In Map
The Book Exchange is located at the back of Summer Lotus Café, actually more of a restaurant. Only recently established, The Book Exchange has yet to really build up its collection. Most books are extremely tacky thrillers from the eighties. They are falling apart but full of interesting scribbles and notes from past readers, which are arguably more interesting than the storylines themselves!

There is also a high content of John Grisham and John le Carre novels with the odd Jeffrey Archer novel inserted between. The Book Exchange operates a book swap system of two-for-one, four-for-two, etc. and so is a good place to head if you have finished titles. Books can also be purchased. As people are frequently handing in novels you may get lucky and find something you really like. A couple of months ago we were delighted to come across a nearly new copy of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, always a pleasure to re-read! The Book Exchange seems to be doing quite a good job of advertising their service and we hope they manage to build up their collection in the future.

Add: Inside Summer Lotus Café, 202 Wenlin Jie, Kunming
地址: 昆明市文林街202号夏沫莲花咖啡馆内
Tel: 087 1536 7260
Opening hours: Daily, 10:00-21:00

Kunming Book Club
A motley collection of foreigners, the Kunming Book Club is an on-off gathering of Kunming expats interested in reading and talking about books. Books are voted in at each meet and are then photocopied and discussed a few weeks later. The list of past books is long and includes everything from Orwell to Ma Jian. At the time of writing, due to Summer holidays and busy schedules, the book club hadn’t been held in a couple of months. If you’re passionate about books however, post an advert locally and it is more than likely that past members, or new, will surface and be happy to continue the debates! Meetings are held in a member’s living room or around the many Kunming cafes or bars and always make for an entertaining evening.

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Keywords: Travel bookworm Yunnan Kunming bookstores reading Kunming English books Kunming


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