Cue the Bands

By Eric Abrahamsen, published

The Xinhua News Agency, as it is wont to do, brings us fresh cause to despair: the hot new literay trend is here, and it is 'writing groups' or 'bands' (写作组合), cabals of scribblers analogous to the boy-bands or girl-bands that dominate the pop music world. These writing groups are mostly in the under-twenty age-range, mostly writing in imitation of 'older' celebrity writers like Han Han. Apparently it all started in 2006, when Li Ze (李锋) at the World Knowledge Press (世界知识出版社) published Water Town (水城), a novel by a pair of girls then aged 18 and 19, who called themselves Jumping Orange Writing. They were followed by the three members of Girls' Studio (女生作坊) (the youngest of whom is 16), Lollipop (棒棒糖) (middle school students), and Unknown Quantity (未知数) (elementary school students). As the article cheerfully notes, many of these groups only ever publish one book, or break up without having published anything at all.

Is this curtains for serious Chinese literature? I've done plenty of hand-wringing myself in the past few years, but at a certain point, when pop culture has got its claws deep enough into literature, it seems likely that literature will pull a Trojan Horse, and start to transform pop culture from the inside out. Among all these scribbling teens there must be a few who, fifteen years from now, at the age of 29 or 30, will start to feel the itch of dissatisfaction and wonder if they shouldn't be trying for something a little deeper. From the melodramatic, sentimental mush that's being produced today, it's only a few short steps to a Chinese Dickens, and once you've got a Chinese Dickens, well… there's nowhere you can't go.

Wishful thinking, perhaps, but if these trends keep up I'm going to renounce all snooty puritanism, and whole-heartedly embrace this new era of sloppy literary love. Not actually read the books, mind you, just 'embrace the era'.


# 1.   

I think the last paragraph in that article probably applies to most of those new "writing groups" (except maybe the first one - I'd still like to believe that two teenagers could collaborate on a novel and get it published out of the slush pile): they're the faces that get slapped on the cover of a derivative book cranked out by five anonymous writers selling hack-work to support their graduate studies.

zhwj, October 2, 2008, 12:46p.m.

# 2.   

No, dude, you have to believe in 棒棒糖. They're real.

Eric Abrahamsen, October 2, 2008, 12:56p.m.

# 3.   

In a slightly-related book publishing trend, check out of Jing M. Guo is releasing his novels these days: the cover of "Tiny Times 1.0" credits the conception, creation, and design to his production company and includes a "cast list" for all the people involved. It's nice to see some acknowledgement that publishing a book is not solely the work of the author, but I'm sure going to miss breathtaking cover art in the future.

zhwj, October 2, 2008, 1:06p.m.

# 4.   

If I were a reporter I'd subtitle all of my articles "记者揭开神秘面纱".

Micah Sittig, October 2, 2008, 2:25p.m.


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