20111121-Wikicommons Internet star.JPG
Chinese Internet star
In 2015, the number of Chinese reading digital books surpassed those reading physical ones according to the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television. The China Daily and Xinhua News Agency reported.: “64 percent Chinese used some form of digital device to read in 2015, a 5.6 percent jump compared with those who preferred paper books, adding that 60 percent adults read on mobile phones. The 2016 Beijing International Publishing Forum forum announced that China's digital publishing industry posted a revenue of $66.3 billion in 2015, a 30 percent surge over the previous year. [Source: China Daily, August 24, 2016]

“Wu Shangzhi of the the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television said the huge base of internet users and the increasingly strong demand for digital reading have greatly pushed forward the development of digital publishing in China. In recent years, the traditional publishing units have increased their digital footprints, and are seeking innovative breakthrough in product and operating mode.

“The new forms of collaborative literature and audio books are emerging. These developments bring great potential for publishing industry and attract the extensive participation of internet enterprises, telecom operators and e-commerce enterprises, as well as emerging publishers such as new media, animation and gaming enterprises. With the 13th Five-Year Plan including the "digital publishing" as part of new emerging cultural industry for the first time, Wu believes that this will push forward the digital publishing process in China.

Modern Chinese Writers and Literature: MCLC Resource Center ; Modern Chinese literature in translation Paper Republic ; Wang Shou Wikipedia article on Wang Shou Wikipedia ; Shanghai Baby Book Reporter Review ; Gao Xingjian Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Nobel Prize site ; BBC Report ; Ha Jin Random House ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Book Browse ; Book Reporter ; Amy Tan Amy ; Academy of Achievement biography ; Anniina’s Amy Tam Page ;

Chinese Online Literature

In 2017, there were more than 400 million readers and over 16 million online literature works created by 14 million author accounts according to report by the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association in September, 2018. The report said printed versions for 6,942 online literature works had been published, while 1,195 films, 1,232 TV series, 605 games and 712 comics were adapted from these works in 2017. [Source: Fang Aiqing, China Daily, February 27, 2019]

Li Hongrui wrote in the China Daily: “On the subways in Beijing, most people stare at their smartphones. Some play video games or watch TV dramas, while some choose to read. Online novels are popular among these readers. In fact, more people are becoming registered users on online literature websites or smartphone applications. According to the China Internet Network Information Center half of all netizens are online literature readers. [Source: Li Hongrui, China Daily, October 24, 2017]

“As the number of online literature works increases, a large variety of light pornographic online novels under the deceptive cover of "romance" and "fantasy" appeared. Such works, often with similar, catchy titles, also contain similarly vulgar content. A genre of them was even nicknamed the "My Bossy Boss" series, all about rich womanizers and poor "Cinderellas".

“Writer Ning Ken, the top prize winner of the First Online Literature Contest and deputy-editor of the magazine October (Shi Yue), said online literature needs guidance. "The quick development of online literature is beyond my imagination. It is going in a direction that is out of my expectation as well," the writer said. "I think it should be something with high quality, rather than a sort of entertainment. Its quality should be improved." "As an online writer, I am happy about the past history of online literature. Thought it may develop in a disorderly way, it has a strong vitality. Online literature will have higher quality as time goes," Yin Xun said.

“In recent years, a large number of high-quality online novels have been adapted into TV dramas, films, computer games and audiobooks. “Nirvana in Fire and The Journey of Flower were the most popular online novel TV adaptations in 2015. Both works have won audience hearts with their creative spirit and skillful filmmaking techniques. Nirvana in Fire received China's top copyright award of 2016, issued by the National Copyright Administration. “This year, both TV and film adaptations of Once Upon a Time, a popular online novel, were released from spring to summer.

“Li Linrong, a professor from Beijing International Studies University, said online literature develops a closer connection with traditional Chinese culture and intangible cultural heritage. The industrialization of online literature will mature in the future. "In my view, online literature is a successful marketisation of literature," Li said. "Other cultural industries should take it as a good example."

History of Internet Literature in China

The development of online literature began in China in the early and took off much quicker there than it did in the West. Michel Hockx wrote on the UK Web Archive Blog: What people often forget is that the environment for print-publishing in China is much more restricted and much more heavily censored. Therefore, those with literary interests and ambitions have gone online in huge numbers. Reading and writing literature is consistently ranked among the top-ten reasons why Chinese people spend time online. [Source: Michel Hockx, UK Web Archive Blog, September 13, 2012.Hockx is a professor School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and author “Internet Literature in China” Columbia University Press, 2015)]

Internet literature is substantially different from...printed literature, most importantly because born-digital literary texts are not stable. Printed novels may come in different editions, but generally the assumption of literature scholars who do research on the same novel is that they have all read the same text. For internet literature there can be no such assumption, because “the text” often evolves over time and usually looks different depending on user interaction. The text looks different depending on when you visited it and what you did with it.

