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Dropping books (and good sense) on subway

By Raymond Zhou (China Daily) Updated: 2016-11-22 07:35

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but when celebrities engage in it the result could be less than credible.

After reports of Emma Watson hiding copies of Maya Angelou's Mom & Me & Mom on New York's subway reached China, Chinese movie stars jumped on the book-giving bandwagon, scattering volumes on big cities' subway trains.

Huang Xiaoming left 16 books on Nov 14 on Beijing's subway, each containing a hand-written note. Xu Jinglei picked Interstellar and Zhang Jingchu posed with My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk.

While Watson was redolent of a book fairy, conjuring up images of her most famous role in the Harry Potter series, others got in the action for the sake of publicity.

First of all, I don't think they use public transportation at all. Some of them would rather be caught dead than riding the subway.

But if it helps their public image, they'd be willing to "climb over a mountain of daggers and dive into a sea of fire", to quote the Chinese proverb.

They probably forgot that Watson has a book club to start with. They instead have fan clubs that whip up the mania of popularity, such as screaming at airport when they land.

Honestly, if it's about photo-taking and limelight hogging, it would be more convincing because it lies within their realm of expertise.

OK, they want to use their clout to encourage reading, which is a good thing. But they could have easily promoted good titles by mentioning them in their blogs. Not every celebrity has the potential of an Oprah Winfrey, but it's a worthwhile endeavor.

Philanthropy or any other socially beneficial deeds have to come from the heart. If it's designed as a publicity stunt, it's just business as usual - that is, treating life as another part of acting.

I remember a scene in the movie A Simple Life, in which a bunch of youngsters visit a care center for the elderly and give out gifts. After the ceremony, complete with singing and dancing, they recover the gifts from the recipients, saying they'll need "the props" for similar visits to other nursing homes.

The book dropping stunt is reminiscent of the ice-bucket challenge, which started as a good cause (to raise awareness of the motor neurone disease, or the Lou Gehrig's disease in the United States), and quickly descended into a circus show in China.

Of course, there was something good to it as well, and that is the money raised for the charity.

If you think of it, it's pretty hard for a book to find the right reader in a trainful of people. And even if the right one gets it, he or she could be the only benefactor.

Why not donate it to the library where dozens of readers might be able to benefit?

Better yet, why not buy books for kids in poverty-stricken areas where they are most needed?

There are lots of ways to do good, and the best may not involve self-publicity.

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