Translated Chinese online literature making huge waves in overseas markets

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/12/12 19:03:22

Chinese online novels gaining popularity among Western readers

A bookstore selling suspense novels Photo: IC

A bookstore selling suspense novels Photo: IC


While online literature has long been considered bottom-tier by literature lovers in China, for some Western readers, checking to see if the latest chapter of their favorite online serial has been translated from Chinese into English is the first thing they do in the morning.

Some websites such as Wuxiaworld and Gravity Tales have become the center of attention recently for being base camps for the translation of Chinese online literature for Western readers. Every day, translation teams upload translated stories in English, while Western readers busy themselves by writing reviews and analyzing their favorite stories.

"With 1,142 chapters completed, that means we are (and it's hard to believe this) 70 percent of the way through already!" said a Saturday announcement on the Wuxiaworld website celebrating the hard work translator Deathblade put in translating the fantasy novel A Will Eternal by Chinese writer Ergen.

In addition to A Will Eternal, other fantasy novels such as I Shall Seal the Heavens, Coiling Dragon, Against the Gods and so on are also high up on the site's active reading list. Comments in the forums concerning the latest chapters of these books can easily reach into the thousands. For example, the forum for the latest chapter of I Shall Seal the Heavens has already broke the 35,000 mark.

A Thursday article on news site claims that online writers like Ergen (ear root) and Wochixihongshi (I eat tomatoes) even "share the same level of prestige as [Game of Thrones writer] George R.R. Martin" in the minds of these fans.

Overseas beginnings

According to the article, the love for wangwen (online literature) overseas got its start with overseas Chinese. Recommending these Chinese "fast-food" novels to others, they helped word spread overseas.

As the community grew, some overseas readers started translating works for others who couldn't read Chinese but were curious about the stories.

In 2014, online fan communities dedicated to translating and sharing Chinese online literature popped up in the US. Among the several websites, Wuxiaworld has the largest amount of online traffic. Its founder, known as RWX, was also the first to translate the Chinese fantasy novel Coiling Dragon into English in its entirety.

In March of this year, Wuxiaworld had more than 50 million visitors from more than 100 countries and regions. Among them, the US, Philippines, Canada, Indonesia and the UK rank in the top five. So far the website boasts 8,378 e-mail subscribers.

As readership on these sites grew, sites began establishing ways for readers to provide financial support to translators, so they could concentrate on getting new chapters out more quickly.

On Wuxiaworld, funding usually runs about $75 per chapter. Once a funding goal has been reached, the translator translates the chapter and releases it for free on the site.

On December 4, Wuxiaworld announced that it had reached a 10-year translation and e-book/digital publishing deal with Qidian, a Chinese site dedicated to online literature, thus securing a source of Chinese online literature for years to come.

Door to Chinese culture

The novels on these websites can be roughly categorized into three genres: Wuxia (martial heroes), Xianxia (immortal heroes) and Xuanhuan (mysterious fantasy).

"If Wuxia is 'low fantasy,' then Xianxia is 'high fantasy,'" wrote an article on the site explaining some of the commonly used terms on Wuxiaworld.

"Xuanhuan and Xianxia novels may sometimes seem similar on the surface. Look for the presence of Daoist elements (the Dao, Yin and Yang, Immortals, etc…) in the novel to easily distinguish the two."

Explanations like these can be found everywhere on the site. As these stories have become more popular, a systematic translation dictionary has been created by readers. This dictionary covers ancient titles, idioms, terminology, martial arts schools and moves, and other terms commonly found in Chinese fantasy novels.

Further detailed introductions have also been written by fans for the cosmology of these fantasy worlds. One can find posts explaining The Three Realms and how it originated from the Three Realms of Hinduism and Buddhism, and others introducing multiple ways to translate the Chinese concept of the "Dao."

"They have successfully reached the standards of faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance in translation," the article concluded, mentioning the three standards of translation established by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) translator Yan Fu.

Since most novels combine folktales and classical Taoist stories, they may be difficult for those unfamiliar with Chinese culture to follow. To help initiate readers, volunteers on the site have written posts to explain basic concepts and introduce Chinese history.

Shao Yanjun, an associate professor with the Chinese Department at Peking University, praised the site's scope and put forward that Chinese online literature "has demonstrated a cultural charm" and "has grown into a soft power for China," according to a June report by the Beijing Youth Daily.

"China's online literature is a major cultural export, the same way Hollywood films are for the US, manga is for Japan and TV series for South Korea," Shao noted.

A bookstore selling suspense novels Photo: IC
Newspaper headline: China’s ‘fast-food’ literature

Posted in: BOOKS

blog comments powered by Disqus