1984 Bookstore & Café

A hidden gem in the French Concession

1984 is a well-hidden bookstore and café in Shanghai’s Former French Concession known for its book selection and tranquil environment. It’s a quiet nook where one can work during the day, surrounded by independent publications and interesting books rarely seen in China. In the evenings it also plays host to a number of photo exhibits, cultural talks and lectures.

Yin Guo, one of the two co-founders, worked in advertising like many others in China’s post-80s generation. He then co-founded 1984 as a space to work, have casual meetings, relax with a few friends, and enjoy afternoons in the company of an eclectic and beautiful collection of books and objects from around the world.

Antique furniture, potted plants, cats, and old records occupy the two rooms and an outdoor area. Visitors include a mix of locals and expats, both young and old.

When you enter the space, no one will greet you and sometimes it’s unclear who is an employee. Not everything in the bookstore is for sale or has a price tag. Yin says that they “wanted to create a space where people didn’t have to feel like a consumer. Sometimes old locals from around the neighbourhood will come in our bookstore just to reminisce what it was like to grow up in an old Shanghai house. It’s more about the experience, not shopping.”

It hasn’t been easy for the café to have its Orwellian name in the five years of its existence in China. Is it named after the year — or the book? Or is there another meaning? Yin says, “It doesn’t matter to us, as we’re not taking a political stand.”

Regardless of where the name 1984 came from, Yin says, “It’s a bit like writing a novel. Once you put it out into the world, it’s no longer only yours. It’s for the public’s interpretation too.” The uniquely named café attracts counter-culture types, as much as it does selfie-taking schoolgirls.

Yin Guo and his partner want to start a second branch of 1984 and expand the concept as a library, public space, and forum for events. There will be a smaller and more curated selection of books. The focus will be more on independent publishers and small press. The cafe will also carry limited selections of hand-crafted items and stationery from friends.

“I could have gone down the usual route: work at an agency, become a creative director, eat at a new place for lunch, drink at a new place after work. That was the original path I was on,” Yin says. Instead he quit in 2007 to start his own studio.

Many unstable years followed, but together with his friends he was able to create 1984 while still doing commercial work to pay the bills. “It’s a labor of love. We’re not in this for money.”

11 Hunan Road (near Wukang Road)
Xuhui District, Shanghai
People’s Republic of China

Phone: 3428 0911
Hours: Daily 11am~10pm

Contributor & Photographer: Jia Li

Originally published at neocha.com on August 19, 2015.