Guerrilla Book Shopping and Beijing’s Post Offices

Nancy Hearst, Librarian at Harvard’s Fung Library, describes the effort of shipping books from Beijing to Harvard for the library’s collection.

A huge problem during my so-called “guerrilla book shopping” (as referred to by Professor Roderick MacFarquhar) is the post office. I carry all my purchases to the post office on my own and wrap the books there after securing the important customs clearances. However, it seems that every post office has its own rules and regulations.

Several years ago I visited a post office near 北太平庄. For some reason, the old man at the counter told me that books could not be shipped. Even though I had been doing this for years, he was insistent that this was a government regulation. The only way to ship books was to include other items apart from books in the cartons. Hence, I proceeded to take off my jacket and insert it in the box, seemingly fulfilling the requirement of this very strange regulation. This easy solution solved the problem and the package was ready to be shipped to the U.S. I assumed that this was just a misunderstanding by some uninformed old postal worker, but I decided thereafter to avoid that particular post office. However, on one occasion this year after visiting many different publishing houses, I was carrying many heavy bundles of books. It was rush hour and consequently impossible to flag down a taxi, and I felt that I could not deal with the subway (my usual mode of transport) with all those packages. So, because I was near that post office that seemed to have its own rules, I decided to try it again. Surely, that old man would no longer be there and those so-called government regulations were no operative. But wouldn’t you know?!! As I entered the post office, I caught sight of that same old man. I tried to avoid him but he insisted on helping me with my packages. Off to a good start, I thought maybe he had changed his attitude, but this was not to be. As I started piling my books into a carton, he said, “Oh no, you are not allowed to ship books on their own. You must include some other items in the package!” Because the weather this year was already quite cool, I could not afford to give up my jacket, so I had no choice but to go to a nearby little shop to find something to include in the package. All I could come up with were some boxes of crackers and sanitary napkins! I brought them back to the post office and dutifully inserted them into my cartons — and the problem was solved! So much for that post office, I will not return there again.

I am now quite well known among the various post offices — the woman with all the books — but I have also found a most sympathetic postal official who not only waits for my arrival, but when I start stumbling up the steps with packages and packages of books he hurriedly sends his staff out to meet me and help me carry my load, he then proceeds to securely wrap the packages for me, using the many rolls of duct tape I bring from home, to insure that the packages will arrive safely. I think he is somewhat mystified by my work. He once picked a copy of Bo Yibo’s book, 若干重大决策与事件回顾, and very seriously asked me why I would ever be interested in reading such a book!

The 20-plus big boxes that I shipped in October should now be on the ship, with an expected date of arrival sometime after Christmas. As should be clear from this posting, there are no secrets, but I am quite sure there will be titles of interest for those working on contemporary issues.

Come by the Fung Library in January and take a look!