PUBLISHING TRENDS AND MODERN BOOK MARKET IN CHINA

PUBLISHING TRENDS IN CHINA

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Jin Yong kung fu book
As China prepares to become a major super power and dominate player in global trade and economics it remains a lightweight when it comes to books and literature. In the early 2000s there were only 500 publishing houses in China compared to thousands in Taiwan. Bookstores in China are busy but more than half the purchases are of textbooks or translations of American books. The British publisher Penguin opened an office in China in 2005 and has been recording growth rates of 200 percent a year. The majority of consumers for its mostly English-language titles have not been ex-pats but rather have been middle class Chinese. A quasi-underground publishing industry in China meets the popular demand for pornography, steamy Danielle-Steele-style novels, and homegrown Science Fiction. Serial Novels are available as text messages in cell phones.

In the early 2000s, how-to books on business and parenting were popular. Thrillers and diet books were not. The owner of Dangdang.com, China biggest online bookseller, told the New York Times that people in Shanghai are into lifestyle and “petit-bourgeois books” while those in Shenzhen are into get-rich guides and those in Beijing like books on business management, novels and foreign language lessons.

Dale Carnegie books such as “How to Friends and Influence People” and “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” sell well in China. Other popular book that fit into the “success studies” category includes “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”, “Who’s Moved My Cheese” and “Harvard Girl”, the story of a young Chinese girl from a working class industrial town that managed to get into Harvard. It sold 1½ million copies. Books by Bill Gates, G.E. CEO Jack Welch and Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing also sell well. Other popular self help books include the “The New Harvard MBA Comprehensive Volume of How to Conduct Yourself in Society” and “Be an Upright Person, Handle Situations Correctly, Become a Boss”. By some counts success books make up a third of all books sold. These including a whole genre books on Jewish success with titles like “The Eight Most Valuable Business Secrets of Jewish Wealth”, “The Legend of Jewish Wealth” and “Jewish People and Business: The Bible of How to Live Their Lives”. See Jews

Describing what was involved in getting his biography about Mao published in China, Ross Terrill wrote in The China Beat,” For several years they would periodically invite me to Shijiazhuang for banquets and TV interviews and at the final dinner press into my hand an envelope with maybe 20,000 RMB, maybe 30,000 RMB. One year, they sought to reward me and themselves with a suggestion. The publishing house needed a new car but prices, due to tax, were terrible for a foreign car. Would I buy one in Boston, export it to Hebei, and take a commission on the money they would save by avoiding (they hoped) the Chinese tax? I explained I was a writer, not a car dealer, and the matter was dropped. [Source:Ross Terrill, The China Beat, February 26, 2010]

State of Chinese Publishing Industry as It Become the Largest in the World

Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore wrote in the New York Times, “The Chinese publishing industry is in an “expansive mode” explained Seth Russo, the director of international sales at Simon & Schuster. It is now the world’s largest in terms of volume, with 7.7 billion books published in 2011, up by 7.5 percent from 2010. Driving sales is a literate population that emphasizes education and self-improvement. Censorship has become less draconian since Mao’s time and publishing has become more commercial. As a result, readers of Chinese books today have more choice of genre, voice and subject matter than they have had at any time in the last 60 years. [Source: Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, New York Times, September 4, 2012; Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore is an editor at Time Out Beijing]

During the Cultural Revolution, schools and universities were shut down and books were banned. Writers under Mao could be executed, imprisoned or ostracized for political incorrectness. (Sometimes they still are.) But such suffering became part of China’s creative legacy in the 70's, thanks to ‘scar literature,” a popular genre that describes the horrors of the era. In other words, if hardline Communism stalled Chinese literature, it did not stamp it out. “Unlike many developing countries, China has a long tradition of education and reading, culture and literature,” Jo Lusby, head of Penguin China, told me in Beijing this week. The Chinese consumer’s interest in books needed only to be revived, not created.

