[Story] Australian Chinese bookstore curtain call, leaving a cultural memory of Chinese immigrants

Release your eyes, put on headphones, and listen~!

On May 2021, 5, the Chinese bookstore near Sydney’s Chinatown officially closed.This old bookstore, founded in early 20, is not only a phenomenal existence in the industry, but also carries the memory of the cultural life of Chinese immigrants in Australia.

Old photo of the Australia China Book Shop Source: Wendy Liu
When Ms. Liu Xiaohua, one of the co-founders of the bookstore, received an exclusive interview with the SBS Mandarin program, she emotionally recalled the experience of Chinese bookstores in the past 27 years.change.The story begins in the early XNUMXs.


The beacon of an isolated island of Chinese culture


"I have been in Australia this year for thirty years. When I first came, many people didn't have a very high level of English. I usually read English novels and TV. To be honest, there are still certain language barriers."
"When flying over from China, everyone mainly brought some daily necessities and rarely brought Chinese books. Therefore, Chinese books are especially scarce for us. If anyone has a book, you can borrow it. , He borrowed it. After borrowing it for a while, the (book) was already in tatters."

After we came to Australia from China, it was like being on a cultural island.At that time, people working and studying abroad were very depressed. Long-distance calls in China cost about four Australian dollars a minute, which was very expensive.So the spiritual world is very scarce and empty.

Ms. Liu painted us a picture of Chinese immigrants seeking their spiritual home in Australia in the XNUMXs and XNUMXs.

"About 89, those who came from China to Australia stayedThere are probably more than XNUMX people.In this small circle of more than XNUMX people, everyone will run their own small magazines and newspapers and write small articles.I just hope to have a better cultural atmosphere. "
At the end of 1993, China National Books Import and Export Corporation came to Sydney to hold a book fair in order to expand its overseas business.This news caused a huge sensation among Chinese immigrants.Ms. Liu and her friends actively participated in the preparation and exhibition work.
"You think, the book fair is all books, like a sea of ​​books. We are equivalent to wandering in it, and we feel, ah, great!" Recalling this past, the old scene is once again vivid It appeared before her eyes.

After the book fair, a few of our friends discussed together, can we open a bookstore?We need such a cultural atmosphere so much.

As it is now, the Australian government at that time also pursued a multicultural policy.After several months of preparations, Liu Xiaohua and her three partners finally established the "Australia Chinese Bookstore" in 1994, which later enjoyed a wide reputation among Chinese immigrants.

Old-time photos of Chinese bookstores in Australia

Liu Xiaohua

"The bookstore at that time was like a gathering place. Everyone was willing to come. If you didn't have money to buy it, you could come to read for free. At that time, the bookstore was XNUMX square meters. We put sofas and stools in the bookstore. Many people would sit on the steps. ."
"At that time, everyone was like a family. I was like a housewife. Anyone in the bookstore would come to us and ask if there was anything to do. For example,'How can I reapply for my tax file number if I lost it? Can you introduce someone to help me move?'"

Now we will go to Google on the Internet when we encounter things. There was no such thing at the time.Everyone thinks that as long as you go to a Chinese bookstore, Liu Xiaohua and her colleagues at the bookstore can answer any questions you want to solve.

According to her description, the Chinese immigrants and stayingNot only found spiritual food in Chinese bookstores, but also unexpectedly became life service agencies, cultural salons, information centers, dating sites, and making friends...
"For example, meet a friend. They will meet at a Chinese bookstore. It doesn't matter if someone is late. It doesn't matter if you are late at all. I look at the book first. When are you here, slap your shoulder, OK, put the book in your hand on the shelf Once it was released, I left."
"Some people also ask me to introduce male and female friends, business partners... I think people who like to read are better-quality people. So I am always active and willing to establish some connections for them."
"Blind date friends who have never met can meet at my bookstore, even if they don't say hello, they can just take a look at each other."
"At the weekend, a bunch of people stayThink of our place as a cultural salon.Anyone can comment.Everyone is arguing about some international situations, cultural conflicts, artistic opinions..."

