|The Chinese edition and oveaseas edition of Bosom [zhiyin.cn]|
A magazine which thrives on touching true stories has remained on top of the rating charts for decades. Zhiyin Magazine has proven that stories that speak to the heart sell.
The publication has a whopping monthly circulation of 6.8 million. Launched in 1985 in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province, it has been stereotyped as a magazine targeting lonely and undereducated housewives and older men in small towns.
It has been criticized for its excessively sensational and tear-jerking stories and gossip about celebrities, mostly written in a first-person style.
Its popularity has even created a popular online cultural phenomenon called "Zhiyin Style" for its exaggerated reports.
But some observers credit the semimonthly magazine for its portrayal of how Chinese people, living through a dramatically changing society over the past 30 years, have been pursuing true love and meaning of life.
Hu Xunbi, editor in chief and also the founding father of Zhiyin, is now leading a publication fleet, which includes nine magazines, two newspapers and a website. The most competitive products are Zhiyin and Comic Guests, the best-selling comic magazine in China.
Hu began his journalism career in 1976 as a reporter for a magazine published by the Hubei Women's Federation in Wuhan, covering stories in the rural areas of Hubei Province.
From his assignments, he discovered a spiritual emptiness among the people. Among his interviewees, there was a young man who started a religion and a teenage girl who became a nun.
"There were too many people seeking meaning in life and inevitably, some got lost," says Hu.
He was promoted as editor of the magazine in 1981. It was an interesting and special period as that was the time when Chinese society was just stepping out of the shadow of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and embracing the reform and opening-up policy.
With a strong nose for news, Hu sensed a gap in the publication world - the population, which had been living under a decade of political pressure, was awakening from the chaos, and trying to reconnect their broken human feelings, love and curiosity toward life.
Most magazines and newspapers then focused mainly on politics.
But increasingly, like the one where Hu led, had started to allocate space for external contributors who wrote about other topics.
The articles, mostly true stories about family relationship and love, immediately captured readers' hearts. "The letters began to pile up in my office, feedbacks about the stories kept pouring in," Hu recalls.
"Many readers shared their stories or sought advice to solve the problems they faced. I realized then that there was a huge demand for such a platform for the readers," says Hu.
He clearly remembered a shocking local news story about a young college student who cut off his finger after a girl rejected his advances.
"It's no big deal today, but during those days it was," says Hu.
He was not the first one who discovered the potential market. In 1983, a magazine named Family was released in Guangdong province and became very popular. Another magazine titled Readers, China's equivalent of Reader's Digest, caught on soon all over China.
"Those publications proved that my intuition was right and gave me the courage to start my plan as soon as possible," says Hu. He started to lobby the local Workers' Union and the Women's Federation for support.
The first step was to called on members of the public to suggest a name for the new publication.
"The name Zhiyin jumped out from hundreds of submissions. It literally means a bosom friend, which accurately represents my hope for the magazine - to get close to readers, to real people and to their hearts," says Hu.
But having no publishing nor marketing experience, the learning curve was steep and the road to success filled with unanticipated challenges.