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Fresh blossoms in main stream

By Liao Danlin Source:Global Times Published: 2013-6-26 18:58:01

Characters from TV series The Legend of Zhenhuan appear to gaze at their creator, writer Wu Xuelan (seated), as she speaks at an event for the show held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, in November, 2011. Photos: CFP

Characters from TV series The Legend of Zhenhuan appear to gaze at their creator, writer Wu Xuelan (seated), as she speaks at an event for the show held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, in November, 2011. Photos: CFP

Characters from TV series The Legend of Zhenhuan appear to gaze at their creator, writer Wu Xuelan (seated), as she speaks at an event for the show held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, in November, 2011. Photos: CFP

Characters from TV series The Legend of Zhenhuan appear to gaze at their creator, writer Wu Xuelan (seated), as she speaks at an event for the show held in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, in November, 2011. Photos: CFP



Writers who choose to put their material on literature websites instead of finding a publisher used to be seen as amateurs. One old impression is that such writers tell stories like transporting modern people back in time 400 years where they get involved in some twisted love triangle.

For a long time, even after these writers developed millions of fans online and finally printed books, they were still incomparable to those who write about life and death or serious social issues in the eyes of those who worship pure literature.

Now, the situation is different. Recently, China Writers Association (CWA) released a list of new members for 2013, which includes 16 popular online writers such as Ren Haiyan (known as Tong Hua), the author of Bu Bu Jing Xin and Wu Xuelan (known as Liulianzi), who wrote The Legend of Zhenhuan. Both novels have been adapted to television series and have become very popular in the Chinese mainland as well as in Taiwan.

Although it is not the first time that online writers have joined the CWA, 16 is the biggest number ever, reflecting paradigm shift in China's literature circle.

CWA spokesman Chen Qirong expressed to several media that it had set up a separate selection process that includes judges who are experts on works published online. "This is in consideration of the characteristics of Internet literature and to keep judges who do not understand Internet literature from overlooking talented writers," said Chen. 

Hong Zhigang, director of Humanity department at Hangzhou Normal University, said that every time period has its specific literature, and although it's hard to tell if online literature would become mainstream, it does nevertheless present an important direction in contemporary literature. 

CWA's role

CWA is the biggest official association for writers in the country. In 1949, its former entity, an association for culture workers, was created in Beijing. The then president of the institution was Mao Dun, who wrote Midnight (1933) and Spring Silkworms (1932).

In 1953, it became a writers' guild and for the coming half century, CWA has inducted almost all the renowned Chinese writers to be among its members, including Mo Yan.

CWA has also created a number of magazines and newspapers such as People's Literature and Wenhui Daily.

The main jobs for CWA are to protect writers' rights, promote young writers and organize international events. The famous Mao Dun Literature Prize and Lu Xun Literature Prize are governed by CWA.

Many provinces and regions also have their own writers associations. Shanghai Writers Association, for instance, just cooperated with publishing house Shanghai Century Literature to promote writers born after the 1990s.

Who got selected?

Qiu Huadong, deputy editor-in-chief of People's Literature magazine, told the Global Times that CWA has a list of experts for different literature types such as novels and poetry. Each expert is chosen once in a while to be the judge to select new members.

Qiu's experience is that selected judges, 15 for each group, are gathered together to spend two days in a hotel reading all the submitted documents and written works. "We have small group discussions, big discussions and an expert voting process to make a choice of the best 20 to 25 percent," said Qiu.

The criteria are a mix of both strict and flexible requirements. For example, the applicants are required to have published at least two books. However, Qiu finds that a writer who has published several long pieces in the best national literature magazines can also be a qualified applicant.

Referring to the list of new members, Qiu sees works published through the Internet as representing pop literature in various genres.

"They are the base of a pyramid… and the reason many readers became interested in literature. Without them, the number of people who appreciate literature would be reduced," said Qiu.

Continued controversy

Since CWA has played an influential role in the history of Chinese literature, having especially focused on pure literature, expectations on the institution are extremely high.

Rumors about CWA becoming a bloated bureaucracy and the fact that it inducted a popular writer, Guo Jingming, who was convicted for plagiarism have put the esteemed association at a disadvantage.

The change of CWA to gradually develop members whose writings are not considered pure literature or are at least very different from the mainstream classics is a chief source for criticism. Almost every year, some controversial members will make news.

For instance, Yu Dan, who is famous for interpreting Analects of Confucius became a member last year.

Also, the public has doubts about the ability of writers that regional and provincial associations have developed. In 2008, a vice president of Shandong Writers Association, Wang Zhaoshan, wrote a poem for the Wenchuan earthquake that happened that year.

After the work was published in a local newspaper, his writing, which included, "1.3 million people crying together, would be happy even turned to a ghost...Wish there could be a screen in front of the tomb to watch the Olympics and cheer up," was deemed to have no literal quality or moral sense at all.

Hong finds that people have many misunderstandings about CWA. For instance, it is normal if some members cease writing and turn to other professions. "Many writers are selected based on their potential. No one can guarantee all of them will become famous or able to write a masterpiece," he said.

For Hong, the fundamental reason is that there is not an industrial standard to judge literature, so controversy is inevitable.

Now, CWA has over 9000 members with the number continuously increasing. Despite all the negative comments or prejudice, becoming a member of CWA is still an honor for many writers.

"Some people I know like to criticize CWA on Sina Weibo, but privately they still want to be a member," said Qiu.

Qiu also told the Global Times that some writers who published their first novels in the 1950s and now in their 80s are still applying to join CWA.

The cool part about CWA developing members that write different kinds of content through various platforms is that they always have a chance to be named together with the Chinese writers they love or admire.

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