Floating libneon paper wristbandsrary keeps disused fishing boats alive

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A cruise ship is seen at a dock of Phoenix Island in Sanya, South China"s Hainan province, Feb 18, 2018. [Photo/Xinhua]

Three boats linked by ropes dock at a port in Sanya, a tourist city in Hainan Island. What jumps into sight is not boatloads of fish, but books.

Home to over 3,000 books, the disused boats form a floating library, the first public library in West Maozhou Island in 400 years.

The library was founded by Qin Jiayi in August last year, and opens free to more than 4,000 local residents and tourists.

"As fishing near the shore has been gradually banned locally, a lot of boats were abandoned and would have been destroyed," Qin said.

Before some boats were grinded into pieces, their owners cried and took photos with them as a way to say goodbye to their "home" and a traditional lifestyle making a living at sea.

"It dawned on me that boats and life on the sea are their past that is difficult to let go," Qin said.

To preserve the boats and local culture, she decided to turn several disused fishing boats into a library because "books have the closest connection with culture."

Under the support of the local government, a ship cabin was renovated into a reading room; big iron pots once used to hold fish are now used to hold books; old wood was made into bookshelves, while the rudder, fishing nets and compass have become unique decorations in the floating library.

Qin"s love of books started in childhood. She grew up in a small village where few books were available, so she cherished them very much.

When she was a child, she was assigned a task everyday -- herding cattle. "It was my favorite housework because I had a lot of time to read on the mountain," she said. "I can"t resist the charm of books."

In 2011, Qin opened her first bookstore in a bustling street in Haikou, then a second in the village of the Qiongzhong Li and Miao autonomous county, and a third along a riverbank in the city of Qionghai.

"Many people laugh at me and think I"m addicted to opening bookstores. Few people like to run brick-and-mortar bookstores now," she said.

Chinese brick-and-mortar bookstores are struggling, losing out to digital reading and online shopping. According to the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, about half of private bookstores in China closed from 2004 to 2014.

Last year, the average monthly revenue of each of Qin"s bookstores was less than 3,000 yuan (around $460), not enough to cover the rent.

However, Qin does not believe her cause is a blind alley because she feels there is a growing demand to read, and has always come up with good ideas to make her businesses survive.

Palm-fringed Hainan is a top tourist-destination because of its tropical weather and beautiful scenery.

She started promoting a model "Travelling while reading." She transferred one of the ships in the floating library into an inn with eight beds at a price ranging from 199 yuan to 299 yuan per bed to attract tourists, and allows them to buy books from the library.

Meanwhile, she and her partners have created products such as bookmarks, bookracks and schoolbags to make tourists spend more.

The floating library has transformed the life of local residents too. At noon or after students finish school, they rush to the library to read.

"That is the meaning of our existence," she said. "I believe that one day reading, like eating and drinking water, will become an indispensable habit in our daily life."