○ Talented young internet writers are shifting to stories about national development and red culture
○ Some writers are being supported by officials who recognize their influence with younger people
He Changzai, a famed internet writer, is busy working against a deadline on his new novel these days. Unlike his previous works that focused on fantasy, and then on officialdom, his new novel is set against 40 years of reform and opening- up in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, a mainstream subject usually chosen by traditional writers.
While choosing this serious subject might make many raise their eyebrows, He said he feels obliged to write a novel close to life and ordinary people that reflects the big changes of our time.
“In the process of writing other novels, I found that when it comes to the historical changes and achievement of reform and opening up, there is no work that deeply reflects the times,” He told the Global Times.
He is just one of the many internet writers who are choosing to write about themes closer to our times. Internet writers in China are known as a group for making up stories detached from reality with sheer imagination. But more and more of them, who mostly have built their reputations on major literature websites in China, are dropping mythological figures and stereotyped historical plots and throwing themselves into the creation of works that demonstrate the country’s political and economic achievements.
Some of the writers are joining literary programs launched by writers associations in different regions, including Shanghai, to explore red stories in their local areas, retracing the footprints of former heroic Party leaders and revolutionary martyrs and trying to tell their stories in a vivid way.
“Heroic figures that save the world and humanity, as created in the works of many internet writers, are in essence or spiritually the same as the heroes in red stories,” said Xue Shu, deputy secretary general of the Shanghai Writers Association. “It is spiritual sublimation.”
Spirit of the times
He’s new novel is entitled Haodang (meaning vast and mighty), and aims to reflect the miraculous development of Shenzhen in the past four decades, through stories about the struggles of nobodies.
He is very skilled in writing intriguing stories about the struggles people face in official and commercial circles, winning him millions of fans. But he admitted the new novel is a challenge for him.
“[Compared with my previous works] Haodang will reflect epochal characters. What’s happening in the novel will be true to the time, which no doubt makes the creation more challenging,” said He. “The hard part is making the story both interesting and representative of the time.”
Many of He’s friends are businessmen. In chatting with them, He heard a lot of stories about the struggles of entrepreneurs in Shenzhen and regarded the stories worth recording. To get first-hand materials, He revealed that he has been traveling to Shenzhen several times every year and lived there for a while, calling himself “half a Shenzhen man.” He has many friends there of different professions and ages.
“Actually I started to collect materials three years ago, talking with friends that cover several generations. They have witnessed the dramatic changes in Shenzhen and have deep and complicated feelings toward them,” He told the Global Times.
Wang Peng, better known as Duoyiban online and famous for his time-travel and war novels, has been engaged in creating a fiction focusing on poverty alleviation, a nationwide project ongoing in China’s rural areas.
The novel tells how a college student from the countryside starts his business under pressure and helps his villagers get rich, showing how Chinese people fight against poverty and how social development has affected different walks of life.
In a conference on internet literature held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, in May, Duoyiban shared his experiences of getting close to reality to help create his stories. To understand poverty alleviation, he went to a village in a remote mountainous region to see for himself the hardships a poor family has to endure, for example, to support a college student.
“You have to get deep into it to further understand the conditions and spiritual world of a remote village, to understand better the policy, and to realize how tough it is for the country to tackle the task,” Duoyiban said at the conference.
He revealed that he scrapped all the characters and plots he had imagined before the trip, and made his final creation penetrate the reality that he witnessed. “The whole process is a challenge,” Duoyiban said. Parts of the novel are already available on several literature websites.
Retelling red stories
Besides mainstream works, internet writers are also actively engaged in literary programs launched by regional writers associations that aim to spread red culture.
In early July, the Shanghai Writers Association launched a program named “Red Footprints” that encourages writers to explore red stories surrounding Shanghai and retell the stories in a way that could be better accepted. Besides well-known writers like Ye Xin and Zhao Lihong, a number of young popular internet writers, including Xuehong and Kulou Jingling (Wang Xiaolei) also joined the program.
Xue, who is in charge of organizing the program, told the Global Times that she hopes the internet writers will introduce new excitement and tell red stories from refreshing angles. “They are skillful in writing, and they are influential,” said Xue.
According to Xue, among the more than 300 revolutionary sites in Shanghai, they have chosen more than 80 and encouraged the writers to fully explore the stories associated with the sites through investigations and interviews. The stories to be covered in this round of creation will involve different periods of the Party’s construction, including the site where the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China was held, the former residence of Mao Zedong, the site of the Party’s first secret radio, and so on.
“The writers are voluntary and enthusiastic joining the program. We hope they will produce touching stories, as distinguished from dry introductions,” said Xue.
She added that internet writers are eager to try the new subjects. “Even though some of them write fantasy novels far from reality, they also hope to bring the spirit demonstrated in their fictional heroes and heroines into reality,” Xue explained.
Wang Xiaolei, better known as Kulou Jingling, is a magic story writer who has many fans not only in the mainland but also in Hong Kong and Taiwan. He joined the program in Shanghai and has started his investigation into the sites.
“Writing red stories is much different from what I normally write. It needs more depth. I found it challenging,” Wang told the Global Times. But he admitted that his hot-blooded inspirational stories, which stress willpower and persistence, are in line with the spirit of the heroes in the classic red stories.
“They are all about pursuing the good things in life. In the red stories, the young people at that time were also striving for their ideals, which is romantic and idealistic. Before their dream was realized, they were all Don Quixote,” noted Xue.
The first bunch of stories will be finished within two months, according to Xue. All 400 stories will be completed by 2020. All the stories are expected to be published in a collection before July 2021 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Party.
In other regions across the country, there are similar activities, in the form of writing communications or forums, which mobilize writers and aim to trace the red stories in local areas.
Uniting the writers
“After they [the first group of internet writers] made some achievements, they naturally grew patriotic. After all, the writers are mostly from grass-roots society and all have deep feelings for the country,” He said, explaining why some internet writers are working on mainstream subjects.
On the other hand, there has been increasing efforts from the China Writers Association (CWA) and local writing associations to draw the large numbers of internet writers closer to the reality.
By the end of 2017, the number of China’s internet literature readers had reached 378 million, while the total number of works of all genres reached 16.46 million, written by some 14 million writers. The influence of internet literature, which is expanding both at home and overseas, is attracting increasing attention from the CWA.
In attracting internet writers, in the past years the CWA not only has built organizations for the writers at different levels, fostering their sense of belonging, but also has carried out forums to enhance guidance. Many excellent internet writers are members of the CWA. The association also arranges all kinds of tours, to Party schools, Wenchuan in Sichuan Province, or border areas, for internet writers, allowing them to have a first-hand experience of Chinese history and reality.
Wang, who has joined many trips arranged by the CWA, told the Global Times that these activities help internet writers open their mind and may also expand their field of creation in the future. “It will have imperceptible influence,” said Wang.
CWA also has started to support the creation of important works on certain topics in recent years. Both He and Duoyiban’s novels mentioned above have won support from the CWA. The association will provide them convenience in interviewing and give financial assistance, according to He.
“Internet literature has a wider readership and spreads faster. People can read it anywhere with mobile phones. In this era, it is inevitable that internet literature should shoulder more social responsibilities,” said He. “Particularly following the export of internet literature abroad, it is more direct in telling Chinese stories.”
“Writing stories related to reality also gives internet writers a chance to get deep into life and learn about reality. For them, it is also a process of improvement,” said Xue.
– Global Times
The 2018 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference is scheduled for April 8 to 11 in Boao, Hainan Province. The forum will be themed "An Open and Innovative Asia for a World of Greater Prosperity."
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