Genre fiction (romance fiction, martial arts fiction, erotic fiction, and so on) is hugely popular on the Chinese Internet, because of the relatively few legal restrictions compared to print publishing. Readers subscribe to novels they like and they then receive regular new instalments, often on a daily basis. However, no matter how large the archives, there usually tends to be a cut-off point after which works are taken offline. When I first started my research in 2002, I was blissfully unaware of such potential problems. As a result, roughly 90 percent of the URLs mentioned in the footnotes to my first scholarly articles on the topic are no longer accessible. Fortunately, when I began to rework some of my earlier articles for my book, I found that the Internet Archive had preserved a substantial number of the links, so in many cases my footnotes now refer to the Internet Archive.

Internet novels were among Mao Dun competitors for the first time in 2011. The Global Times reported: “Eight items of literary works published on the Internet will join another 170 novels to compete for the Mao Dun Literature Prize, one of China’s most prestigious literary awards, according to the Chinese Writers Association (CWA)...This is the first time that Internet novels have been accepted as qualified candidates for the prize....Recent years have shown a growing trend of Internet-based publication of literary works in China, whose number of Internet users climbed to 477 million this year. In an earlier talk with media, Chen Qirong, a spokesman with the CWA, said that by opening the doors for Internet novels, China’s awards have begun to recognize the influence of Internet literature. [Source: Global Times June 21, 2011]

Internet Writing in China

“The Internet created all, and I say all, the literary trends that took off in 2005 and afterward,” Jo Lusby, managing director of Penguin China, said . But the Internet does not offer writers total liberation, either, since there are online monitors. And some writers are reluctant to post entire books because of fears of piracy; Murong Xuecun said he had not posted his last book, a nonfiction work about a pyramid scheme. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 6, 2011]

On how the Internet has influenced writing, the poet Hu Xudong told Artspace China: “If you want to work independently to develop your own style and language, you can do that online. But society still judges you by whether or not you have published a book according to traditional conventions. You might be known as a famous internet writer, but if you really want to be recognised with any sort of authority you still have to publish a physical book. Then again, the internet and traditional forms of publishing do sometimes crossover. So for example I know lots of publishers who’ll use the internet to do their research looking for new writers. If they find something that’s popular, that they think has potential to sell, they’ll approach the writers, arrange a contract and publish straight away. [Source: Christen Cornell, Artspace China July 15, 2011]

"So lots of people who write online — not only those writing novels, also those writing other things like a personal diary — can have a very clear ambition which is still to be published in traditional form. To still have a paper book. I think people are starting to see publication on the internet as a stage before real publication. A prelude to more serious work. On the influence of the Internet on writing, Xu said, “There has definitely been some influence here, although we’re still in awkward phase. When the internet first started I had a website with some friends. It was huge, a bit like Douban today, and was called New Youth — or Xin Qingnian. We wanted to use the internet to innovate with some of these basic principles of language and narrative, and we did some experiments with poetry. So for example if you moved the mouse somewhere on the screen a word might suddenly jump out and turn into something else; or if you clicked a sentence it might take you somewhere else. A bit like a game, or hypertext.

We were looking for a new way of using the Chinese language. Something that you could call poetry but also contemporary art. A scientific art, or “a geek art', you could say. It was very difficult to find a context for this kind of thing in China, though, and we wrapped up the website after a few years. While poets in other countries spent the 1960s and 1970s experimenting with concrete poetry, visual poetry, and performance poetry, most poets in China were busy creating large-scale, traditional works. So we never really had this base.