Mirroring a society more concerned with personal pleasure and personal woes than political movements, contemporary Chinese writing focuses on individual feelings. The racecar driver and bad-boy blogger Han Han is making millions off his novels, including his debut “Triple Door,” a scathing satire on school life, which sold over two million copies. Genre fiction is exploding. In bookstores, crime stories and romantic fiction rub alongside wuxia, adventure stories of chivalrous martial heroes, and so-called “officialdom” fiction , tales of political intrigue that double as how-to guides for aspiring officials. (Mind you, the latter genre tends to tread carefully, often focusing on local stories of corruption rather than daring to incriminate party higher-ups.)

Popular nonfiction books include self-help tracts on how to get rich or find love. Publishers at the fair last week also described a growing children’s book market propelled by the one-child policy: Chinese parents are eager to pour their resources into their single offspring. And English-language books---from novels to learning aids---are in demand among those who want to improve their language skills.

International publishers looking to enter China have reason to be enthusiastic. Last year 48 titles sold over one million copies each. Among bestsellers for 2011 were a collection of speeches by former Prime Minister Zhu Rongji---it topped the list---and a modern sequel by Liu Xinwu to the 18th century “Dream of the Red Chamber,” one of China’s so-called four great classical novels. But the success stories aren’t limited to Chinese books. ‘steve Jobs,” Walter Isaacson’s biography of Apple’s founder, sold more than 50,000 hardcopies here---in English. Last year’s bestsellers also included Gabriel García Márquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

This evolution in China’s publishing industry reflects the general liberalization of the country’s economy. When the raison d’être of Chinese books was moral worthiness (and propaganda), state publishers had little impetus to produce books that responded to market demand. Today, though these turgid giants still monopolize distribution, innovative private publishers are forcing them to up their game or miss out.

There are challenges, of course. As in the West, online retailers are squeezing independent bookstores and digitization is hurting sales of printed books; more distinctively local is the problem of piracy. And while international publishing houses are eager to enter this market, local writers and publishers complain that because of red tape the number of books published in China is still well below par for a country this size.

There is also censorship and political pressure. No guidebook of forbidden topics, no glossary of forbidden words, exists. And if some taboos are predictable (1989), others are random or absurd. Forced to go by instinct---and so risk overstepping the mark—“writers, publishers and booksellers routinely self-censor. (Thus the “most daring Chinese writing is to be found online, where censors have “less reach. Readers are flocking to literature sites such as “Rongshuxia.com and Qidian.com; in 2011, those attracted over 100 million “visitors every month.)

See Internet.

History of Publishing in China

Publishing in China dates from the invention of woodblock printing around the eighth century A.D. and was greatly expanded with the invention of movable clay type in the eleventh century. From the tenth to the twelfth century, Kaifeng, Meishan, Hangzhou, and Jianyang were major printing centers. In the nineteenth century, China acquired movable lead type and photogravure printing plates and entered the age of modern book and magazine printing. [Source: Library of Congress]

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“After a brief flourishing during the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956-57, the publishing industry came under strong political pressure in the Anti-Rightist Campaign of 1957. The industry had not fully recovered from this campaign when it was plunged into the Cultural Revolution, a period in which publishing was severely curtailed and limited mainly to political tracts supporting various campaigns. Following the Cultural Revolution, publishing again flourished in unprecedented ways. In 1982 the China National Publishing Administration, the umbrella organization of Chinese publishers, was placed under the Ministry of Culture, but actual management of the industry was directed through four systems of administration: direct state administration; administration by committees or organizations of the State Council or the party Central Committee; armed forces administration; and administration by provinces, autonomous regions, or special municipalities.

In 1984 statistics showed that 17 of the country's 418 publishing establishments were in Shanghai, whereas Beijing was home to 160 publishers. In 1985 plans were announced to foster the growth of the publishing industry in Chongqing, Xi'an, Wuhan, and Shenyang to take some of the workload from Beijing and Shanghai.

