Beguiling Beijing


Great Wall at Mutianyu – 1.5 hrs away

The magical land of China, full of friendly, obliging citizens, is endowed with a fantastic civic benefit in Beijing’s Capital Library (CL) in the Chaoyang District.

Like so much of the ultramodern city’s architecture, it’s enormous and impressive.

Close to the subway, CL’s two gigantic edifices reside in a vast campus enclosed by a green and gold brass fence.  Steps from a beautiful plaza pass decorative characters and lead to the marvelous pagoda shaped mirrored front door.  Rough hewn stone blocks at the foundation supply stability for the gleaming tiles covering the higher levels of monolithic Building A, the juvenile and young adult sector.


Capital Library

Signs all over specified no snapshots were allowed, but as I put my knapsack in the security scanner I asked a guard if I could shoot the elegant marble staircase, appropriately festooned with balloons as it was Dragon Boat Festival time.  After he agreed I noticed EVERYONE was taking pictures of EVERYTHING, totally ignoring the ubiquitous rules and the employees seemed untroubled by the flagrant violations, so I went crazy.  I’ve posted far more photos than usual this time, partially to make up for my lack of understanding since I was unable to secure a tour in English and I have only the (poor) translation of the website to refer to, so my apologies in advance on the paucity of data.


Entry to Children’s

A statue of a doting parent sitting on a bench and her son looking up at the sky is echoed by two live models.  Inside Youth it’s light and airy with attractive wood accessories and a golden path curving through the sensible blue linoleum like the yellow brick road.



Cushy multi-hued, movable benches and chair and table sets in primary colors front a curtained stage, its top held up by tree branches.  Kid’s has a forest motif.  Pillars spread as they get higher just like the oaks their boards are made of and green and gray leaf cutouts splatter the walls.  Plants and mobiles add to the effect.

Elsewhere solid wood upholstered couches are perfect to curl up in.  Close by, flat dark surfaces and stools and pale tilted easels let youngsters do some serious studying.


Classical presentation of multilingual dictionaries

Bone white figures on a glossy ebony wall update the famous stages of man – a crouching ape starts the series and a body hunched over a computer evincing an amusingly similar silhouette ends it.


Not the most practical storage but a cozy home for paperbacks

On comfy turquoise sofas, moms chat while a father reads aloud to his rapt daughter, head resting on dad’s lap, beneath a gigantic pumpkin complete with a colossal snail climbing up it.

A corkboard has an endless display of juvie drawings.


Budding artists share their creations

An extensive case holding magazines is complemented by this long rack with an astounding amount of kid’s newspapers on rods.


Periodicals for tots!

Before you get to the numerous state of the art self check machines where smocked attendants lend a hand, there’s a long squat circulation spot with at least five stations.


Omnipresent crimson coated clerks assist at checkout

Back in the vestibule, pillars soar to a fretted ceiling letting in rays for the playful framed photos here.  Vending machines dispense refreshments and comics by a large map.

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Steps to YA

While tons of boys and girls are running around downstairs, the more self conscious tweens on the second floor are sedately reading, working or watching flicks on a mammoth TV under tilted hatch shells affording almost complete privacy.  White with light blue neon bands, these eye catching eggs are set off by geometric light fixtures.

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Pods for adolescents

I walked through a rainbow of reflections emitted by the orange neon rimming the domed slatted enclosures that house stylish conversation pits.

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There are tall stacks of DVDs, tables have attached Ipads and privacy screens on PC carrels let multiple patrons share one surface.  A Plexiglas lamp dangles just above a listening station fitted with chrome and leather cushioned bar seats.  Further along the gorgeous knotty blond plank wall, I discovered yet another theater, this one circular.

Plenty of computers here and both children’s and teens stations have preloaded games.  I think they provide free wifi, though the iffy Google translation means I can’t be totally sure of anything.

Besides the public sections, this five story “A” side has a cultural and exhibition hall, four meeting rooms, two VIP spaces, a lounge and staff only areas above YA.

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Corridor from A to B

The grownup “B” facility is at least eight floors and is reached by stunning glassed-in bridges overlooking curvy landscaped walkways and hedgerows lit by old fashioned street lamps.  Giant stands celebrating the countries of the world start with the A’s (ah, even Andorra, an obscure place I actually spent six weeks visiting when I was 17, appears) and proceed alphabetically down the flyway.  A second span sporting massive red posters describing the current state of China leads to the soaring lobby that links the two structures.

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“Navigation Hall”

This fabulous zone has a suspended mesh bird cage construction which could be decorative or hold a stairwell.  Soaring stained glass panels top a foliage filled eatery.

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Sunbeams stream in on browsers combing the book sale.

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And I was delighted by a wonderful “nook” (if you can call it that considering the atrium roof is at least 50 feet up) of book themed sculptures and partitions.

