Goodbye to Jifeng: patrons gather one last time at iconic Shanghai bookstore

Society & Culture

The last branch of Jifeng Bookstore (季风书园 jìfēng shū yuán), an iconic independent bookstore chain in Shanghai that’s been around for more than two decades, closed this week on a “dark” note.

Patrons gathered at the bookstore on Tuesday, one day before its lease was supposed to expire, for a low-key farewell party that included a movie and food and drinks prepared by its current manager, Yu Miao 于淼. Around 5:30 pm, all the lights suddenly went off, leaving customers in darkness and confusion.

Yu had received a notice 10 minutes prior from the management office of Shanghai Library, where the bookstore is located, stating, “We have decided to stop the supply of electricity and water” for equipment maintenance.

“It’s never happened before in our history,” Yu told a reporter from Qdaily at the scene. “This situation caught me off guard and was beyond my understanding.”

According to Qdaily, in a story that has been deleted, the bookstore initially wanted to host a larger party on its final day, with more of its old friends invited. But a few days ago, Yu was told to cancel the party, and some of the guests, who are mostly authors and notable people in media, were warned not to attend.

Established in 1997, the Jifeng Bookstore chain opened its first store at South Shaanxi Road metro station in Shanghai. In the years that followed, it expanded with multiple locations in the city as the Jifeng brand became a cultural landmark for book lovers and intellectuals in Shanghai. It had a comprehensive collection of books and held regular events with a spirit of what Yu called, in his farewell letter, “independent thinking and pursuit of truth.”

In the digital era, bookstores selling physical titles have been struggling to survive everywhere, and Jifeng Bookstore is no exception. At its peak, the chain had eight locations across the city. But due to rising rents and dwindling sales, seven of them went out of business.

There is reason to believe that the final location, at Shanghai Library, was closed for reasons that were not entirely business-related. According to Yu, after Shanghai Library refused to renew his lease, his plan was to find a new location. But during talks with many potential landlords, he was constantly told that Jifeng was not welcomed, and the problem had nothing to do with rent.

“My tenacity and hopes for finding luck made me travel to nearly every area of Shanghai. From commercial centers to creative industrial parks to coffeeshops, my standards got lower and lower, and I increasingly felt that I was one of the low-end population,” Yu wrote on December 22, 2017, on Jifeng’s website. “Finally, I realized that there is no place for Jifeng in such a big Shanghai.”

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Via @卖桃儿陈小甜儿

On Tuesday, though the lack of electricity spoiled Yu’s plan to have a film discussion panel and let customers freely browse books, patrons didn’t leave. They used flashlights on their smartphones and lit candles.

As described by Qdaily, instead of chaos, there was a warm and encouraging atmosphere at the bookstore. In the dim setting, Jifeng’s loyal customers started to exchange personal stories of the bookstore, accompanied by guitar songs played by a longtime employee.

Image uploaded from iOS 1
Via Cai Yineng 蔡一能, reporter at Qdaily

Yu said that a special book was created to celebrate the bookstore’s 20-year anniversary last year, but after the shipment of the first batch of 200 copies, the printing house was told to recall those books and stop printing the rest because the title was identified as “illegal publication.”

Around 6:42 p.m., local police arrived at the bookstore, asking all candles to be put out for safety concerns. Three hours later, the electricity came back without any warning.

Image uploaded from iOS 3
“I wish I myself were also a star: if I emanate light, then there is no need to fear darkness. If I am fine, then all dread can vanish.” An excerpt from the Wang Xiaobo’s 王小波 essay “I Greet the Dawn on a Deserted Island” (我在荒岛上迎接黎明 wǒ zài huāng dǎo shàng yíngjiē límíng); via Cai Yineng 蔡一能, reporter at Qdaily
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Via @周保松, professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Via @周保松, professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Via @周保松, professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong
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Via @崔翔TsuiHsiang