Different publishers were assigned to specific kinds of publications. For example, the People's Publishing House was responsible for publishing works on politics, philosophy, and the social sciences; the People's Literature Publishing House produced ancient and modern Chinese and foreign literature and literary history and theory; the China Publishing House had the principal responsibility for collating and publishing Chinese classical literary, historical, and philosophical works; and the Commercial Press was the principal publisher of Chinese-to-foreign-language reference works and translations of foreign works in the social sciences. Other publishers dealt with works in specialized fields of science.

In addition to the routine method of distributing books to bookstores in major cities, other methods of distribution were devised to meet the special needs of readers in urban and rural areas throughout the country. Mobile bookshops made regular visits to factories, mines, rural villages, and People's Liberation Army units, and service was provided in those locations through which individuals could request books. Arrangements were made with the libraries of educational institutions and enterprises to supply them with the books that they required, and books specifically applicable to certain industries were systematically recommended and provided to the departments concerned. Also, book fairs and exhibits frequently were provided at meetings and in public parks on holidays and other special occasions.

Little Red Bookshop in China

“In a small bookshop on the ninth floor of an office and residential building in Beijing's university district, the staff wear Mao badges. Works extolling the late Chinese leader, damning capitalism and attacking globalization are laid out on shelves. Scour the “non-mainstream economists” section for some of the most popular ones. Staples of most bookshops--volumes on how to succeed in business, play the stockmarket or get into an American university--are not on sale. [Source: The Economist, February 5, 2009] “The Utopia bookshop is a refuge for China's leftists, the term used to describe those nostalgic for Mao Zedong's rule and worried that the country is abandoning its communist principles. This is the place to buy the selected writings of Mao's late widow, Jiang Qing, and other members of the Gang of Four who were imprisoned after the chairman's death. A three-volume critique of China's property law, enacted in 2007 and much disliked by leftists because of its supposed bias in favor of private-property ownership, goes for 200 yuan ($30).”

“A bookshop manager says the global economic crisis is proving good for business. More in China are beginning to question “mainstream” economic thinking that favors open markets and private enterprise. “Liberalism is bankrupt. Lots of mainstream economists have nothing to say now,” says a Utopia regular.” The bookstore’s website “carries an article accusing Western countries of trying to make China “the biggest sacrificial victim” of the economic downturn and describing China's liberal economists and political thinkers as the West's “running dogs”.”

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Shenzhen Book City

Book Stores in Beijing

“One of the major advantages Beijing enjoys over other Chinese cities is a vibrant and comprehensive book culture that dates back hundreds of years. Although indistinguishable neighborhood bookshops serve the general reading needs of much of the population, a wide range of more specialized shops are patronized by particular reading groups such as academics and government officials.”[Source: Eric Setzekorn, the China Beat, June 16, 2010]

“It’s indicative of the changing market for foreign books in Beijing that many of the shoppers in the English-language section of the store are Chinese rather than expats, and many young Chinese are reading novels such as the Twilight series in English rather than buying the translated versions. In five to ten years, Chinese students studying in America will likely bring with them reading habits and tastes largely the same as American students, both having been raised on Dora the Explorer, Harry Potter and Twilight.”

“One of the unique aspects of Beijing’s book scene is the presence of high-level government and military bookstores scattered throughout the city. To name a few, the National Defense University, Academy of Military Science, and Central Party School are... an untouched gem for anyone interested in understanding the mentality and opinions of those at the center of China’s government and party institutions. In just one example of the research possibilities of this material, the National Defense University Press publishes many of the dissertations of its students, all senior military officers, which in plain Chinese explain what they feel is important, what policies they favor, and why. utilized, because many of the claims that China’s government---particularly its military---is not transparent could be demolished with one backpack full of books.

“Although these specialized bookstores accept foreigners, don’t expect a warm welcome, in part because some areas of the store contain neibu, or internal material, which is often sensitive and not available for open distribution. When I shopped in a military bookstore, one salesperson stood in the door to the neibu section to block my entry in case I wandered into that area, while another followed me around in case I needed help.