IP was a film, fiction and culture industry buzzword in 2015. According to China Film Insider: “In China, the abbreviation IP stands for more than intellectual property: it refers to stories with an existing audience that will follow as they are retold across different media platforms. Online fiction has become a key source of IP and new film scripts, leading an executive from one new studio to suggest a diminished role for traditional screenwriters in the filmmaking process, a call that sparked an outcry in the ranks of beleaguered writers. [Source: Jonathan Landreth, Sky Canaves, Pang-chieh Ho, and Jonathan Papish, China Film Insider, December 31, 2015]

China Literature: China’s Biggest Online Literature Company

China Literature, a subsidiary of gaming and social media giant Tencent, has an online catalogue of almost 10 million works distributed via the company’s two principal apps – QQ Reading and Qidian. In 2019, nine of the top 19 most popular online works were affiliated with China Literature. It apps are not merely e-readers, users of QQ Reading can, for example, send micropayments to authors. The company has been very successful but has suffered a couple of huge share drops, including 14.6 percent one day in August 2018. In August 2020, it value dropped to 10 percent below its IPO offering. [Source:, Reuters]

According to the By carefully analysing online reading trends, China Literature is able to finetune its title lists and immediately respond to changes in demand. The company also intends to turn some of its best-selling books into feature-length films, television series, or games. Online publishing is big business in China, registering a 20% average annual growth since 2012. Book platforms such as those deployed by China Literature help new authors find readers and hone their skills by directly engaging with the reading public. The judging panel notes that the vast body of literature offered by China Literature is exceptionally well organised and divided over more than 200 different categories. With a few taps and swipes readers may easily access the full depth of the catalogue and find the exact book they are looking for.

In 2020, China Literature’s Total revenues increased 2.1 percent year-over-year to US$1.3 billion and gross profit increased 14.7 percent year-over-year to US$648.9 million. The company said: Following the success of “Joy of Life” in 2019, we continued to produce blockbuster adaptations of our IPs [intellectual properties or original content] including recently launched drama series “My Heroic Husband” and “Soul Land”. Their success reflected both our outstanding reserves of IP and our creative abilities in adapting content across mediums and genres. China Literature is constantly evolving and is already much more than just an online reading company. We see IP incubation as our next growth accelerator, leveraging our on-line reading business to create an innovative IP-centric production cycle. We believe that taking an IP-centric path will lead the Company to a much wider market, with more exciting prospects ahead." [Source: Cision, PR Newswire]

Shanda Literature and Qidian: China's Pioneering Online Literature Companies

Shanda Literature --- part of the Shanda Group, a privately-owned multinational investment firm with holdings in real estate and venture capital, focusing on companies in the fields of healthcare, financial services, media, and technology --- was the biggest online literature companies in China. It operated three of China's biggest literary portals, including Qidian, one of the most popular. Collectively, the Web sites received more than 200 million daily page views and published nearly 30 billion Chinese characters as of 2009, according to Shanda Literature's company data.” [Source: Lara Farrar,, February 15, 2009]

According to CNN: Shanda generated revenues through online advertising and by charging readers small amounts to access popular stories or works from famous authors who have been contracted to write. However, the company is increasingly trying to earn money by licensing online novels to film studios, music producers, game developers and book publishers while protecting the intellectual property rights of its authors.”
In 2009 Shanda owned the rights to more than 200,000 works and had sold a number of licenses to other entertainment companies, including a popular “Tomb Raider” novel that was being adapted for film by Hong Kong director Johnnie To Kei-Fung. “Literature is the starting point of all means of entertainment,” a Shanda executive told CNN. “It can provide numerous blueprints for games, music, movies and dramas. A lack of good stories is the main reason of the underdevelopment of entertainment [in China].”

In 2008, Shanda Interactive established Shanda Literature Limited as a business unit. Shanda Literature began offering literature and other publications through websites, offline publication and phones. The unit purchased Qidian, Hongxiu, and, three of China's biggest literary portals, as well as publishing companies such as, Huawentianxia, and Zhongzhibowen. Qidian was the largest Chinese online literature platform in 2008, with 20 million registered accounts. In 2009, Shanda Literature spurred controversy for promoting the popular writers Guo Jingming and vivibear, both accused of plagiarism. In 2010, Shanda Literature sued the search engine for providing links to pirated versions of Shanda Literature's copyrighted material. Agreeing that Baidu did not remove the links immediately upon notice, a Shanghai court ruled in Shanda's favor in May 2011.[Source: Wikipedia]

In 2004. Chen Tianqiao founded the Cloudary Cooperation from a small website, In 2014, Cloudary was s the largest online literature website occupying 72 percent of the whole industry. IIn 2011, Qidian commanded 43.8 percent of China's online literature market in terms of revenues. It held the copyrights of 5.8 million digital works and has 194 million online users. By the end of 2011, it had 1.6 million registered writers posting an average of 60 million words a day.

Shanda Literature controlled 90 percent of the online reading market in China by early 2010. That year Shanda Interactive recorded operating revenues of $232.3 million, 2% higher than the prior year. Shanda Literature was renamed Cloudary in 2011, and that October the unit filed to go public in the United States with an IPO of about $200 million. By March 2012, Cloudary was the largest online publishing platform in China, with 1.6 million authors and 6 million titles. Three years later, Cloudary was merged with Tencent Holdings. Ultimately Shanda Literature morphed and merged into China Literature.

