> topics > Literature

Online literature boom promotes Chinese culture

SHANG GUANGYI | 2018-12-27 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

Participants mill about at the 2nd China Online Literature+ Conference, held from Sept.14 to 16 in Beijing. Photo: VCG


In recent years, the rapid development of internet technology, especially mobile internet technology, has brought about the popularity of online and mobile reading and the rise of many online novelists. The fame of online Chinese literature has attracted wide attention from all walks of life.

Chinese novels set in the age of chivalry, filled with the elements of time travel, martial arts and romance, can be enjoyed by not only Chinese but also global readers. Thus, online literature has become an important part of China’s cultural soft power.


Effective cultural communication
In general, online literature is rising along with its growth in readership. The social influence of online literature is expanding, especially through the targeted marketing strategies used by some online literature websites. As of today, for young readers, the influence of online fiction has to some extent exceeded that of the traditional classical literary works.

What’s more, online literature has also assumed a bigger role in cultural inheritance and knowledge dissemination. Many online authors have implanted traditional cultural elements into their works. Online literature platforms have also started actively providing extended readings to better meet the diverse needs of readers, thereby strengthening online literature’s role in knowledge dissemination.

For example, in recent years, online authors have contributed greatly to the dissemination of Min culture from Fujian Province. The province’s abbreviation is “Min” because the Minyue people lived there in Chinese history.

One author featured Min culture by taking the thoughts and words of the Song Dynasty neo-Confucianist Zhu Xi and using them as names for a protagonist’s unique martial arts moves, drawing readers’ to Zhuzi (“Master Zhu”) culture.

Some works are set in Three Lanes and Seven Alleys, on Wuyi Mountain, on Meizhou Island or in other places of interest in Fujian Province. They introduce the relevant historical background and folklore. Others make tea tasting and tea competitions part of the plot, so as to introduce special varieties of Fujian tea such as Dahongpao of Wuyi Mountain, Tieguanyin of Anxi and Jasmine tea of Fuzhou.

Through these efforts, online writers from Fujian have showed a notable tendency for collaborative creation. They publish on online literature platforms such as Jinjiang Literature City, a leading platform.

Online literature is also gradually gaining its footing in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. For example, Jinjiang Literature City has collaborated with publishing houses in Taiwan to successfully introduce versions of online novels such as Odin’s Blessing into the Taiwan market by replacing typefaces with traditional Chinese characters. Fights Break Sphere published by China Literature has also ranked high as a popular martial arts tale. On the bestseller lists of Taiwan’s KingStone Bookstore, Tale of Ugly Fairy made it into the Top 10 Romance Novels and Braveness of The Ming was listed in the Top 10 Historical Fiction Novels.

Online literature has become a new Chinese cultural export. According to preliminary statistics, China’s online literature copyrights have been sold to Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia and other neighboring countries. Chinese online literature has exerted an important influence on teenagers in those countries.

Of the more than 800 Chinese books translated and published in Vietnam, more than 70 percent have been translated from Chinese online literature. The Thai version of The Journey of Flower has become a popular book among Thai teenagers. Paran Media in South Korea has successively purchased the copyrights to print-and-online author Tong Hua’s novels such as Treading on Thin Ice and Yunge From the Desert.

In particular, China Literature, the nation’s largest online reading portal, has actively sought cooperation with foreign publishing houses and agencies to produce interactive versions of Chinese online literature for global readers. In May 2017, China Literature launched its international platform Webnovel, a website and mobile app (iOS and Android) featuring what it describes as “more than 8 million exclusive online literary works across more than 200 genres” for international consumption.

In addition, some Western readers have translated and disseminated Chinese online literature out of their own passion and initiative. For example, the website Wuxia World, launched by Chinese American Lai Jingping, is the pioneer and most influential platform for foreign translators to publish their latest translated chapters. The novels Coiling Dragons, I Shall Seal the Heavens, and Noble Aspirations have attracted wide readership.

The site has nearly 3.5 million page views daily. Most of the readers are men under the age of 35. About 28 percent of the readers come from the US, followed by the Philippines, Indonesia, Canada and India. Now, the website has sealed a translation partnership agreement with Qidian.com, a leading Chinese online literature platform.

After reading Coiling Dragon from Wuxia World, Chinese fantasy literature enthusiast Ahmed Rifshan founded his own website ZenithNovels.com, specializing in translating Chinese novels to English. It too has teamed up with Chinese online literature platforms to provide high-quality translated works of Chinese wuxia (martial heroes), xianxia (immortal heroes) and xuanhuan (fantasy featuring adventures and wars).


Challenges ahead
Despite the increase of online novels and their influence, online literature is still differentiated from traditional literature, calling for more analysis in regard to the industry.

In the development of online literature, good socioeconomic benefits have been achieved in terms of the number of writers, works and genres as well as the success of commercial models and extent of product development.

Re-creation and reproduction of original online literature has formed a relatively mature chain in the creative cultural industry with the aid of VR, AR and MR technology and the changing market environment.

For example, online novel adaptations of Love is Not Blind, Empresses in the Palace, So Young, You Are My Sunshine, Nirvana in Fire, Legend of Miyue, The Lost Tomb and The Ghouls have become outstanding intellectual property with huge commercial value.

However, opportunities and challenges often coexist. First, the literary value of online literature has not been fully recognized by the mainstream literary circle. In recent years, though the Chinese Writers Association and writers associations at all levels have taken measures to help online authors raise their reputations, for the large number of online writers, more still needs to be done.

At the same time, online literature is still marginalized in mainstream literary and art criticism, while modern and contemporary literature and other research areas also pay little attention to its study.

In addition, the number of online literature works is vast, presenting a mixture of good and bad works. While high-quality online novels emerge, many low-quality works with poor taste and shoddy production have come along due to the low requirements for being an online writer and the commercial appeal of online platforms.

Some online novelists sacrifice quality for frequent updates. Some only focus on the plot development, rather than writing craft. Low-quality writing with repetitive structure, monotonous plot and vulgar language is by all means detrimental to the long-term development of online literature and its brand.


Going forward
In view of the current difficulties in the development of online literature, the following aspects should be stressed to promote the optimization and development of Chinese online literature.
First of all, the establishment of online literature societies and groups in various regions can help guide the interaction, improvement and growth of online writers.

Second, training channels should be extensively expanded to provide online writers with training opportunities. Online writer training and quota mechanisms should be established, leading to online writers joining the Chinese Writers Association.

Third, it is important to carry out social activities and pool the strength of online writers to promote cultural industry. It is also necessary to strengthen cross-platform dialogue, build connections among online writers, build connections between online writers and traditional writers, and improve the whole society’s understanding and awareness of online literature.

Finally, online literature also faces problems with plagiarism and intellectual property rights. In such a big marketplace, piracy means huge losses, because web novels can be adapted into productions such as games, films and TV dramas. Efforts must be made to protect the rights and interests of online writers.


Shang Guangyi is from the School of Literature at Fujian Normal University.

​(edited by YANG XUE)