Online literature a bridge for cultural exchanges: report
Published: Apr 11, 2023 10:27 PM
Photo: Courtesy of Chinese Academy of Social Science

Photo: Courtesy of Chinese Academy of Social Science

China's rapidly developing online literature has become a bridge for cultural exchanges due to a 2022 national reading campaign aimed at encouraging a passion for reading, says the Report on the Development of Chinese Online Literature 2022, released on Monday by the Chinese Academy of Social Science. 

Growing influence at home and abroad and "telling Chinese stories well" were the two major developments of ­online literature in 2022, according to the report. As Chinese stories are being created and read by the public, online literature has further become an important force to promote cultural ­self-confidence and self-improvement in China.

China's online literature has created a large number of specific and vivid artistic images that have taken root in Chinese culture, showing the world a credible, lovable and respectable image of China. 

"Although the birth of online literature cannot be separated from the globalization of the economy and culture, online literature is a unique expression of Chinese culture worldwide and naturally a unique way and specific practice for Chinese culture to go global," Chen Dingjia, a research fellow from the Chinese Academy of Social Science, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

The report shows that in 2022, the market for online literature reached 38.93 billion yuan ($5.66 billion), achieving a strong year-on-year growth of 8.8 percent, while the number of ­online literature readers climbed to 492 million and the number of online writers exceeded 22.78 million. 

"Online literature has changed the traditional methods of literary creation and audiences as well, creating new ways and means of literary expression," said Liu Yuhong, Party chief of the Institute of Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. 

With high-quality content, online literature has increased its popularity at home and aboard. A total of 144 web ­novels were collected by the National Library of China, while the National Archives of Publications and Culture has added the digital versions of 10 web novels into its collection. 

In Great Britain, 16 Chinese web ­novels have been collected by the British Library. China's online novels have spread to more than 200 countries and regions around the world, reaching 910 million readers. 

Online literature has become an important carrier of Chinese stories, forming the same soft power as South Korean dramas, Japanese manga and Hollywood blockbusters, says Chen. 

According to Chen, under the principle of "China's Stories, Read by the World," Chinese online literature has created another genre called "overseas elements written with Chinese creativity."

Three kinds of authors are involved in overseas literature: domestic Chinese writers who create universal works with overseas cultural elements, Chinese writers living overseas creating works on international platforms, and international writers writing web novels that can be read in both China and other countries. 

"From their different identities, we find that online literature has become a literary product in which Chinese culture and overseas cultures are deeply intertwined. While domestic Chinese works are being translated and introduced overseas, overseas literature works are also entering China, forming a two-way cultural transmission," noted Chen. 

The report also shows that writers born after 1990 have become the backbone of online literature creation, while those who are born after the year 2000 are quickly catching up. Authors in their late 20s to early 30s accounted for 60 percent of newly registered writers in 2022 on Chinese literature platforms. Meanwhile, among the new faces on the 2022 Writer Index Top 500, the proportion of post-2000 writers increased by 10 percent. 

In terms of content and genre, realism, science fiction, fantasy, history and ancient romance have become the five benchmark genres for Chinese stories, with realistic topics entering the fast track with a year-on-year growth of 37.3 percent. 

Post-1990 and post-2000 writers tend to "seek self-identity and have more individualistic styles," commented Yang Chen, vice president and editor-in-chief of China Literature Ltd. 

"This means more diverse styles and more vertical themes. Young people now prefer to let the main roles [in their novels] become a specialist in certain areas like being a mathematician or criminal medical expert," said Yang.