Internet Literature: Short Conversations with Readers (3)
By Eric Abrahamsen, published
Lü Zheng studied publishing for his undergraduate major, but now works for a children's animation studio. He is a fan of edgier, more experimental fiction.
"I started going online around 1999. Early on I wrote a single short story for Rongshuxia, about a trip I took with some high school classmates, and it was accepted by the editors there. I also wrote some poems once in high school, they were terrible and I never did anything with them. After graduation I found a big envelope, wrote 'Do Not Throw Away' on it, and put them all in there.
"I read a lot of fiction on the internet back then, my favorite writer was A-Cheng, a lot of his stuff you could only find on the internet.
"After I got to college I couldn't really spend much time online – they restricted our internet time on campus, and I would have had to go out to the internet bars. I mostly read fiction in the libraries or bought magazines. Now I use the internet as a sort of literary testing ground – I'll read bits and pieces of various books, but I always buy paper copies of the ones I like. The fiction I read is all in books and magazines. I would never read anything on a cellphone.
"Mostly what the internet is good for is getting news about what new books are out, and reading what people are saying about them. Also, book-selling sites, I do most of my book-buying online. I occasionally go to actual bookstores, but it's only to browse – if I see something I like I'll go home and order it online.
"Websites dedicated to pure literature are very hard to maintain. There was one called Rubber (橡皮, originally at http://www.xiangpi.net/), which closed because they didn't have enough money to keep going. A big problem with those sites is that they're generally run by small cliques of writers, and these cliques are not friendly to each other. There's a saying that goes 文人相轻 ('scholars tend to scorn one another'), and so the groups are all very isolated. Everyone's just writing for their friends. The person responsible for Rubber later did an electronic magazine called Pirate (海盗, originally at http://www.hido56.com/) which put out five or six issues before it stopped.
"There is a good one called Heilan (黑蓝), that site is very popular, and they've even started putting out books. I just saw this recently, and I'm pretty surprised. I didn't think a site like this could survive.
"But really, I think that serious literature naturally belongs on the periphery. I don't think it should appeal to all readers, and shouldn't mix itself up in fashion or trends. It's never going to be profitable like art or music. It may actually need external funding [from foreign organizations]: look at what foreign interest and support did for the Chinese art scene."