Notes from the Kunming Underground: Wheatfield Bookstore

By , 2010年 7月 11日

In a winding alleyway behind the WenHuaXiang foreigners’ street in Kunming you’ll find Wheatfield Bookstore (麦田书店), located pangbianr to Psycho Graphics print shop / head shop and across from Paul’s Shop (Imported Groceries).

With a name inspired by the Chinese translation of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye 《麦田守望者》, Wheatfield’s tightly-packed space overflows with shelves of books and music. The bookstore was opened in 2001 by Ma Li (马力), drummer for the Kunming-based post-rock outfit, Strange Day (奇怪的日子), whose Myspace page features an 11-plus minute track of pounding drums set beneath thickly-layered, grungy guitars and muddy, menacing bass lines.

Wheatfield’s big kick is supplying young artists, intellectuals and counter-culture types in Kunming with a rich selection of literature, theory and music. The shelves are stocked with Chinese translations of foreign literary classics (Russian, French, British, American, etc.) as well as more academic writings on the theory front (Benjamin, Said, Barthes, et al.). In addition to a broad selection of foreign and domestic music across the usual range of genres (rock, folk, classical, experimental), Ma Li, a major jazz-head, has one of the bigger stacks of vinyl I’ve come across in China, which includes a modest assortment of LPs from the 50s, 60s and 70s from jazz icons like Art Blakey, Ornette Coleman and Miles Davis.

Ma Li seems to have it made in his native Kunming, where he spends his days running the bookstore and his nights rehearsing with Strange Day at the factory-turned-music venue, Laba (喇吧). With nine years of business under his belt and a reliable clientele, the presence of his store reflects an often-overlooked cultural and intellectual underground in Kunming, one that appears to be alive and well. Having received a shout-out in the recently-published Chinese-language Lonely Planet guide for Yunnan, it’s clear that Ma Li has long been a fixture in the Kunming scene. Be on the lookout for the release of Strange Day’s new record later this summer.

Wheatfield Bookstore
61 Qian Ju Street
Kunming, Yunnan

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