Sprouting Online Democracy


Web Writing

Web literature, a new way of telling stories, finds many fans in China


HARD COPIES: Web literature, put in print, lines the bookshelves at a store in Beijing, a visible example of the literary form’s growing popularity

On March 25, winners of the First Phoenix Cyber Literature Award were honored in Beijing. Yang Lu, a young female writer from the Chinese mainland, took home 100,000 yuan ($12,000). The laurels came after Yang’s love story, Seeking of a Spider, won top prize in the first cross-Taiwan Strait online writing contest.

The high-profile event drew attention to the blossoming field of Web literature in China.

Known colloquially by many names--online literature, net literature, Internet literature and cyber-literature, “Web literature” is a direct translation of the Chinese word wangluowenxue, a name created by Professor Gu Xiaoming at Fudan University in Shanghai. According to the professor, the new literary form includes fiction and non-fiction stories and is written by netizens directly on the Internet, for example, on online forums and literary Websites.

Web literature first crept into the consciousness of Chinese society five years ago, and has grown increasingly popular ever since. With this popularity has come cultural and ideological debate on the place of Web literature in society.

Today’s Web Lit

Since its first appearance, Web literature has developed at breakneck speed. Today, the Web literary world is bustling with writers of all stripes--from professionals to the self-taught, and from young to old.

With the development of Web literature, many outstanding writers have emerged, such as Li Xunhuan, Anni Baby, Wen Zi and Ning Caishen, each with their own distinct style.

As well, writers such as Chen Cun have made names for themselves in the traditional literary world after crossing over from the Web.

“The Internet provides me a more convenient tool to write my articles. It has set me free from those fusty composition manners,” Chen said. He believes that an untold number of writers are launching their careers from the Web, and says their ranks will only increase in the future.

According to Professor Ouyang Youquan at the Literature School of Central South University in Changsha, Hunan Province, more than 100 dissertations about Web literature have been published in recent years. “This demonstrates that the study of Web literature has begun and will only add to the development of the new literary form,” said the professor.

Although Web literature is a distinct literary form in terms of its language structure, method of expression and appearance, critics charge that it has shortcomings. For example, they say that many current examples of Web literature only describe basic human behavior, and are missing depth of thought. Other critics say that the content of some Web literature sites is depraved, and that most are created in rough fashion, with a disordered structure. While this is part of Web literature’s charm, it also spoils the experience of reading elegant writing.

“Digital technology can improve modern literature and can also destroy it,” said Qiu Feng, a Web writer. “The appearance of a lot of rubbish literary works is spoiling the literary world. Web literature needs deep spiritual content.”

Tension With Tradition

Many Web writers posted their works on the Internet first and then the stories are published as books. Conversely, many works from traditional forms of media, such as books, are digitalized and put on the Internet. Traditional literature and Web literature are switching forms, noted the writer Wang Yue.

“Although Web literature is developing with a strong momentum and competing with traditional literature in a covert way at present, cooperation between them is the current mainstream,” Wang said.

Chen Fumin at the Institute of Chinese Literature of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences believes that Web literature and the traditional publishing industry have joined to form a cooperative, win-win situation.

Despite being a Web writer, Li Xunhuan said he favors traditional literary forms. “I also want to be a traditional writer. I will never refuse to publish books,” he said.

One Web author, who writes under the name Shanghai Orphan, is a college student who started writing a novel on the Internet last June and has now scribed more than 250,000 Chinese characters. He always hoped a publishing company would print his novel someday. Recently, a publishing company took a fancy to his work and is planning to publish it.

The famous Web writer Ning Ken is another success story. Ning has been a writer for more than 20 years, but his works long remained unknown to the public. That changed when his novel The Veiled City was serialized on the Internet, attracting massive attention. Ning became famous and his work was embraced by China’s literati. As well, The Veiled City was published in print and won the prestigious Lao She Literature Award.

More and more online stories are being swept up by publishing companies, with such notable examples as Myth Legend of Wukong by Jin Hezai, Legend of Tang Seng by Ming Bairen, and The Sky of Love by Ning Caishen.

At the same time, literature Websites are considering compiling collections of their best original works.

“A literature Website must combine its rich Web literary resources with the traditional publishing industry. Only in this way can the Website make money. This can also help realize healthy development for the literature Website,” said Song Zhiwei, Public Relations Manager of Rongshuxia (www.rongshu.com).

As one of China’s largest literature Websites, Rongshuxia receives about 4,000 submissions a day, and about 10 percent of these are put in its online library. Since first going online, more than 3 million literary works have been posted.

Three years ago, the Website started working with publishing companies, including German media giant Bertelsmann. Rongshuxia provides literary works to publishers, who then publish books.

“So far, more than 70 books have been published under partnership of Rongshuxia and publishing houses, including Sha Seng’s Diaries written by Ling Changzhi, Chengdu, Please Leave Me Alone Tonight by Murong Xuecun and Serial Stories about Ghosts. It has formed its own famous brand,” Song said, adding that the company is extending its business into such related fields as magazines and e-books.

Many other large literature Websites are joining forces with publishing houses.

Tianya Club (www.tianyaclub.com) has cooperated with the Hunan Literature and Art Publishing House and the Foshan Literature and Art Publishing House to roll out Tianya serial books. Qidian (www.cmfu.com) has compiled books using original content from SNDA.com. Jinjiang Wenxuecheng (www.jjwxc.com), which has a mainly female readership, began compiling books in March last year.