Internet Novels in China

Internet novels emerged in China in the early 2000s. On online writing at that time, Zhang Wei, one of China’s most successful writers, told the New York Times: “Online literature was still in its early stage of development. Most people who were writing online back then were writing for fun. But a lot of writers didn’t finish their novels, so it was difficult to follow the stories. As a reader, I didn’t like reading these incomplete novels. So when I started to write, I updated my stories every day. That way, I made sure that my readers could get something new every day.

Internet novels started attracted a large audience in the mid and late 2000s, growing in popularity as the Internet did in China. CNN reported in 2009: “The Internet is increasingly being seen in China as a tool for literary empowerment, analysts say...The past decade has seen the blossoming of countless literary Web sites and online forums hosting stories from thousands of aspiring authors. Their work is read by millions of Internet users, leading some to assert that in the future all writing, even reading, in China will take place in cyberspace.”It is a very big revolution,” said Yang Hengjun, a political espionage novelist who published his first work online. “When you write something on the Internet that you can't do in reality and you cause a change, that is revolutionary.” [Source: Lara Farrar,, February 15, 2009]

“It's an inevitable trend due to the rapid development of the Internet and conceptual change of people,” said Hou Xiaoqiang, head of Shanda Literature, a division of Shanghai-based Shanda Interactive Entertainment, the largest online entertainment provider in China. “Ordinary people have started to realize the world ought to be dominated by them, rather than some media or elite,” Hou added. “Online authors are breaking the rules and using totally fresh concepts.”

Many of the most popular cyber books have sister publications in print. “Bookstores now have sections devoted to Internet novels published as paperbacks, while a number of other influential writers have emerged from the Web over the years, including Annie Baobei, whose books about love and loneliness in Chinese cities have sold more than a million copies.”

Zhang Wei, China's most successful online writer told the New York Times: “As far as I know, China’s model — in which fans read daily updates of online novels — has not been replicated in any other country. In other countries, online literature usually means digitizing physical books so that people can buy them and read them on their cellphone. IP and content production will play a more dominant role in the industry. For example, I am currently looking for a powerful partner to develop all of my IPs so that when one format, like a movie or a TV series, becomes popular, the other formats will also become popular. This is the best model for writers. My goal is to make a big franchise like Disney. Disney has a lot of characters whose popularity is reinforced through movies and cartoons.

The list of Top Chinese Online Literary Works in 2019, according to the China Writers Association, comprised 19 works and projects, including nine novels from the China Literature Group under Tencent. The Top 10 Chinese Online Novels include "Zhaoyang Jingshi" ("Cases in Zhaoyang"), "I Am On Mars", "Library of Heavenly Path", "Zai Zhi Tian Xia" ("Rule the Country") and "Hao Dang" ("The Broad World"), covering genres including reality, fantasy, martial arts and science fiction. The Top 6 Most Influential Online Literary IPs include novels such as "Joy of Life" and "Jade Dynasty". Among the Top 3 Most Influential Chinese Novels Overseas, "Library of Heavenly Path" was selected as the most influential title, and the website Webnovel was chosen as the best international project. [Source: Yang Yang ,China Daily, September 30, 2020]

"Novels such as "Cases in Zhaoyang", which tells the story of police solving crimes with the help of residents in Zhaoyang, and the science fiction tale "I Am on Mars" have been included in the collection of the National Library of China. Popular novels have also turned into valuable IPs that have been adapted as cartoons, TV series and movies to increase their added value. One good example is "Joy of Life", with an adapted TV series viewed 13 billion times on the major Chinese online video platforms Tencent and iQiyi. Chinese online novels have also drawn rising interest from overseas. On Webnovel, more than 900 Chinese online novels have been translated into English to date, including those from genres such as martial arts and fantasy, with total views surpassing 70 million. The novel "Library of Heavenly Path", capturing the traditional Chinese spirit of respecting teachers and truth, has become the most popular work on Webnovel. It has been translated into English, Turkish and French, among other languages.

