“I want to influence the world through China’s intellectual property.” That’s the big ambition of Tang Jia San Shao, 41, who wants to build “Disney World in China” – a giant theme park inspired by his stories. But Tang Jia San Shao is not in the movie business. He is one of the richest internet authors in China and was last reported to have been earning $18 million annually.
China’s huge lucrative electronic novel industry, the largest in the world, brilliantly illustrates the special nature of “Chinese socialism” in recent years. The combination of unrestrained economic growth and often severe restrictions on freedom of expression has transformed online authors from writers into aspiring tycoons. The result is a consumer vacuum, in which authors hope to follow in Tang Jia San Shao’s footsteps by producing massive amounts of works with little literary value or originality.
Tang Jia San Shao is famous for both for his epic Xianxia (The Immortal Champion) The fantasies in which humble “farmers” rise through the ranks to unmatched absolute power, as well as his stubborn work ethic: he holds the Guinness World Record for 86 months of daily serial chapter updates on Qidian, a webnovel platform powered by Tencent, one of the most influential technology giants in China.
It may be one of the rare success stories, but it has inspired millions of them xieshou (hands writing) to put out thousands of words a day in hopes of selling their IP. As a rule, titles with the most readers include pay-per-view The ashes of love And the Untamed and the continent of Duolouinto profitable TV dramas, computer games, or manga series.
Tech companies like China Literature and Qidian have turned into brazen “intellectual property cultivation” empires, presiding over a somewhat psychotic, dog-eating world in which popularity is the only metric that matters. “Help readers visualize what they’re missing out on,” he directs the testosterone-heavy Qidian platform in her writing guide. With an estimated 450 million active readers, and up to 25 million titles to choose from, the competition is ruthless and grueling. If the title doesn’t get enough eyeballs, the platform cancels the book.
Desperate to keep readers, writers often resort to rude and desperate tactics – offering “red packets” (bribes) or plagiarism so that they have more content to publish. One trick to getting more views is to make the novels unbearably long, with some online books exceeding six million words. Another is to turn each chapter into a ramp hanger. Because of its short-term excitement, Chinese readers call it Webfiction yin Or “YY” for short, a phrase that evolved to mean “mental porn” or guilty pleasure addiction.
The writers’ assimilation tactics are reflected in their protagonists’ status-obsessed and sociopathic characters. Heroes are known for being “insolent” and for intentionally insulting their opponents (“slapping the face”). Many will stop at nothing to gain wealth and prestige, and beat anyone who gets in their way to becoming the richest businessman in the world or the highest being in the universe. In short, online fiction is often a fantasy in which brute individuality pays off, written and read by self-describes. diausi – “penis hair” or “losers” – for whom reality is a societal struggle.
Last year, all of this came to an abrupt halt when beleaguered and exhausted writers dropped their tools in the wake of Tencent’s regime change. By making the content temporarily free to read and taking over the copyright to all works until 50 years after the authors’ deaths, Tencent planned to strip the writers of their revenue and deprive them of any hope of valuable IP.
The controversy was eventually resolved, but it kindled an old ideological fire among writers who are both victims and advocates of the genre of mercenary fiction. “This is a class struggle,” said one writer. “The bourgeoisie and the capitalists only seek profits, their pores exude filthy blood, and they pressure the proletariat for every drop of oil they can.” And they are not wrong.
This is a time when the distinctions between rich and poor have worsened in China, with the old communist guarantee of lifelong employment – the “iron rice bowl” – a distant memory. The Chinese Communist Party failed to protect workers in the temporary job economy from exploitation by major Chinese companies. A clear example of this is the 300 million “floating” migrant workers, predators of the socialist revolution, who work exhausting hours and are denied basic rights in Chinese cities.
People have been trying – and failing – to remind the CCP that it was meant to be a left-wing party for some time. This may explain Xi Jinping’s current “common prosperity” campaign that promises to close a huge wealth gap in Chinese society — and to reassert the party’s primacy and its socialist credentials. The actors, who represent the burgeoning culture of idols and the new class of celebrities, are an easy target: they’re clearly rich and have legions of fans.
