After the flood, Zhuozhou book companies start anew

Hundreds of book warehouses were flooded in Zhuozhou last month. Publishers and distributors suffered big losses and now their owners are being offered incentives to move to other cities.

Photo provided to Jiemian News

Photo provided to Jiemian News

By ZHAO Meng


When the flood hit Zhuozhou on July 31, ZHU Yuan, owner and general manager of the book distributor Jiayouyuan, nervously watched the water rise in her 6000 square meter warehouse from her home in nearby Beijing.

“In less than an hour, the water was 2 meters deep,” she said. The ground floor was completely inundated. Close to a million books worth 20 million yuan were destroyed. “23 years of hard work. All gone,” she said.

Jiayouyuan is one of the confirmed 50 book businesses that suffered severe damage during the flood in Zhuozhou last month. The actual number is almost certainly higher. The city is home to over 200 book warehouses. Thousands of publishers and distributors around the country store their inventories here before sending them to bookstores, libraries, or individual buyers.

It’s hard to put a number to the damage. Book China, the oldest online bookseller in China and still the go-to place for rare books, lost at least 4 million books worth over 300 million yuan. “It’s not about the money. So many vintage editions and last editions were destroyed. They will never be reprinted,” a manager said.

The Zhuozhou flood is the last of many misfortunes that have befallen the book industry. Bookstores went in and out of shutdowns for three years during the pandemic. Many are still struggling to pay. As a result, almost all distributors are owed large sums. Expecting a boom after the reopening, they stocked up on inventory. Now they are under the water.

“I thought business was only to get better. So I bought a lot of inventory,” says YUAN Hengfeng, the owner of book distributor Yeyuan Culture. A new purchase was shipped in just the day before the flood.

Photos of dismembered books floating in dirty water spread quickly online. The public were eager to help. Donations poured in from book lovers around the country. Taobaoa and Pinduoduo held charity sales. Book businesses outside Zhuozhou also lent a helping hand.

Shangguan Yufei, who lost 3 million yuan worth of inventory and is owed over ten million yuan, received many concerned calls from publishers and booksellers. Clients promised to pay as much and as quickly as they could. One of them immediately sent 200,000 yuan. A few bookstores he had never even talked to placed orders without negotiation.

The Zhuozhou government met with the business owners and promised a rent moratorium and interest-free loans. The city of Taishan, which is 470 kilometers away but has been trying to grow the local publishing industry, offers affected businesses 50,000 square meters of warehouse space for three years rent-free. CAO Buyun, a government official in Taishan, says the city will also provide expedited business registration and interest-free logistics services. Another 80,000 square meters of warehouse is being negotiated.

A Zhuozhou-based distributor told Jiemian News that more than 40 companies have signed the lease in Taishan. He himself has gone on a tour and is considering moving too.