Old-time photos of Chinese bookstores in Australia

Liu Xiaohua


Witness of immigrant life

Ms. Liu Xiaohua said that when China's bookstores were the largest, they had more than 12,000 types of books.what is interesting,From the operator to the bookChoose to get a glimpse of Chinese immigrants and stayingThe different demands of our lives in Australia.
"Just tell me what book the customer needs, I will write it down, and send a fax to China for inquiries and purchases."
"At that time, our inspirational books were selling very well, and no one wants to read them now. Because at that time we had to rely on books to make up for the lack of spirituality, including the need for someone to tell us how to behave and do things."
"The Xinhua Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, and other reference books are XNUMX, XNUMX, XNUMX copies...because people generally don't have a high level of English, the English-Chinese and Chinese-English dictionaries sell very well. "

Old-time photos of Chinese bookstores in Australia

Liu Xiaohua

Among them, Ms. Liu specifically mentioned the "Australian Slang Dictionary". For Chinese immigrants at that time, it was particularly difficult to understand Australian slang.
"Some inCompanyPeople who do not understand when colleagues speak, and they cannot understand when they ask others to write it down.Then they especially need the "Australian Slang Dictionary" to help them integrate. "
She recalled that there were some life-relatedAlso sells very well.At that time, there were few authentic Chinese restaurants. Northeastern people wanted to eat Northeastern cuisine. Cantonese people came to bookstores to find recipes if they wanted to open a Cantonese restaurant.
"There are also books about life tips, and how to deal with interpersonal relationships. In fact, there are books in English in this area, but they don't seem so smooth as a Chinese. Chinese books seem to be fast and their memories are more profound."
Later, around 2010, Chinese medicine developed rapidly in Australia, and several universities also offered Chinese medicine courses.So about Chinese medicineOnce very popular in Chinese bookstores.


Testing the waters of digital management

The Chinese all know the principle of "being prepared for danger in times of peace".The torrent is rolling forward, and Ms. Liu and her partners have seen the challenges and impacts of digital technology on physical bookstores early on.Many people may not know that the first website of a Chinese bookstore was launched as early as 2000.
"Our website has made no fewer than five, and the domain name of the website is directly australiachinabookshop.com. Although it started very early, but later encountered some insurmountable difficulties."
"Online book sales have always been stuck on the shipping cost. We sell a book for five yuan or six yuan here, but the logistics fee is seven yuan or eight yuan, and many people can't accept it. Sending a book to Perth requires A dozen yuan. In China,Free shipping for ten dollars, is it possible in Australia?impossible. "
"We have also considered selling e-books. For example, Chinese textbooks, we went to talk to Beijing Language and Culture University Press or Huayu Publishing House, and asked them to grant us the copyright of e-books. But they were worried about the outflow of piracy, but they have not been negotiated."
"We wanted to be an online bookstore, so we went to talk to China's largest book import and export company, and wanted them to let us release the database port, but they always refused to let it go. The Australian internet speed is also very slow to access the database there."
The managers of Chinese bookstores clearly realize that there is always something about paper books to go into history, and people's reading habits are also changing.But the real problems before them failed to allow them to see the rewards after their hard work.
In 2020, when the new crown epidemic hits, Chinese bookstores that have been operating well before have suffered a cliff-like slide.Ms. Liu and her partner realized that it might really be time to say goodbye.

Media reports on the Chinese bookstore in Australia

Liu Xiaohua


The curtain call of the Chinese bookstore


"To be honest, in 2019, the operation of our bookstore is still very normal and very good. Because of the epidemic, our bookstore's turnover has fallen off a cliff. There is no way, everyone can't come, and all of a sudden we are used to getting information online Up."
 "In 2020, we will be closed for a period of time due to the epidemic. People may come several times and eat closed doors and never come again."
"In the end, only some old readers will come. Instead, I advised them that taking the bus is quite risky for the elderly. I also taught them how to read novels on the Internet and how to use smartphones. Can you think of it? I am a bookstore who actually does such a thing."

We clearly know that operating a bookstore is a sunset.Technology has changed the world very, very greatly. When people do not come to your bookstore and do not get information from you, then there is no point in opening your bookstore.

The official curtain call date for the Chinese Bookstore is May 2021, 5.
"I love you, it's quite meaningful. After nearly XNUMX years of work, there are so many documents in the bookstore that I can't bear to lose it."
"When we clean up the bookstore, many old readers will come and I will give them some books. They said they really don't want you. Later I told them, don't be sad, maybe three or five years later the epidemic is over, we will make a comeback. "

A group photo of Ms. Liu Xiaohua with her friends in a Chinese bookstore in Australia

Liu Xiaohua

"Looking at their reluctant eyes and hearing their touching words, I think if we are destined, we still want to wait for them in the bookstore as we did in the past."
Ms. Liu said that when she finally sorted out the inventory of the bookstore, she found more than a hundred copies of Long Yingtai's collection of letters "Dear Andre".There is a passage in this book that may serve as a curtain call for Chinese bookstores:
"You might say that life is like this, and there is nothing to regret if you go one line forward.
I know, but I still feel sorry and don't give up.
So, I sit on this balcony, thinking about the good times we all shared, and holding the memories in my heart.
I have to go forward, but I know where I come from..."

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