Why China has a library of fake books

There’s a futuristic new library in China that went viral on social media after it opened in late 2017. It’s been attracting tourists ever since. When I caught my first glimpse of Tianjin Binhai Library, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. The images of the enormous, cathedral-like space were incredible.

The nearly 363,000-square-foot building has floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that soar five stories overhead like terraced farm fields cut into steep hills. The vaulted shelves crest like waves all around the all-white interior and have room for a mind-boggling 1.2 million books. It seemed impossible that anyone could access the books on the top shelves. The place was like M. C. Escher’s famous gravity-defying lithograph, Relativity.

You can get a sense of the scale of the building in this video by MVRDV, the Dutch architecture firm that designed the building.

But all is not as it seems in Tianjin Binhai Library. It turns out those towering shelves are filled with fake books.

In an article for Mashable, Yvette Tan notes that “upon closer inspection, you can tell the rows and rows of books in the library’s main hall are actually rows with images printed on. There are undoubtedly a couple of books strategically placed across the bookshelves, but they’re pretty few and far between.”

More like this: “Could you survive in the most crowded place on earth?”

Maggie Hiufu Wong of CNN reported that this was in part due to the tight construction schedule set by local officials. “The firm was forced to give up one of its original designs: access to the upper bookshelves from rooms placed behind the atrium. The bookshelves closer to the ceiling are now inaccessible.”

Will real books ever fill the lofty, sinuous shelves? If so, I might just have to take a trip to China. Maybe they’ll let me add my fake memoir to one of the top shelves.

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