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China Reads 'Da Vinci' Too

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The Da Vinci Code's official premiere may have been in Cannes, but time zone differences meant the film actually hit screens in China first. And thanks to the movie, the book is selling big in China, both the legitimate and bootleg editions.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn has been reading in Beijing.

ANTHONY KUHN reporting:

At the Wong Fu Jing(ph) bookstore in downtown Beijing, 24-year-old Lee Tung(ph), a student of foreign languages, grabs the top copy of The Da Vinci Code off a two-foot-high stack. Lee is not sure exactly what the book is about. Something to do with the Bible, he says. But he correctly identifies Da Vinci as the man who painted the Mona Lisa.

Mr. LEE TUNG (Student, Beijing, China): (Through translator) I want to understand the story before I go see the film. That way I may be able to get more out of the movie. I don't know who stars in the movie, but I saw previews for it and it looked pretty good.

KUHN: A drama focused on ancient Western religious orders might seem a bit arcane for most Chinese consumers. But this is a country hooked on Hollywood content, often in the form of pirated DVDs, and that in turn pumps up book sales.

Kate Wong(ph) is a marketing manger for the publisher of the book's Chinese version. She declined to provide sales figures for the Chinese edition, but she said her company printed a million copies. In China, she adds, that means a far larger readership.

Ms. KATE WONG (Marketing Manager): With a print run of a million copies, readers sharing the books could mean as many as five million people may actually read it. Also, piracy is quite rampant here, so if you add that on, I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say the book has ten million readers in China.

KUHN: On Wednesday, nearly 400 prints of The Da Vinci Code began to hit local theaters, making it the widest release yet for a foreign film in China.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.