After bibliophile Qian Xiaohua acquired the subterranean parking lot beneath Nanjing’s Wutaishan Stadium in 1999, he converted the 41,000-square-foot space into one of China’s most remarkable bookshops.
Unveiled in 2004, the unusual site is an amalgamation of its concrete history and Qian’s devout Christianity, as reflected by the yellow traffic divider that runs through the middle of the store toward a large black cross looming on a far wall.
Librairie Avant-Garde specializes in texts relating to religion and the social sciences, but as store manager Zhang Xing explained to CNN, “…reading is our religion and this place is the heaven for book lovers.”
Indeed, knowledge is sacred at Librairie Avant-Garde, exemplified by the featured replica of French sculptor Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, and the poetic verses etched into pillars throughout the space. Visitors will find books pertaining to a wide range of culture-based genres, with a particularly comprehensive offering of classic Western literature.
While Librairie Avant-Garde is, first and foremost, an independent bookstore, Qian operates the space as a public haven. Located in close proximity to Nanjing University, Librairie Avant-Garde has become a popular haunt for students. On-site reading tables and open-plan seating that accommodate around 300 people at a time facilitate the shop’s position as a gathering place for eager readers. In turn, Librairie Avant-Garde has also become a popular local meetup spot and tourist destination, despite offering few foreign-language books.
In addition to a café and small shop stocked with local artisanal goods, Librairie Avant-Garde also hosts a program of talks, concerts, and art exhibitions.
This branch of Librairie Avant-Garde is one of several independent bookshops run by Qian. The popularity of his vision has prompted the shop’s expansion to 11 locations, eight of which are scattered around Nanjing and housed within cultural institutions including museums and historic landmarks.
Know Before You Go
Librairie Avant-Garde is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.