Picture books delighted youth, but all good stories must end...

  The first books I loved to read were children's picture-story books, or xiaorenshu, as we called them during my childhood.
  It was the 1950s. I was one of those little kids immersed in books I had borrowed from bookstands.
  The storefront in my home town in southern China was planks set together in a frame. Door slats were placed side by side into a notch when the store closed. The same panels were simply removed when the store opened.
  I remember the shop where I borrowed books was so simple that the floor remained uneven. Apparently the shopkeeper could not afford the inexpensive clay, lime and sand that could have made the ground smooth.
  The shops I frequented offered neither desks nor chairs. Door planks were laid over bricks to serve as benches. Children would sit there and suddenly become spellbound by the printed page.
  The owners of these bookstores probably went into the low-profit business of lending picture-story books because they had no other way to make a living.
  The bookstores had nothing but picture-story books. Even the walls were decorated with cover pictures from these illustrated volumes.
  A more traditional place to read was the primary school library. There I read serious, orthodox books - "children's literature" - such as "The Fairy Tales of Green," "The Fairy Tales of Andersen" and "School," something by a Russian author.
  As a small boy I thought Andersen told too many sad stories about people in misery. Entertaining stories gave me my first motivation to read. (I came to like Andersen years later when I finished reading Chinese classics such as "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms," "Strange Tales from Make-do Studio" and "A Dream of Red Mansions.")
  The rental agreements for xiaorenshu developed my earliest knowledge of money.
  I still remember the prices in 1957, when I was a primary school student. For each fen (100 fen equal to 1 yuan, about US$0.12) I could rent two xiaorenshu. This cheap rental reflected the income level of the times, and I have been considered rich for renting books.
  Hitting the streets after school to rent and read xiaorenshu became the happiest thing I did.
  For my one fen the shopkeeper gave me one book and a little bamboo plate I could present to get the second one later.
  Since my family lived far from my school, my parents gave me 10 fen every day for lunch. With 10 fen I could buy five sesame seed cakes or two bowls of noodles. But because two cakes were enough for me, I could save 6 fen from each lunch. With that money, I could do many things, among which reading xiaorenshu was my first choice.
  Influenced by friends, I also became an enthusiastic stamp collector. By 1967 I had collected all the stamps issued since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 and some treasured stamps of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
  But later my stamp collections, the result of 12 years of effort, were all taken by others. I never really recovered from the setback and quit collecting altogether.
  I also painted, but not to be an accomplished artist: I imitated the illustrations in picture-story books. My art career peaked when I entered a contest with a painting of a Yi minority boy on a horse leaping from slave society to socialism.
  The stamps, with their small pictures, also reminded me of the xiaorenshu.
  But my days of enjoying picture-story books at street stores lasted less than three years.
  When my mother was moved in 1957 to do manual labour in the countryside, I accompanied her to the Daliangshan Mountains. Because this area is remote, I had to part with my xiaorenshu at an early age.
  (From Chinadaily.com)
By Ye Yanbin
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