Mao Ju is the founder of the Caochangdi Free Library in northeast Beijing, which was established in October 2010. She now has 130 young students and volunteers, ranging between the ages of one to fourteen. Day to day administration of library affairs is handled by her volunteers and the library also functions as an English and arts training center, with numerous foreign volunteers participating in cultural exchange activities. Her volunteers also teach English to other children and even teach Chinese to local foreign artists. The library occupies a small room in the center of Caochangdi Village, a growing arts community on the periphery of the city. Here is her story.
Your library is titled the Caochangdi “Free” Library. Aren’t most libraries free?
In China, not all public libraries are free. Our library is completely free, which most parents can’t understand. The National Library is free, but it is far away. Many communities do not have libraries.
What did you do before opening the library?
I studied Graphic Design in university and then came to Beijing and worked as a translator for an art gallery in the 798 Art District. In 2009, while I was in Europe, I got a chance to work with some German performance artists. These artists copied the Chinese artists who copied European paintings. They wanted to say that copying works of art is a form of performance art in itself. I felt impressed when I worked with them. They inspired me to lead an interesting life. I also volunteered at an NGO (non government organization), where I taught art and Chinese culture to children.
What led you to pursue a lifestyle that focuses on helping others?