The National Library of China

The National Library of China, March 2015


I spent less time in the National Library of China that I had intended to before I moved to Beijing; the internet has made it easy to imaginatively construct a life for oneself in a new place, before one even moves there. So it was with Beijing: before departing, I confidently imagined the life I would lead in a city I hadn’t visited in eight years. Suffice it to say, the life I imagined didn’t come to pass. It had included regular visits to the National Library, where I would pore over its ample holdings in a pristine reading room. (The holdings were ample, and the reading room pristine, although the foreign languages reading room was located not in the recent building to the north, but the one pictured above.) Nonetheless, I liked to know that, only a few miles away from me in an unfamiliar city—my online inhabitation notwithstanding—the familiar assemblage of lockers, trolleys, ID checks, plastic bags, request slips, desk numbers, and surly librarians was whirring away as it does in every comparable institution. I remember one afternoon there, comparing a newer translation of Being and Time with the Macquarrie Robinson one in the kind of dazzling light that a Beijing summer only sometimes affords.