Chinese Female Online Readers and Writers

According to Gu Jianyu, general manager of copyright sales at China Literature, the most popular works among women readers in 2018 the group's literature websites, which include,, and, were 1) “Mountain In The Moonlight”, a touching and positive story covering the topics of education in remote rural areas and leftover children; suspense; 2) romance novel “Endless Love”, about a young woman with amnesia who journeys to recover her memories and a lost romance; and 3) “Capturing My Heart” from writer Yu Qingwan, a popular story that mixes romance and detective novels in one package. “Period and time travel stories like “The Millennium Grocery Store”, “The Beautiful Healer” and “My Lord, My Love” also were favorites among female readers' favorites. [Source: Global Times, April 23, 2018]

“Gu said writers on literature websites tend to have a delicate writing style that is full of emotion, which enables them to strike a chord with women readers. Since readers share something in common with the female characters portrayed in these works, even when they live in different time periods, it makes these works ripe material for film and TV adaptations. “You Are My Best Years”, the latest TV adaptation of writer Jiang Meiren's work of the same name, also made its official debut at the salon. The book focuses on the career of a jade carver, something that is not often seen in TV dramas.

In 2009, CNN reported: “Many of China's usually young and often female cyber-writers are posting their work online with the hope that their stories will be read by millions, ultimately becoming books or movies and turning the authors into celebrities. The online Chinese literary scene is, in some ways, like a TV reality show.” “In America, people have the American dream. In China, people have the online dream,” said Dai Yingniao, a college junior who says almost all of her friends read online fantasy novels about time travel, romance or some mixture of the two. These genres are mostly read by ordinary girls who find life boring, said Dai, noting her roommate especially fancies a novel from the Qidian Web site called “The Legend of Little Beauty.” “I prefer real literature rather than imaginary works,” added the 20-year-old. She then described a cyber-novel she is planning to write about a princess who lives during the Qing Dynasty. After leaving her home in Beijing, the princess returns to find she no longer recognizes her family or the society she had lived in a few years before. “I just want to convey my opinions about today's life,” Dai said. ‘sometimes euphemism is more powerful.” [Source: Lara Farrar,, February 15, 2009]

Chinese Online Literature Franchises Earn Millions

In 2017, the top 10 online literature writers in China have created franchises worth a staggering $150 million according to the Hurun Report. The Global Times reported: ““Fights Breaks Sphere written by 27-year-old author Tiancan Tudou ranked first on the list. Other well-known works that have been adapted into other mediums such as TV shows or movies in recent years, including Nirvana in Fire, Fighter of the Destiny and Grave Robbers' Chronicles also made it into the top 10. In the Name of People, a novel that was recently adapted into the hit anti-graft TV show of the same name, came in at 21. [Source: Global Times, July 13, 2017]

“For Chinese online writers, the booming IP market has brought not only wealth, but dignity as well. "Originally, I was ashamed of being an online writer working at home," said online writer Qi Daojun, who was named the most popular romance writer of the year for his online series Guaren Wuji. "But now, I am proud to tell people what I do for a living."

“According to statistics released by the Hurun Report, online literature writers on the list write as much as 10,000 Chinese characters every day, a fact which British writers found amazing. Newly released chapters of online works reach 150 million characters daily, according to Zhang Yijun, head of the Digital Publishing Department under the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT).

“While big-budget IP adaptations remain popular, they are not without risks as many have also been subjected to accusations of plagiarism and criticized for cliche plots and poor production values. Wang pointed out that negatives such as these were "unavoidable" considering the sheer size of the IP industry. He noted, however, that things are improving as government agencies increase regulations and consumers and IP management companies begin to demand higher quality content.

“China's rapidly expanding online literature market also saw an increasing impact overseas in recent years, with book-turned-TV adaptations Nirvana in Fire and The Journey of Flower received positive receptions after arriving in countries including Japan and South Korea. The popular Legend of Zhenhuan was also reedited from 76 episodes into a six-episode Netflix series titled Empresses in the Palace.

Web Writer Zhang Wei Earns $16.8 Million In One Year

Zhang Wei, a 34-year-old former state media employee whose pen name is Tangjiasanshao, earned an annual income of 110 million yuan ($16.8 million) in 2015. According to the China Daily, “The book that earned him his fortune is Douluodalu, a fantasy novel about a genius's endeavor to become a soul master. It received over 60 million clicks on China's original literature site As reported, Zhang said the book, which contains more than 20 million words, will be adapted into a four picture movie series by a Hollywood producer. "It is by far my biggest IP, I hope it could be developed into a theme park, and become a world renowned piece," Zhang said. [Source: Ruan Fan, China Daily, March 25, 2016],

