From "Let's Swing Our Oars" to Black Cat Detective, from Young Pioneers to the dregs of society...
By Dylan Levi King, published
Internet writing comes in for its fair share of abuse-- check Jia Pingwa in a recent China Daily profile, joking that he doesn't have to stoop to writing about tomb raiders or eulogizing entrepreneurs... or Tibetan mastiffs, I guess... or alienated, aging 80hou kids....
Damn, people are reading it, though.
Even before Yuan Lei (also known as Yuan Ping) got picked up by the Dongguan PD "on suspicion of disseminating pornography," his novel, In Dongguan, posted on Tianya had two million views.
Is there anything beyond the easy story, about (very poorly executed) censorship, which has been picked up by the usual gang of Western China watchers? Anything?
If you want to figure out why people are checking for Chinese internet novels, In Dongguan isn't a bad place to start. It works as good literature and it works as trashy literature.
The language is fresh, informed by internet argot and juvenile slang; it's occasionally overstuffed but skimmable.
The writing is trimmed for episodic internet posts, with a good feel for how to move stories ahead, use improbable plot devices, go along with and subvert forms.
It's got sex.
It's full of that kind of the-world-is-fucked gallows humor and defeatist social satire that pops up in forum-sourced memes and viral videos and bitchy internet public intellectual blog posts.
There's a certain tone that creeps in: a melancholy braggadocio, that reminds me of Wang Xiaobo, that reminds me of the best parts of The Golden Age rewritten as Qzone journal posts.
From the opening of the novel:
I'm one of those typical '80s babies-- '80hou is the word-- so you shouldn't be surprised to find me here, in this crappy internet bar, blowing heads off dudes in Counter-Strike. I've probably handled a Glock in Counter-Strike more times than I've jerked off. Yeah, I'm sick of this shit. My friends are all buying houses and cars and having kids and I can't even get a girl.
I started playing this shit in high school. I gave my youth to it! Add the combined years of the Sino-Japanese and the Korean War together-- how long is that? I've been playing Counter-Strike even longer. Yeah, it's a classic game, whatever, but why do I even give a fuck? Is this what life is all about?
Enough. What should I be doing? Should I go fuck around on Warcraft, or maybe watch One Piece? Should I pretend to be an adult and send my boss a fruit basket or should I go on Tianya and talk shit about him? Forget it. I slouch down in the chair. I feel trapped, steamed, a dumpling in an empty steamer. I'm sealed in my own little universe, bordered by these shitty walls and soundtracked by the eternal squeak of a busted fan. That fan should be signaling the arrival of summer but it's just blowing smoke around. A cigarette in my fingers scratches a certain itch, but loneliness still creeps in.
Loneliness and philosophy go together. I was born a philosopher but nobody, except me, seems to have realized it, yet. I have a sudden realization: none of this is my fault! Humans are simply empty vessels, whose lives are arranged by outside forces. My shitty life isn't the result of own poor decisions. Fuck, I'm amazing. Is this how the great philosophers arrived in the world? I suddenly feel like the dumpling in that empty steamer is filled with the spirits of Hegel and Feuerbach and Kant. Wow, filled with philosophy and talent and profundity, and with the sad-eyed good looks of Wang Jie. Hmm... right, I'm not bad looking, am I? Good looking and with a personal philosophy that can be held up against any of the great schools of thought.
Suddenly, looking up-- bam! Some pretty young thing is hovering right above me, looking fine as hell. She's got smooth skin that matches just right with her little pink outfit. She's got on those black fishnet stockings, too. Oh yeah, just the right amount of babyfat on her cheeks, framed with long, black hair.
I stub out my cigarette and give her a sweet smile, some Leslie Cheung shit. She glances down, shy. As soon as I see that, I know it's on. I call over my shoulder, to the boss, in my smoothest and most impressive voice, and tell him to bring over a couple bottles of Coke. I turn down the gleam in my eyes, pitch my voice down low: "One for you, baby." She gapes for a second and then smiles. As I pass it across to her, I get a feel of those hands. They're soft as hell. Very politely, she answers, "Thank you, shushu!"
I'm a popsicle, melting into a sticky puddle beside that shitty internet bar computer.
Shushu? Whose fucking uncle am I? I was born in the 1980s.
This has been a shitty day. I try wasting terrorists on Counter-Strike and I can't stop spouting philosophy, and when I'm trying to be philosophical some girl pops up, and when I start talking to her she calls me shushu.
She probably thought I was gonna drop some roofies in her Coke or something. Maybe she just thought I was a fucking weirdo. But not weird in a good way, like Ronald McDonald. She's picking up her backpack and slipping out the door. Oh, she's turning back, still blinking, dumb and sweet: "Bye bye, shushu!"
I slink off to the bathroom, stare myself down in the mirror. Why can't I just get over it? I probably do look like somebody's uncle. Somebody's dropped a National Geographic beside one of the toilets, open to some pictures of those remote ancestors of homo sapiens. The faces of the Neanderthals, dour and wrinkled.... I feel the same way. Well, maybe not that bad. I guess everyone gets old, no matter how badass they are. Why stress about it?
I remember before, people saying, Oh, those '80s kids, little emperors, shit like that. Now, they ask if I've got any kids. It's not like before. Now, all my friends want to talk about is stocks falling and whether or not they've got any money to go to the saunas.
How old am I? Looking in the mirror, I ask myself. Shit, 28? Why was I about to say 25? I've been 25 for a few years now, haven't I? Well, whatever. Everyone says 80hou but what the fuck does it even mean? That word is going in the dustbin of history. Why am I still trying to hook up with these young chicks? I'm going to write the story of "the last 80hou" and have a moment of silence for myself and all the other kids that aren't kids anymore. We can't pretend anymore.