Bing Xin, Manager of Jinjiang Wenxuecheng, said, “The cooperation of literature Websites and publishing companies can help realize the transition of literature from the Web form to the traditional form.”

While the popularity of the Internet provides Web writers with a convenient channel to publish their works, publishing companies give new writers a chance to be known to the public in an established form.

Li Lijun, Manager of the Public Relations Section of SNDA.com, said that cooperation with the publishing industry is the mainstream in current Web literature.

The Controversial Future

“The 21st century is an age of the Internet. Web literature is the offspring of this age and has come to a prosperous phase in a short time. It will bring a large regeneration to the world of literature,” said Ge Hongbing, a well-known Chinese writer.

Web literature is a new form of literature and has freed writers from the complex, traditional writing process, according to Ge.

“Of course, Web literature has many shortcomings at present. But it’s just these shortcomings that indicate that Web literature is a brand new thing and has a promising future for sure,” Ge added.

Essayist Chen Fumin also agrees that Web literature has a bright future. “With the gradual maturity of the Internet, there will be more outstanding writers participating in the creation of Web literature. They will push Web literature to a higher standard,” he said.

Some writers, for both the Web and traditional media, think that Web literature will continue to bloom. Writer Xu Kun deems that online writing will be the only choice for writers someday, while Li Jiefei asserts that Web literature will become a necessary daily, spiritual form of entertainment. Chen Cun even predicts that Web literature will form the largest part of the literary world.

However, other writers and experts argue that Web literature is only a passing fad.

“Most works on Internet are authored in a rough way. Speaking without mercy, they are rubbish. Web literature cannot find its way to tomorrow,” said writer Mo Yan.

Wang Anyi, also a writer, thinks that most Web literary works are created through imitation and have no original value.

Professor Fang Jing at the Chinese Department of the Renmin University of China stressed that the background of a writer determines the vitality of his or her works.

“Writing is a career. A real writer should not only have rich life experiences but also have a high-level mastery of culture and thinking. But only a few current Web writers are knowledgeable of all of these things. Because of this, Web literature is only an overnight phenomenon and cannot exist for a long time,” Fang said.

“In order to avoid the transitory fate, Web literature must find its own way immediately,” said Wang Yue.

Wang calls for the improvement of online writers’ quality to give a facelift of Web literature. “Web writers are the spirits of Web literary works. They must learn and nourish themselves with traditional literature and culture,” he said.

He also attaches importance to Web literature’s tenet of freedom, adding, “Freedom is Web literature’s advantage over traditional literature.”

Ge Hongbing advises Web writers to take advantage of and to learn from the achievements of traditional literature, and form their own unique characteristics.

“It’s only the way that Web literature can grasp the chance to improve itself,” he said.

Features of Web Literature

Web writing has many unique qualities compared with traditional literary forms:

Open. The open Internet produces open literature. Web literature breaks the language hegemony in traditional literature, making literature more accessible to the masses. With only a telephone line, a modem and a computer, a person can write freely on Internet. As it has been said before, everyone is a writer in the 21st century. Web literature expands the number of writers and broadens the content of literature.

Freedom. Writers can type freely on their keyboards as they sit and drink coffee. In this new creative process, requirements of traditional publishing, such as editing and proofing, are minimized. Writers can see their own work online in a few minutes. As well, Web writers can write whatever they want, and aren’t constrained by style. Web literature is a relatively free literary form.

Interactivity. Interactivity is Web literature’s most distinct feature. Writers can put their works on the Internet and netizens can comment on these works. Writers can read the comments and exchange opinions with their readers, realizing author-reader interaction.

Inception and Development

Web literature originated in North America, the hotbed for the development of Internet technology. In earlier years, overseas Chinese students built literature Websites to express their feelings in dealing with a different lifestyle and culture. Their efforts blazed a path for Chinese Web literature. An early literary Website was Wang Xiaofei’s site for Chinese poetry, which first appeared in 1991 and was based out of an American university.

In 1994, the Internet came to China. In February of that year, Fang Zhouzi and some other literature fans founded the first of Chinese literature Website, New Threads (www.xys.org). From then on, Web literature developed in China.

In March 1995, Shi Yang and Lu Ming set up their literature Website, Oliver Tree (www.wenxue.com), and at the end of that year, China’s first literature Website for women, Hua Zhao (www.huazhao.com), was inaugurated. In 1997, the largest Chinese literature Website, Rongshuxia, was launched in Shanghai.

Many sites followed, including www.wenxuecity.com, www.chinese-literature.com, www.goldnets.myrice.com, www.silversand.net and www.gs.cninfo.net.

In 1999, the novel First Close Touch, written by Taiwan’s Pizi Tsai, swept through China and became known to all overnight. The novel was regarded as a milestone in Chinese Web literature because it drew so much public attention.

Since then, Web writers such as Li Xunhuan, Yu Baimei, Xing Yusen and Lei Ligang have emerged, and their literary works have been gradually recognized by the online community. At the same time, Rongshuxia established China’s first prize for Web literature, Web Original Literature Award, and compiled a set of books comprised of top Web literary works. As of now, Sina (www.sina.com.cn), China’s largest portal, has held two online writing competitions, and many other literature Websites have held similar competitions.

In 2003, youth became a popular theme of Web literature. The novel Beijing Doll, written by Chun Shu, resonated with young people.

In 2004, Ke Aitao from South Korea conquered the Web literature market. Her story The Guy Was Gorgeous was published and became the best seller for that year.

So far in 2005, Web literature has continued its rapid growth and popularity with Chinese readers.