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Shenzhen Book City

Bookstore Market in China

“Dozens of bookstores continue to dot Beijing but recent developments are changing the landscape for readers and publishers by forcing many smaller stores out of the market. Part of this trend is due to advances in public transportation, particularly the enlarged subway system, that make it possible to travel across town for a larger selection and lower prices, leading to a decline in neighborhood bookstores.” [Source: Eric Setzekorn, the China Beat, June 17, 2010]

“A less positive part of the bookstore consolidation is the increasing leverage state sector bookstores such as Xinhua can exert on private booksellers using market and political forces. A mixed element in the dynamic Beijing book market is internet-related growth, which has seen the rapid expansion of online booksellers, but the flip side of the internet has been increasing illegal file sharing of e-books which some writers claim results in lost sales. Finally, consumption patterns are changing because although Amazon’s Kindle and other specialized book readers have not become big sellers in China, small LCD tablet screens that can be read on the subway or bus are increasingly popular, promoting new reading habits and tastes.”

“Although in contemporary China both public and private bookstores use market mechanisms---and must do so to be economically viable in the long run---systematic advantages in money and influence are seen by some to be stifling Beijing’s book market. In many ways, the commercialization of China’s publishing and distribution sectors has seen the entrenchment of government influence rather than its withering away. Xinhua Bookstores are the largest and only country-wide chain of bookstores; in 2006, the chain had over 14,000 stores, giving Xinhua tremendous economy of scale advantages to buy and sell books in bulk and make or break authors. Another key advantage for state sector bookstores, and Xinhua in particular, is their unique legal mandate to sell official school textbooks developed by the Ministry of Education, which is the most lucrative part of the Chinese book market...Xinhua Bookstores’ ubiquity is matched by their bland book selection, which often includes large displays of pro-government works and never carries controversial material such as the magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu.” One “bright spot is the popularity of Japanese manga or Chinese derivatives among many younger readers. Although currently online downloads seem to be the most popular way to get the latest manga in China, throughout Taiwan and Japan many internet cafés offer magazines and manga in addition to food, creating a hybrid bookstore/internet café/restaurant where many young people spend their free time, which might soon be commercially viable in China.”

Books have regional codes to ensure authenticity.

Female Youth Publishing Market in China

Zhu Haifeng wrote in the Global Times, “Chinese female literature once predominantly focused on the struggles of women in gaining equality and fairness in a male-dominated society. Today, faced with a more equitable situation, Chinese female literature is taking on new directions in an effort to appeal to modern readers.” [Source: Zhu Haifeng, Global Times, April 12, 2010]

“In recent years, a bourgeoning number of publications have emerged for women readers, encompassing a massive teenage market and including magazines that present an independent, modern image. Books have also embraced the demand, enjoying prosperity in the female youth literature arena.”

“Ming Xiaoxi's Cinderella, Zhang Yueran's Newriting, Rao Xueman's M-Girl and Seventeen are all publications targeted at girls aged from 14- 22 and are hugely popular. Rao's M-Girl is a “mook” series, books with the look, design and layout of magazines. In M-Girl, the editor experiments with entertainment factors such as reality shows and short videos and produces every issue of the mook with models on the cover, all selected from its vast readership. The magazine also provides an interactive platform via QQ online chat, through which readers can directly communicate with editors and offer feedback and suggestions.”

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Most of the magazines for girls sees content categorized mainly as youth love stories, mysteries and fantasies in a “leaf-through” format. The new trend has also produced an influx in related works, although not many are focused on literary depth. “Generally speaking, female youth literature is more a concept than real literature. Compared to traditional female literature, which is rich in plot and literary significance, female youth literature has a long way to go to be labeled as real literature,”Zhang Yiwu, professor of literature at Peking University, told the Global Times. “Female literature has improved greatly in the past years especially in the 1990s, represented by Tie Ning and Wang Anyi and other leading women writers and still exerts a profound influence,” Zhang added, “but the times have changed and many readers, especially teenage girls, are fond of reading material with a strong flavor of modern times, just like fast food.”

