The Arts Council England has asked me to do some poking around into the state of internet literature in China, and graciously allowed me to concurrently post the results here. Expect more posts on this topic over the next week or so.
First a simple introduction to online literature in China, which will apply to this whole series. Though the internet has played a role in China’s literary scene since the mid-90s, it didn’t come of age as a phenomenon until 2003 or so, when the massive literary sites began to gain momentum. The largest of these sites now host thousands of works of original fiction, posted there by regular users around the country. The line between writers and readers has blurred as users read and critique each others’ writing, and the works with the highest ‘click counts’ climb the charts. Paper-and-ink publishers have taken notice, and many cherry-pick the most popular works from the top of the charts for publication as regular books. The vast majority of online writing is genre-based: romance, sword-and-sorcery, urban noir, etc, and the more high-brow stuff is very rare. The commercial model of these sites is still up in the air, as well. Some charge readers for access to the most popular works, others make money serializing literature to cellphone readers, and many charge agent fees to publishers who cherry-pick their writers. As the sites mature, larger media groups are starting to consider investing or purchasing, though this is still a new trend.
Something to read first: a Danwei translation of an interview with some internet publishers.