Web literature, a
new way of telling stories, finds many fans in China
By YIN PUMIN
Web literature, put in print, lines the bookshelves at a store
in Beijing, a visible example of the literary form’s growing
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
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.
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
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
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,
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,”
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
“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
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
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,”
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
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
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,”
“In order to avoid the transitory fate,
Web literature must find its own way immediately,” said Wang
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.
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.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
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.