Amy Qin wrote in the New York Times’s Sinosphere: Zhang “is not modest about his success. “I love writing, and I’m gifted,” he said. Much of his fortune was made from selling his so-called IPs, a buzzword in China referring to intellectual properties or original content that is often adapted into movies, television shows and games. It’s a strategy that in recent years has become a major source of revenue for China’s online literature websites and writers. Mr. Zhang’s earnings would put him on par with best-selling authors like Stephen King and George R. R. Martin. [Source: Amy Qin, Sinosphere, New York Times, October 31, 2016]

“Mr. Zhang’s works typically fall within the fantasy genre. “Douluo Dalu” , one of his most popular works, is the story of a martial artist who tumbles into an eerie new world called Duoluo Dalu. The story is being turned into a movie, a television show and a video game. In the interview, Mr. Zhang talked about the difference between online literature and traditional publishing, the advantage of an established fan base for lucrative spinoffs and his dream of creating a Disney-style empire.

Zhang told the New York Times: “I first started writing in February 2004, when I was 23. I was working as a website engineer at the time. Before that, I also worked for I wanted to write a fantasy novel about magic and light because there weren’t many novels at the time that talked about this theme. That became my first novel, “Child of Light.” When I started, I could only write 2,000 to 3,000 [Chinese] characters a day. Now I typically write about 7,000 to 8,000 characters a day. On my most productive days, I can write 15,000 to 16,000 characters.

“With online literature, you can publish your installments as soon as you finish them and discuss them with readers very quickly. This is the biggest difference between online literature and traditional publishing. It’s not like writing a book, where you have to write all the chapters before you publish. With online writing, you only need a few thousand characters to start off your book and to show your readers what you’re writing. That’s how online literature sustains itself.

“The income from subscribers to online literature makes up only about 2 to 3 percent of my total income. Most of my income comes from the print publication of my books and IP products. A lot of people ask me how I’ve become so successful in the industry. I only do one thing, which is to give my readers new work every day. I’ve done this every day for the last 12 years. This is actually very difficult to achieve. I love writing, and I’m gifted. As far as I know, nobody is as good as I am. Talent and enthusiasm are the keys to my success. I haven’t been writing all this time because of the money. From the beginning, it was never about the money.

On why some readers favor online novels over print books, he said: “There’s a feeling of excitement when you read daily updates. Also online literature is really a form of popular literature. It’s more accessible to readers. It’s also one of the cheapest forms of entertainment. Usually it costs just a few cents to read a thousand words.” On why companies were buying the rights from online authors and adapting their stories into movies, television shows and games, he said, “The big IPs come with millions of readers, so they offer a built-in fan base, which often translates into high box-office returns. IPs can also be made into series, which makes the content more cohesive. That way, you can maximize your profit from the IP, and it also amplifies the IP’s overall influence.

Online Novels as a Social Force for Change in China

“Today it is more accepted for Chinese publishers to take risks with voices emerging online, many now printing stories that simply would not have been possible a decade ago. Publishing houses often peruse Web sites for talent whose writing can be brought to readers who are not logged on.” [Source: Lara Farrar,, February 15, 2009]

“Publishers can come in and say there are readers for this, and this is the demographic and if we want to hit young adults, then this is a great voice,” said Jo Lusby, the manager of Penguin China. “[The literary Web sites] are now a very natural part of the publishing scene in China. It is really a convergence of print and online writing.”

“Yet despite what has been a gradual commercialization and subsequent opening up of the Chinese publishing industry during the past few years, many of the writers who are able to self-publish with freedom online find they still can face substantial censorship when their works are adapted for offline audiences.”

“Offline publishing is still tightly controlled and not easy to change,” said Yang Hengjun, whose spy novels are banned in the country. “Any Internet novel is largely edited when it goes to publishing.” In the long run, however, Yang said he believes the freedom of literary expression on the Internet will spur even further liberalization in the Chinese publishing industry. “It is a good thing and it is a promising thing,” said Yang. “Nowadays for more and more people if they want to express themselves, they can go online.”

Murong Xuecun, China's Pioneering Internet Writer

Murong Xuecun, the pen name of Hao Qun, is one of China’s most famous Internet writers and one of its earliest. He rose to fame riding the first wave of China's earliest online surge at in the early and mid 2000s. His enormously popular novel "Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu" was written in serialized form that had millions of fans waiting eagerly for each new installment on the web.

