:: born in early nineties on e-mailing lists and newsgroups frequented by overseas Chinese, online Chinese literature has been around for nearly two decades. But it was only in 1998, when Cai Zhiheng posted his breakout novel First Intimate Contact on the Web, that online literature really took off on the Chinese mainland. The field has exploded in the past decade, and online tastes are increasingly driving the print publishing marketplace. See Baidu Baike for the major events and players in the history of online literature.
Online literature is a huge topic on the Chinese Internet, and I am only able to capture a small fraction of the wealth of material that’s out there. However, the below categories is a fairly representative snapshot of a very interesting and evolving subculture that those who are interested in understanding local Chinese Web culture should be aware of.
From a online brand engagement point of view, there is a world of opportunity in this space if done correctly.
Chinese Online gaming giant Shanda has a “net-lit” arm consisting of three distinct sites. Qidian (起点中文网) is primarily focused on fantasy and is one of the largest online literature Web sites in China. It was founded in 2003 out of the Chinese Magic Fantasy Union (玄幻文学协会), an earlier site formed in 2001 by fantasy enthusiasts, and was acquired by Shanda in 2004. The hit pulp adventure series Ghost Blows Out the Light (鬼吹灯) was serialized on Qidian in 2006. Qidian remains focused on original fantasy, martial arts, and military adventure fiction. Fantasy is the top-listed category on many general literature portals, including Sina’s original book channel (新浪读书:原创文学). The hit adventure series of 2008, The Tibet Code (藏地密码), was a Sina books serialization. Online games, which tend to be fantasy-themed, are extended by fans who write their own original stories using characters and settings from the same universe. There’s a large section devoted to game fiction online literature portal 17k (一起看), which has the backing of ebook company ChineseAll (中文在线). Sometimes things go in reverse: online fantasy writer Xiao Ding serialized his epic Exterminating the Immortals (诛仙) on the Fantasy Sword literary portal, since acquired by Tom.com. It was subsequently published in print, and then adapted by gaming company Perfect World into a popular fantasy game whose character classes and setting are based on Xiao Ding’s world.
time travel romance ::
A popular genre of online literature is the “time travel love story,” and many net-literature Web sites feature a category called “time travel” or “time travel romance” (Sina’s). These stories typically take the form of a modern person being thrown back in time to experience romance and intrigue in some grander, more exciting setting, usually somewhere in China’s dynastic history, like the the Tang Dynasty court, but often a fictional setting, such as the Grand View Garden as depicted in Dream of the Red Chamber. The BBS forum Across the Ocean of Stars (穿越星海), which receives several thousand posts a day, is devoted to time travel romances (motto: “I fell in love with you across time”). Love99 (爱久久) hosts romantic net-literature, and as of this writing the two featured stories are both time-travel pieces, “Pursuing you across time” (穿越时空追到你) and “Time Travel Bodyguard” (超时空保镖). International time travel is possible as well; see below.
women’s literature ::
Another large Shanda property is Jinjiang (晋江原创网), a site for original writing by women started in 2003 out of a BBS hosted in a small city in Fujian Province. Shanda bought into it in 2007, and the site currently has long-term contracts with around 2,000 original writers. Breakout hits from Jinjiang include A Dream Back to the Qing Empire (梦回大清) by Jinzi and The Pharaoh’s Favorite (法老的宠妃), by You Shi, both time-travel romances. You Shi also hosts her work on her popular blog, and runs her own literature BBS. Jinjiang is massive net-literature portal; at the other end of the spectrum are Web sites like 9jjz (九界网), which is devoted to women’s writing on a smaller, less-commercialized scale. It has an annual writing contest and entices writers to post work on the Web site by offering editing services.
pure literature ::
Non-genre fiction is a harder sell. The Chinese Internet is littered with abandoned Web sites set up by groups of writers whose output was too insular to sustain a community, or who moved on to other interests. Heilan, an online forum founded in 2002 for more serious-minded literature and criticism, grew out of an underground literary magazine of the same name shut down in the mid-90s, and has managed to stay afloat. It has even seen several of its books move to print. The site publishes a monthly e-magazine with a rotating editorship that collects recent works by site members. Youth-oriented Rongshuxia (榕树下) is still around after a complicated odyssey of acquisition and failed takeovers. The site was red-hot early in the decade and gave birth to best-selling young authors such as Murong Xuecun, Annie Baobei, and Lin Changzhi. It was acquired by Bertelsmann in 2002 for USD 10 million and sold off again in 2006 for USD 5 million, and just this year, founder Zhu Weilian announced that he had abandoned plans to re-acquire the company, in favor of building a competitor from the ground up. Rongshuxia may not have the same visibility it once had, but members continue to post original literature to the site.
other literary forms ::
Net-literature in China takes other forms in addition to novels and short stories, and two of the most popular are “short-shorts” and “relay fiction.” Short Short Authors (小小说作家网) is a Web site devoted to the form, which generally demands stories of around one-thousand characters that describe a single event during a single time in a single setting (the so-called “law of four ones”). Short Short Authors has sub-boards for original writing, critiquing, foreign translations, and even more limited “micro-fiction” (蚂蚁小说), known as “ant stories.” Relay fiction, in which multiple authors take turns writing successive chapters of a longer story, is a game often played on literary forums and Web sites. Endd.cn (嗯等等, meaning “Oh, wait a minute”) is a niche social networking site designed to facilitate this form of collaborative fiction writing. Members post original writing and, if they so choose, allow other members to take the reins and contribute a chapter or two. Any story with a “Let me take over” (我来接龙) button is fair game, and the Web site includes functions for discussion and private messaging as well.
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