Unlike many other countries in Asia, finding English newspapers, books and magazines in China isn’t always as easy. Sure, for English news, you can get access to the internet in most towns and cities in China but much of it is censored and blocked. So, if you’re looking for English newspapers, magazines and books for more in-depth information, you might have to look a little bit harder than you would in other Asian countries.
In Beijing and Shanghai, English media is relatively easy to find, but in other cities and towns may be more difficult. If you’re going to be in China on vacation or business and want to keep in touch with the outside world, in English, here’s what type of media you can expect to find.
Newspapers – China has only two national English language newspapers. China Daily, which is readily available in Beijing and Shanghai and in most other large cities and towns. Bookstores sell it, as well as the newspaper kiosks all over the city.You’ll also find a copy of it in most larger hotels. It’s available outside the large cities, although you may have to search for it. China Daily though does sell the Chinese ‘party line’, so much of what you read is censored and controlled.
Global Times is the second national English language newspaper, and has only been in existence for a couple of years. Again, you’ll get a good selection of both Chinese and international news. Again, highly controlled with editorials that are fascinating to read as, in most part, they are incredibly pro-government. In Communist China though, what can you expect.
The international chain hotels in Beijing and Shanghai also usually have copies of newspapers like The Times of London, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times delivered daily for their international guests.
Outside Beijing and Shanghai, smaller English language newspapers like the Shenzhen Daily,Chongqing News, and Changsha Evening News are available, but it’s also China-centric and the reporting is dismal.
Magazines – Again, spoiled by Bangkok and the access to just about every English language magazine printed in the world, access to English language magazines in China is spotty at best and non-existent at worst. Most Chinese English language publications are poorly written, with minimal information and, again, stilted in writing style as little of real importance is allowed to be published in China, where censorship is rampant.
City Weekend, published in Beijing, is one of the popular English language magazines with expats, as it lists all the entertainment and happenings in the city. SH Magazine is Shanghai’s version, again, pretty dismal compared to comparable magazines in other Asian cities, but worth picking up if you can’t find anything else.
Other than a few magazines like this, at the larger English bookstores, you’ll find occasional copies of entertainment and news magazines imported from overseas. But, be aware, if anything in a certain issue is seen as distasteful to the Chinese government, that particular issue will not be allowed to be sold in China.
English Books – Coming from Bangkok, Thailand, where English books are available everywhere selling the latest published stuff, in China I found the choice sadly lacking, even in Beijing and Shanghai. Sure, there are English language bookstores, Beijing has many,but the selection of books is poor.
Most of the so-called English language bookshops have tons of English language books on Chinese culture and history but, if you’re looking for the latest Stephen King or John Irving, they’re much harder to find. Much of what I was able to find were older classic English novels, books published in the 50s, art books and history books. Even many English books by Chinese authors are banned in China, as they’re not thought of as ‘suitable’ for Chinese culture.
Overall, I discovered used bookstores were the best places to find interesting or unusual English books, as well as those obviously overlooked by the authorities. Shanghai has a fair few of them in the French Concession area, as well as a couple of, for China, good new bookstores.
English books are, of course, available on the black market all over China. Many books, deemed to be offensive to China or the Chinese government are still available, as they’re either photocopied and distributed underground or published in one of the thousands of Chinese underground publishing factories. I picked up several books in local markets and left by other travelers at hotels I stayed in. Keep your eyes open. You might be surprised what you find.
Global Times Newspaper
English Bookstores in Beijing