Every Sunday by the steps of the Wenmiao Lu Confucius Temple in Old Town, Shanghai’s longest-running secondhand book market unfolds in the eerie half-light of dawn. The so-called ‘ghost market’ gets its name from the vendors who are said to take on a ghoulish hue in the dimness. This is the larger of two ‘ghost markets’; the other supposedly takes place on Lingshi Lu, Putuo district, 4-7am every Friday, though it eluded us on our visit.
‘I collect my books from a warehouse in Hongkou,’ explains Mr Tian, a vendor who appears to be in his mid twenties, notably younger than his 20 or so counterparts. ‘Most of them are out of print so the shops don’t want them,’ he continues.
Others raid their neighbour’s attics and closed book shops for paper loot.
Though only a few kuai each, it’s hard to imagine what people do with these obscure and outdated titles, which include military periodicals, 1980s car catalogues, moth-eaten self-help manuals, tech brochures, tatty children’s stories and little red books – of varying conditions.
‘I’ve been coming here for two years but the market has been around for over 30,’ says Tian. So, while you may not land the latest bestseller, you'll find a stack of history.