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Report highlights new features of Chinese web fiction

Author  :  LIU JIANGWEI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2020-07-14

Realist web fiction saw a boom in 2019. Last year, over 10,000 writers participated in various levels of competitions for real-life web novels, according to the 2019 Chinese Internet Literature Blue Book recently released by the Network Literature Center of the Chinese Writers Association.

Among the many that stood out were works themed on various aspects of Chinese society, including entrepreneurship, targeted poverty alleviation, volunteers for rural schools and college-graduates working as village officials. Take, for instance, The Story of Shenzhen and Set Sail in 1980, each telling a story of China’s reform and openingup. Glory of Nuclear Medicine demonstrates the changes taking place in the new China, while Heroes of the Internet introduces the “new Chinese” of the internet era.

Xiao Jinghong, deputy director with the Institute of Internet Literature of the Chinese Writers Association, said that the Chinese government has been guiding and supporting the creation of realist web fiction. Real-life fiction has become the new trend in web literature. In fact, whatever subject a writer is working on, it is inevitable for them to draw inspiration from day-to-day life.

However, while realist web literature is thriving, some of the works online are unoriginal or vulgar. Furthermore, the themes of realist web novels are becoming increasingly similar to those of traditional writings.

Xiao said that web fiction is usually entertaining and caters to popular taste, so it would be a big step for web writers to shift from their usual unrestrained and imaginative style and topics to realist themes. Regretfully, realist web fiction has not been so well received by readers, with most of the works gaining good reviews but small readership.

The Blue Book pointed out that in 2019, China’s web literature continued to play a central role in the entire cultural industry, and it also helped drive the development of industries such as film and television, gaming, and anime. A new ecosystem of cultural and creative industry centering on web fiction has been created.

While creating derivative works based on web fiction, producers tend to spend more efforts on adaptation and publicity. Some TV series released last year have enjoyed phenomenal success, such as Joy of Life, The Story of Ming and The Longest Day In Chang’an, while some other adapted dramas, such as All is Well, Go Go Squid, A Little Reunion and Better Days, have touched upon certain social issues and have triggered heated debate.

The Blue Book has also mentioned that profits from paywalls have stagnated even as the IP of web novels was widely developed last year. Instead, websites had to offer novels for free in exchange for profits from page-views. A performance report from China Literature Limited shows that the group had only 9.8 million paying users last year, comparing to 10.8 million in 2018. The “pay as you read” business model that was supposed to support the thriving of China’s web literature faces great challenges.

Suo Luo, contract research fellow of the Hebei Writers’ Association, explained that films, anime and games are usually far more profitable than texts, so e-reading platforms are no longer satisfied with the income from paywalls.

In 2019, many cartoons and books adapted from Chinese web novels, such as Once Upon a Time on Lingjian Mountain, had made it in the rankings in other countries, including Japan. The King’s Avatar has been adapted into a TV series and can be watched on Netflix. Our Glamorous Time won the Gold Pearl Award at the 2019 Miami America-China TV Art Week.

However, now that web fictions are largely free, the threshold for creation has been lowered, and more capital will be involved, which means the healthy development of the industry may be further challenged, Suo cautioned.

 

This article was edited and translated from Guangming Daily.

Editor: Yu Hui

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