“We have a daily click ratio of more than 50 million for Hongxiu, with 90 percent of them from women readers aged from 18 to 35,” Bi Jianwei, chief editor of hongxiu.com, a website targeting teenage female readers, told the Global Times. Set up in 1999, Hongxiu.com boasts a collection of nearly 2 million literary works ranging from romantic novels, essays, poetry and diaries and its popularity is rising in click ratios every year according to Bi.

“As the first and largest publishing house to focus on women readership, Enjoying Reading Era has produced a series of novels of different genres targeting teenage girls and enjoys a turnover of 100 million yuan ($14.65 million) each year, according to Hou Kai, director of Enjoy Reading Era. “We have as many as 200 young women writers working for us and producing hundreds of novels each year with many becoming bestsellers,” he added. “Nearly every book published by our company was written, edited and read by young women, with strong female characters and we have targeted our books at teenage girls, which is a big and dynamic market of great potential.”

“With strong circulation and successful market strategy, many female youth writers have transformed into entertainment celebrities and become role models for avid fans,” Zhang commented. “Reflected in literature, female writers are not keen on the literary significance of their creations, but put emphasis on the market and personal fame. “They have found success in the market but still there is a long way to go for female youth literature to be categorized as real literature,” he added.

Internet Literature Versus Printed Literature in China

Michel Hockx wrote on the UK Web Archive Blog, “In July 2012, Brixton-based novelist Zelda Rhiando won the inaugural Kidwell-e Ebook Award. The award was billed as “the world’s first international e-book award.” It may have been the first time that e-writers in English from all over the world had been invited to compete for an award, but for e-writers in Chinese such awards have been around for well over a decade. This might sound surprising, since the Chinese Internet is most frequently in the news here for the way in which it is censored, i.e. for what does notappear on it. What people often forget, however, 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]

I have been following the development of Chinese internet literature almost since its inception and I am currently finalizing a monograph on the subject, simply titled Internet Literature in China and due to be published by Columbia University Press...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.

In order for online Chinese-language literature to be preserved, its cultural value needs to be appreciated not just by foreign enthusiasts like myself, but more generally by scholars and critics in China itself. The first decade or so of Chinese writing on the Internet will probably never be restored in any detail, although a relatively complete picture might still emerge if existing partial archives were merged. Meanwhile, I hope that new archiving options for later material will become available soon.

Writing and the Internet in China

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, the party’s Central Committee said China needed to bolster its soft power and “cultural security” with more “outstanding cultural products.” Last week, 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]

“The Internet created all, and I say all, the literary trends that took off in 2005 and afterward,” said Jo Lusby, managing director of Penguin China. 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.

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. [Source: Christen Cornell, Artspace China July 15, 2011]

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.

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.

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 Novels in China

“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.” [Source: Lara Farrar, CNN.com, February 15, 2009]

“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” -- steady Internet users -- and adapted for film and television and translated into German, French and English.”

“Murong is also viewed as a pioneer of the online novel. “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.”

“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.”

“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.”

Shanda Literature

Shanda Literature operates three of China's biggest literary portals, including Qidian, one of the most popular. Collectively, the Web sites receive more than 200 million daily page views and have published nearly 30 billion Chinese characters, according to Shanda Literature's company data.” [Source: Lara Farrar, CNN.com, February 15, 2009]

‘shanda generates 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.”

Shanda owns the rights to more than 200,000 works and has already sold a number of licenses to other entertainment companies, including a popular “Tomb Raider” novel that is being adapted for film by Hong Kong director Johnnie To Kei-Fung. “Literature is the starting point of all means of entertainment,” Hou 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].”

Chinese Female Online Writers

“Many of China's usually young and often female cyber-writers are posting their work online with the hope that, like Murong's novels, 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.” [Source: Lara Farrar, CNN.com, February 15, 2009]

“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.”

