Lucky subway and taxi passengers in Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai might stumble upon a hidden book during their commutes.
The Fair, an online entertainment and publishing company, has dropped 10,000 books in spots on subway networks, passenger planes and Didi carpooling vehicles in all three cities to spark an interest in reading among the masses as part of its "Mobook" movement. Another 10,000 quotas have been arranged on the basis of a QR code system for book donors to join the campaign to drop their own books around the Chinese cities.
Pop singers, actors, writers, and TV hosts have also joined the campaign, sparking discussion about the "Mobook" campaign on microblog service Weibo.
The movement is inspired by "Books on the Underground," a community project in London that aims to promote reading during commuting hours, according to Zhang Wei, CEO of The Fair.
"Books on the Underground" was not well-known in China until British actress Emma Watson partnered with the UK-based project to hide 100 novels on the London tube, which drew worldwide attention.
"We had received multiple messages urging us to do something similar in China," said Zhang Wei.
After a week of preparation, he sent an email to Cordelia Oxley, director of "Books on the Underground," describing his plan and explaining the rules of "Mobook".
Zhang said Oxley replied to him in just two hours, saying that she thought the idea was great and offering help if needed.
"Mobook" is much more ambitious than its British predecessor. It aims to become a lasting book-sharing system rather than just a one-off campaign.
The uniqueness of "Mobook" lies in its online system. Everyone who wants to donate books must submit their titles online. QR code stickers are then sent to their address, which they attach to each book, allowing donors to keep track of who is reading their picks.
"We want to make reading a fun and cool thing," Zhang said.
Tens of thousands of bookworms have already participated. "Mobook" became a hot topic on Wechat, and the 10,000 QR codes available for book donors were snatched up in just 5 hours.
Wen Ya, a brand manager, told Xinhua that he would like to hide a copy of "The Catcher In The Rye" on the subway. "It's a great idea and I am eager to share the book with strangers," he said.
However, the movement has been met with mixed feelings. Some think it's a good move to nurture reading habits among Chinese people, but others suspect the campaign is just a publicity stunt for The Fair.
"It must be exciting to find something as wonderful as a new book on your journey," said a WeChat user posting under the name Zhao.
Another Wechat commenter, Jiang Yunmei, suspected the campaign is just a celebrity spectacle, wasting resources that should have been devoted to helping children in poor areas.
Others were concerned that the floating library would just end up in recycling bins, as the books can be hard to spot in jammed subway cars.
Pictures of discarded books have already gone viral online, and there were comments saying passengers have ignored the books by sitting on top of them.
Zhang, however, remains confident about the movement. "I can't say it's a 100 percent failure nor a 100 percent success, but I am going to build it into a long-term project."
As for whether the movement will foster a love for reading among commuters, Zhang said that he is not an idealist, but it will make a difference if it becomes a long-running movement.
"Our dream at the very beginning was that if we could encourage at least one more person to read in each subway carriage, then it would be a success."