CNN reported: “If it weren't for the Internet, Murong Xuecun might still be working as a sales manager at a car company in the southern Chinese city of Chengdu. That is what he was doing when he started writing his first novel on his office's online bulletin board system back in 2001. Week by week when he got home from work, Murong would post new pieces to a story that painted a bleak yet honest picture of modern urban life in the city where he lived. It contained tales about sex, love, gambling and drugs and became so popular that it soon appeared on numerous other online forums. By 2009, he was considered one of the most famous authors to have emerged in contemporary China. His debut work, “Leave Me Alone: A novel of Chengdu,” has been read by millions of Chinese “netizens” and adapted for film and television and translated into German, French and English.” [Source: Lara Farrar,, February 15, 2009]

"Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu" was very popular on online forums. Later it was published in print form and still sold a million copies and was published in English. But after adopting the same formula for several later works, Murong decided to revert to a traditional publisher in 2010 when he released "the Missing Ingredient." “"I have to earn money to sustain myself, and printed books, at least, bring in the royalties," he told the China Daily. He got no money from his online success earlier, and the author says that the several contracts on digital rights he signed in recent years brought in only 50,000 yuan ($7,890), hardly enough for bread and butter. Murong enjoys his influence in the cyber world, but he admits that "being published is also a measure of pride". "Anyone can write online," he says, "but a book that gets printed undergoes a selection process with professional scrutiny and quality control." Murong feels that books on paper are irreplaceable, even though the publishing industry may atrophy as digital editions grow in strength. He is not alone in feeling that print will still be around, although there are signs that its survival may, oddly enough, depend on what appears online, too. [Source: Mei Jia China Daily, March 22, 2012]

China’s First Microblog Novel

Jiang Wanjuan wrote in the Global Times, “Writer Wen Huajian recently published his new novel — but it's quite different from his previous ones and probably any other Chinese novels out there: this one is made up of chapters written on his microblog, 140 characters a time. “Weibo Shiqi De Aiqing” (“Love in the Age of Microblogging”), a story about a romance between a middle-aged writer and a famous actress, is recognized as the first microblog novel in China. [Source: Jiang Wanjuan, Global Times, April 13, 2011]

Wen was inspired by people he met on his microblog 15 months ago. He set the main storyline but allowed readers to interact and suggest details as the story evolved post-by-post on his Sina microblog. His narrative finished at around 500 posts in January and attracted more than 126,000 readers. "My idea was simple. I saw so many people turning to a short-form blog as they were looking for something easy to digest," Wen explained in a press conference earlier this week. "So I decided to write something different, something bite-sized."

In Wen's understanding, microblog novels should include people who blog themselves, the things they talk about and their slang and idioms, such as emoticons.The most important thing, he said, was that every post of 140 words must end with a cliffhanger or an open-ended question. Microblog novels are evolving into a phenomenon in other countries, especially Japan, which constantly hosts contests for the world's latest literature form.

Even so, before Wen's book got published, few people saw the market potential in the genre as being particularly lucrative, as microblogs are free to access. "It is a brand new style of literature.Besides that, there are still many people who prefer paper books. With delicate writing and page design, it is a different experience from reading on the screen," said Tian Xuefeng, head of Shenyang Publishing House, Wen's publisher. "It does have risks to invest in [this], but which book does not?"

One-Tweet Novels' Are Big in China

On the same subject Ho Ai Li wrote in The Straits Times, “The short story has become even shorter in China's cyberspace. First there were the tales of a few hundred words called flash fiction that could be read over a smoke break. Now readers are going for stories that can unfold in a tweet, or two cellphone text messages. Called 'micro-novels' or 'hint fiction', these 140-word tales have found favour among Chinese netizens who like their stories short and sweet. They have become common on Twitter-like social media websites in China, with netizens writing their own tales or sharing good ones. [Source: Ho Ai Li, The Straits Times, July 6, 2011]

Contests to choose the best micro-novels have attracted tens of thousands of entries, and well-known writers like columnist Cai Lan and author Liu Liu are getting in on the act as well. Websites and even a conference have sprung up to discuss the new literary form, with plans for a new magazine devoted to these short tales. One author has even published a book, titled "Love In The Age of Weibo", where he put together 492 of his self-contained tweets into a novel about a man who falls in love with an actress.

The popularity of these quick reads is a sign of the times, says professor Mo Huaiqi from Chongqing Normal University. "We are living in an era of fast food. Such micro-novels represent reading and writing fast food-style," he tells The Straits Times. They also represent an offshoot of China's vibrant online literary scene, which has seen many an Internet writer make it big. Take for instance, Murong Xuecun, a nominee for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008 and best known for "Leave Me Alone: A Novel Of Chengdu", a novel that was written on the Internet.

Like a lot of online literature, micro-novels are also known for their interactivity. Readers can post instant comments or forward the story to their friends. Or they can write one themselves. The brevity of the form has certainly encouraged aspiring authors, but some questioned if such short story forms will enjoy a long life. Mo believes that they are just a fad and do not have much substance. He says: "They are more like word games. People will get sick of them over time."