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Installations inspired by literature

CL seeks to be a “public learning space” and has nearly 100,000 academic videos and will be launching something called Mobile HowNet soon.

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Online, the Local Classroom has what looks like lots of videos (but I couldn’t get them to play – not unusual, I couldn’t get Google or Facebook while I was in China, so I probably need some program to make it work) with lectures on Ming Silver Currency, ancient architecture in Japan vs. China, wine, plant painting, international law in the South China Sea and its resolution, being a participating father, strong teeth, culinary tradition, stories about Huanggu Temple and so much more.

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Lovely version of the 13 digit ISBN

Videos are categorized by Health (maybe the “Environment and lung cancer” one will improve China’s reputation for pollution), Special Planning, Culture and Arts, Social Sciences…  Subjects range from fitness tips, obesity, and mother’s breastfeeding, recovery and postpartum care (even more useful now that China permits two offspring per family) to Sino-US relations, Lu Xun and Lin Yutang’s Humour, learning English, Calligraphy, Mongolia’s past, a grotto art tour, how to tell stories to wee ones and household disinfection – and these are just a small sampling of the offerings.

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Help Desk

The adult quarters are expansive and shiny.  Each alcove seems to have its own theme, be it contemporary, futuristic, or furnished with exquisite intricate traditional Chinese pieces.

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Asian influence evident in high back chairs

Mahogany shelving marches along the glowing tiles and paintings depicting scenes from a bygone age hang over antique catalog cabinets.

Contrast that with the 21st century sorting assemblage.

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Sadly, despite all the luxury, the bathrooms (at least those I came upon) were the dreaded squat toilets.



But perhaps that will soon be rectified.  The website has several requests for bids for new construction and equipment. has a good summary of the complex history of CL and of Chinese public libraries in general and IFLA has an interesting paper on their development.  The chart showing growth after the revolution is fascinating.

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Neat and cheery

A deposit appears to be required for cards, but I may be misunderstanding something and I think borrowers can take out two DVDs and up to six other items, depending if you’re a teacher or student…  Titles come in over twenty languages and they have email reference.

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It’s almost like he’s posing

Technology is everywhere and countless internet access points have various functions.  The foyer’s immense obsidian half globes’ touch screens give direction.  Large monitors in media let users watch or play individual preferences.  Lattice work separates the “outdoor” section of the café where spiffy green umbrellas and potted ficas hide the workstations that comprise the actual purpose of the space, and you can peruse this huge console below.

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Flasks of learner’s tea

I’m not sure what the policy on eating is, but drinking must be permitted as everyone has their typical bottle with stems and leaves visible in the tan liquid.

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Loads of opportunities to get online

The nature design for the younger set is carried over to this side with a tree shaped cutout holding suggested materials.

Staffs and clefs float through Music which provides receivers and tuners for composing your own melodies.

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Oodles of CDs, audiobooks and DVDs are available as are three cinemas and three media rooms.


Clear, bright 45s and LPs

Admirably, in the spirit of freedom of information, CL has a government disclosure center and a museum holding over 138 kinds of Chinese books.

The Republic Books Collection has nearly 40,000 pictures and there’s a bibliography of the three million Chinese volumes accessible online or by email.

Members have nearly 60,000 ebooks to choose from in subjects like economics, IT, history, geography, politics, law, medicine and literacy as well as Duxiu Academic Search with 900 million full text pages and “Elegant First Map” with another 50,000 digital books plus 30,000 audios.


Enjoying movies

There’s an all-city reading program and events like the French political capital forum.  They also teach a variety of courses on topics like database management and studying abroad.

With government guidance, CL pools resources as part of the Capital Library Alliance consisting of over 100 school, hospital, university, research, Party and military libraries.


Views of metropolitan skyscrapers and lush grounds

Magnificent vistas beckon from all the panes forming the exoskeleton.  It’s almost overwhelming – I haven’t been to that many big libraries, but this stupendous institution compares favorably with the best I’ve seen.

And outside one of the new book ATMs doles out items 24/7.


Self serve kiosk

What I loved seeing is how people really use CL.  Engaged and intrigued by films and talks or lounging, studying, working, reading, gossiping, playing, sleeping and living, customers obviously value this exciting location!

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4 Responses to Beguiling Beijing

  1. Patricia Hassan says:

    This is fascinating, Justine! Ultra, ultra-modern! Such a beautiful library with all the up-to-date concepts! Why wouldn’t they want photos taken of CL? I mean, why hide your light under a barrel?

  2. caroljshedd says:

    Amazing library. Most Westerners’ ideas of China have to be revisited. Modern China could easily be the next world power, if they only had a language that was easier to read and write.

  3. jshaffner says:

    I’m so glad they are investing in such important institutions!

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