A bookstore making its own stories takes leading stage role
Guan Bo has been a frequent visitor to Zhengyang Bookstore, in Zhuanta Hutong, Xicheng district, downtown Beijing. The hutong, a type of narrow alley, is reputedly one of the oldest in the city. The courtyards hidden among the capital's hutong symbolize the city.
The bookstore is situated in one such courtyard, which is also home to a small pagoda that was built in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), and named after a monk called Wansong Xingxiu (1166-1246).
For Guan, a Beijing native, each visit to the bookstore gives him pleasure and a sense of peace, not only from reading and buying books but also from experiencing the city's most traditional lifestyle.
Since 2017, Guan, a veteran scriptwriter, director and producer who, in 2014, graduated from the directing department of the Central Academy of Drama with a master's degree, has been writing a script for a Chinese play inspired by the bookstore. Supported by the Beijing Culture and Arts Fund, the play, not surprisingly titled Zhengyang Bookstore, will premiere at Tianqiao Performing Arts Center in Beijing from March 31 to April 4. Directed by Li Bonan, the play features veteran actors Zhang Qiuge and Liu Xiaoye alongside young performers Xu Shaoying and Zhang Keying.
Guan says he keenly observes visitors to the bookstore. "They either buy some books or stay there for a while. What people at the bookstore have in common is that they slow down, which is very important for people living in a fast-paced city," says Guan, who now works as the head of the acting team of the National Center for the Performing Arts. "Somehow, the world inside and outside the bookstore intrigued me."
Guan also made friends with Cui Yong, the founder and owner of Zhengyang Bookstore. Cui opened the bookstore in 2009, which was originally located in nearby Qianmen, a bustling commercial area close to Tian'anmen Square. Cui named the bookstore Zhengyang after the area's old name, the Zhengyang Gate. In 2014, Zhengyang Bookstore moved to its current location.
"I would like to compare the bookstore to the streetlights in Beijing's hutong. They are not shining but they are there every night to light up your way," says Cui, 38, a Beijing native, who has been devoted to promoting and preserving the traditional culture of Beijing.
Instead of portraying Cui's entrepreneurial story about the launch and subsequent running of the Zhengyang Bookstore, Guan wrote stories about the people who frequent the place. They are connected by the bookstore and their lives are depicted against the background of the shop.
For example, actor Xu Shaoying, who graduated from the Central Academy of Drama as an actor in 2014, plays the role of Cui Xiaoshan, owner of the bookstore. Like his father, Cui loves reading but his bookstore faces financial challenges since many people have switched to digital books or even given up the habit of reading. Actor Liu Xiaoye, who is known for playing one of the leading roles in pioneering director Meng Jinghui's play, The Life Attitude of Two Dogs, plays a civil servant, whose favorite pastime is to visit the bookstore. Actor Zhang Qiuge plays Cui Daxue, father of Cui Xiaoshan, an old man who has Alzheimer's disease. In the bookstore, these people find their own happiness, as well as opening up to one another and sharing their stories.