Mr Fan's little red bookshop turns back the pages of time

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The Independent Online
FAN QIANGMING wears a Marx and Engels badge on his suit jacket. And another on his waistcoat. And his shirt. And even his vest. "Sometimes I take a layer off," he explains, it being a matter of considerable sartorial correctness to him never to be seen without this key accessory.

Mr Fan, 47, is sitting in one of central Peking's latest business ventures - his newly-opened private Marxism bookstore. He has sunk more than pounds 4,000 of his savings into the project, which trades under the stirring name "The Resonance of Bringing Forth New Ideas Book Garden". Behind him, on the (red, of course) shelves sit mostly old ideas, but beautifully bound. The 60-volume complete works of Marx is priced well outside most Chinese proletarian pockets at 1,800 yuan (pounds 135) for the set, but more accessible might be Das Kapital, at 96 yuan (pounds 7), with a volume of Marx and Engels' correspondence thrown in for free.

The only things missing are the customers. It would not take many to turn this small shop into a seething den of potential class struggle. But during my two visits, it seems that China's journey through the so- called "first stage of socialism" has not yet included Mr Fan's venture on the map.

So, in an era when most Chinese are glad of any opportunity to shrug off an enforced diet of political ideology and show their capitalist credentials, is a new Marxism and political bookshop really a viable business in Peking? "I've budgeted that in the first year there will be a small loss, the second year will break even, and the third year will be profitable," says Mr Fan, who has already expanded to a branch outlet just by Tiananmen Square.

The shop is part of Mr Fan's personal mission, and is timed to capitalise on next month's anniversary of 100 years of Marxism in China, the sort of event which is still honoured in half-reformed China. "I think opening this shop is a very strong part of the whole work of spreading Marx."

Formerly a middle school politics teacher, Mr Fan then branched out into law and journalism. "I worship three people: [model soldier] Lei Feng, [writer] Lu Xun, and Marx," he says. It was spring 1982, three years after China embarked on its policy of reform and opening, that Mr Fan was introduced to Marx's works. "In 1982, I began collecting pictures of Marx. Then in 1990, I spent about 40,000 yuan (pounds 3,000) putting on an exhibition of the pictures in my home city, Wenzhou." That led to work for the government promoting Marx in China, and to his current job as editor of the niche state magazine Marxism and Reality.

The shop opened three months ago, with Mr Fan saying he shunned the title of "boss" in favour of "red Marxism disseminator".

As well as the works of Marx and Lenin, Mr Fan stocks tomes by Mao and Deng Xiaoping, and plentiful volumes on "party building". Cadres in charge of party affairs and scholars are said to be the main purchasers. At the far end of the shop, however, there are shelves where some more popular titles have slipped through the net. The Whole Brain Business Book, Developmental Psychology, and How to Install a Multi-media Computer are on offer for the more pragmatically minded Marxist.

Finally, a customer enters the shop. Wu Xiting, 63, a retired music professor, examines the shelves approvingly. "Such books can barely be found in other shops. The problem is that our party has lagged behind in educating the people in Marxism and Leninism," he says. Sadly, Mr Wu failed actually to purchase anything.

"There is not yet enough knowledge and understanding about Marx among ordinary people," said Mr Fan. "But I believe Marxism will win in the end."