Thirty-year-old Deng Lun, a pensive star of a hit TV show The ashes of love, is just the latest celebrity to be thrown into stock in China for tax evasion, leading to a humiliating public apology, a $16.6 million fine and the suspension of all of his online social media accounts. It seems to have gone down a bit: Alibaba’s Jack Ma, tennis star Bing Shuai, and actress Vicki Chao all disappeared for a short time. The Chinese Communist Party does not take kindly to anyone, except for the great leaders of course, who have that kind of fame. Popularity or influence can be just as serious as dissent.
However, Xi’s campaign goes beyond celebrities. Chinese writers are also being held in check, with the Chinese Communist Party insisting that all art needs to “take patriotism as its inspiration” and “serve the people and socialism”. Not surprisingly, given the popularity of online fiction and its television offshoots, the government imposed “socialist ratings” on online writing platforms, and a “correction” process if the score was too low. Tang Jia San Shao’s latest account of a cultural relic restorer appears to be intended to support Beijing’s World Heritage application.
Writers are now encouraged to write fictional tales of “Red Heroes” in support of the rebooted SCP’s agenda. “Heroic characters who save the world and humanity, as created in the works of many Internet writers, are essentially or spiritually the same as the heroes in the Red Stories,” says Shanghai Writers Association’s attorney general, Xue Shu.
Moreover, writers and online readers are incentivized to personally censor any inappropriate content they come across: suicides, bisexual men, the past, politics, sex, or indeed, anything below the neck. The moral community is seen as integral to the legitimacy of the party, according to the old Confucian principle that government should uphold good behavior. This is one of the main reasons why Chinese literature has long been chosen as an educational medium, rather than an artistic one.
So what is left when cultural industrialists and authoritarian governments have had so much control over content? Both have contributed to the homogenization of mainstream Chinese culture, stripping it of distinct individual voices and replacing them with fading and lifeless metaphors. Both Big Brother and Big Brother continue to demand young writers effectively shed the branches they sit on.
One online writer, called Tiaowu, attempted a second guess as to what might prevent Webnovel from being censored: It removed any details about fighting, religion, or lesbianism. But parts of his story kept disappearing. He wrote: “You can cut off the leaves, cut off the branches, and the tree will live.” “But they made me cut off the entire torso of the king.”
But there is still hope. A number of Chinese artists and writers do not follow the alarming opportunism of the market, nor submit to the ever-changing and growing demands of the Party. These people, according to novelist J. Fei, “go the other way,” often using publishers in Taiwan or, until recently, in Hong Kong.
There are the surrealists born in the 1950s and 1960s—Yu Hua, Yan Liang, Kan Xue, Su Tong Mo Yan—who grapple with censored history and the absurdity of the day in an innovative and charming setting known as May 35 (The fictional history of the Tiananmen Square Massacre), where they use metaphor, satire, surrealism, and cracked timeframes to tackle difficult topics. Yan Link’s novel Ding village dream It is a haunting account of the Chinese AIDS crisis in rural Henan, written as a novel to avoid censorship.
Meanwhile, humble migrant workers settle their unacknowledged hardships on the production lines into beautiful poems in self-published magazines. Cheeky comic book writers take on grotesquely subversive themes like laziness and lack of performance as a way to mock the online superheroes, hardworking youth, and tech savvy that fill the hype posters. Science fiction writers conjure future societies beyond the reach of political correctness and accountability.
It’s unlikely that these writers would build their own Disney world — let alone earn $18 million a year. But that is not their goal. The diverse, and often unreadable landscape of Chinese fiction is full of free spirits, who remain under the radar to paint a truer picture of Chinese society than economics and party politics reveal. According to an ancient Chinese proverb, he would have been banned if he had written now: “A crooked tree lives its life, while a straight tree ends in planks.”