In a way, micro-novels are not that novel. Stories of around 100 words can be found in classical Chinese literature, like those in "The Strange Tales Of Liaozhai", a collection of mainly supernatural stories written in the Qing Dynasty. But Murong notes that novels that have had the most appeal traditionally in China are those of considerable length, of around 100,000 words. In comparison, micro-novels usually do not make the ranks of classics. "It's only a snapshot. It doesn't meet people's expectations for plot development and characters," the writer says.

But others say the genre has potential. These stories may be brief but they need not be small, notes netizen Lu Cheng Yi Jian. They do not just have to be about little snapshots of life or stories, but can touch on larger themes, he adds. It is too early to say how such story forms will develop, but the 140-word limit does force writers to be skilful and precise in their use of the language, says prominent Chinese publisher Lu Jinbo.

While some say the 140-word limit is too little, it may be a tad long for others, namely budding online writers trying to compose a narrative in just 20 words. No wonder Peking University's Chinese language lecturer Zhang Yiwu jokes: "Micro-novels are like women's skirts - the shorter, the better."

Chinese Government and Internet Literature

Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times, “The Internet has ignited a revolution in China’s publishing industry by allowing a diversity of voices to bloom. Publishing houses can spot new talents and buy the rights for print editions. All this has contributed to the market reforms of the past decade and debate within the party about how to both nurture and control the industry. Although its systemic censorship crushes creativity, the party craves domestic and international respect for China’s cultural output. After a four-day policy meeting on culture and ideology in October 2011, the party’s Central Committee said China needed to bolster its soft power and “cultural security” with more “outstanding cultural products.” Around the same time, People’s Daily ran a commentary that called for the state to build up publishing houses into companies with international brands so their books can help spread ‘socialist core values.” And some officials ache for a mainland Chinese writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. [Source: Edward Wong, New York Times, November 6, 2011]

In 2015, the Chinese government said it would require writers involved in online publishing to use their real names. Amy Qin wrote in the New York Times’s Sinosphere: “Zhou Shuren is widely regarded as one of China’s most influential 20th-century writers. But to most readers, he is known as Lu Xun, one of the more than 100 pen names the author used, often to evade the repercussions of provocative political views. The longstanding Chinese tradition of using pen names persists today on blogs and the Internet, as authors seek to separate their writerly personas from their real identities. In some cases — particularly when writings may be deemed controversial or delicate — pseudonyms have taken on greater importance, shielding authors from unwanted public or government scrutiny. “But that tradition has officially drawn the attention of the Chinese government. [Source: Amy Qin Sinosphere, New York Times, January 26, 2015]

“In new guidelines on online literature made public this month by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, the government called for a system that would require all authors to register their real names with publishing platforms on the Internet. Under the guidelines, creators of online content will still be allowed to publish under pen names. But unlike before, when some writers registered accounts under fake names, websites will know exactly who is publishing what. Linking the offline identities of authors with their online writings, the guidelines say, will encourage writers to “better take responsibility” for their works as well as strengthen their “professional moral education and training.” The aim is to promote “healthy” online literature and to root out problems like plagiarism and poor quality, the guidelines state. “It is very clear that the government is taking these measures with the intention of suppressing online creativity,” the writer known as Murong Xuecun, whose real name is Hao Qun, said in an interview.

In 2020, the China Daily reported: “The National Press and Publication Administration issued a notice on further strengthening the administration of online literature publication. The notice requires regulating online literature, strengthening the management of online literature publication and guiding the work of related publishers. It asks for putting a priority on social benefits, bringing more high-quality works to people and promoting the development of online literature in a healthy way. According to the notice, online literature publishers must strictly implement their responsibilities as main platforms, improve content evaluation mechanisms for online literature, strengthen content assessment, and support the creation of new works. [Source: China Daily, June 19, 2020]

“Meanwhile, the total amount of works published should be controlled. Online literature publication needs improvements in quality. Implementation of a real-name registration system for online literature creators was required by the notice, which also asks for strengthening the dynamic management of rankings and reviews for online works. The notice requires each level of managing departments in publishing to review the social benefits of online literature publishers. The publishers with good results in these reviews will be awarded and supported, while those failing to meet guidelines will be penalized. The market will be further regulated, and measures will be taken to punish the works containing improper content as well as their publishers.

Image Sources: Wiki Commons, Asia Obscura, Amazon

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2021

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