Online Novels as a Social Force for Change in China

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Internet star
“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, CNN.com, 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, Internet Writer

Murong Xuecun, the pen name of Hao Qun, 37, is one of China’s early Internet writers, best known for the novel "Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu." Recently, a nonfiction work, "The Missing Ingredient," about going underground to uncover a pyramid scheme, won him the 2010 People’s Literature Prize, but he was unexpectedly barred from making an acceptance speech. He delivered it instead on Tuesday before the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong:[Source: Murong Xuecun, International Herald Tribune, February 23, 2011]

"In his speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong, Murong Xuecun said: If I am not mistaken, the People’s Literature magazine ‘special action award” was not bestowed for my literary achievement, but for my courage. This is an unusual honor for me as a writer. It’s a bit like praising a football player for being a good street fighter.

I’m embarrassed because I am not a brave person. Genuine bravery for a writer is not about jousting with a pyramid-scam gang. It is about calmly speaking the truth when everyone else is silenced, when the truth cannot be expressed. It is about speaking out with a different voice, risking the wrath of the state and offending everyone, for the sake of the truth, and the writer’s conscience. Actually, I am a coward. I say only what is safe to say, and I criticize only what is permissible to criticize.

Fake Harry Potter

By some estimates 30 to 40 percent of all books sold in China are pirated, copied, fakes or illegal in some other way.

The official version of “Wolf Totem”, one of the best selling books in China in recent years, sold 2 million copies. An estimated 15 million pirated copies were sold.

The unofficial Chinese version of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” came out 10 days before the official worldwide release of the English-version of the novel in July 2007. The only thing about the Chinese version is that it had nothing in common with the official version except the title. Those that wanted the real thing had to wait for the scanned, reprinted and bound copies of that, which sold for a fraction of the cost of the official versions.

There are dozens of counterfeit, copied, and fake Harry Potter publications floating around. Among them are “Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon”, “Harry Potter and the Big Funeral” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Relative Prince “. These are often sold on street corners or are available online and have plots lifted from kung fu epics and Chinese classic like “Journey to the West”. Some are published by well known publishing house and found in school libraries.

The man who wrote the 250,000-word “Harry Potter and the Showdown” said he did it because his son couldn’t wait to find out what happens in the last Harry Potter book so he wrote his version of events and released his work online. The book quickly logged 150,000 reader after news of it was published on a Harry Potter fan website. The writer said he wanted to find a publisher but couldn’t. Even so bootleg version of hs work showed up on street corners in Beijing, Dalian, Shenzhen and Tianjin with an imprint of the publisher of the official Harry Potter books.

$1 Million for Authorized 100 Years of Solitude

A Chinese publisher is set to bring out the first ever authorized edition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude in Chinese, after winning an auction for the rights with a fee reported to be in excess of $1 million. [Source: Alison Flood, The Guardian, April 29, 2011]

Pirated editions of the Nobel prize-winning author's most famous novel have been rife in China for decades. The piracy so enraged Marquez on a visit to the country in 1990 that he swore that even 150 years after his death his books would not be authorized in China, according to Chinese newspaper the Global Times.

But Thinkingdom House editor-in-chief Chen Mingjun refused to take no for an answer, writing a letter to the author in 2008 which according to the Global Times read: "We pay our respects to you across the Pacific Ocean, making every effort, shouting 'great master!' just like you did to your idol Ernest Hemingway across the streets in Paris---We believe that you'd also wave your hand and shout back 'Hello friend!' just like Hemingway did."

Jo Lusby, managing director of Penguin China, which publishes the English language edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude, said the size of the advance had "already created an enormous amount of interest" in the novel, despite it being "widely available in pirated forms for a long time". "I think they'll be lucky if they can meaningfully address the presence of cheap pirated formats out on the streets, though," she told The Guardian.

The deal, however, "does serve to demonstrate why China is at a fascinating point", she added. "Even at a time when writers and artists (such as Ai Weiwei) are disappearing in crackdowns, publishers are bullish about the future, and it's one of the few places in the world where you can attend the opening of a large scale chain bookstore,” she said. Whether paying such a large sum of money for a book is a sign of health in the Chinese literary market, or a warning that the market may be overheating is less clear, she continued, "but this kind of thing doesn't happen very often, and with a bit of luck it will instead be something of a major publishing event rather than the symptom of a mania".

Piracy See Economics

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 December 2012


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