Why foreign writers join Chinese online literature
Published: Dec 11, 2023 11:13 PM

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Illustration: Chen Xia/Global Times

Reading a Chinese web novel "feels like taking a roller coaster, so exciting. I really love that about the Chinese works," said UK writer JKS Manga (pen name), who mainly writes in the vampire genre on China's online literature platform WebNovel. 

He and roughly two dozen other writers came to Shanghai for the 2nd Shanghai Online Literature Week hosted by China Literature, a leading online literature platform, and attended a round-table talk on various topics. 

After talking with these writers and hearing their discussions, I realized that China's online literature not only offers a chance for global audiences to enjoy the fun of reading, but also promotes the understanding and integration of Eastern and Western cultures.  

Russian writer Guiltythree fell in love with Chinese fantasy and science fiction as "Chinese authors didn't lose the desire to bring fun and joy into their storytelling and to put a smile on the reader's face instead of diving deep into some cynical and dark themes," which inspired him to start writing and bring the same type of feel to readers. 

Fantasy was one of the most mentioned genres that has found favor among overseas readers. Chinese writer Gongziyan said that fantasy is divided into Western fantasy and Eastern fantasy and that "fantasy novels created by Chinese writers will also incorporate Western elements."

Writer Zentmeister from the US shared that many people in the West are fascinated by Eastern culture, but they only have general impressions and many of them can't distinguish which specific cultural symbols are from which countries. It was "through reading Chinese web novels that I understood the difference between Chinese cultural characters and Japanese ones," he said. 

Chinese novel Against the Gods helped open a door for him to Chinese webcomics, as he had been a fan of Japanese anime and manga. 

Reading the novel, he ended up "liking the way Chinese protagonists were more fleshed out than their Japanese counterparts, and so I started reading almost exclusively Chinese web novels after that. And then that inspired me to write my own eventually," said Zentmeister, who has created a number of novels for international readers. 

He is not alone in having been inspired by Chinese online novels and writers. Eustoma_Reyna from the Philippines also shared her story of going from a web novel reader to an author. She was addicted to web novels, her favorite being Trial Marriage Husband: Need to Work Hard from Chinese writer Passion Honey, who was also at the talk. 

The feeling of reading Chinese novels made her fall in love with them and "made me curious about Chinese lifestyles and culture."

She started "creating stories with ideas that I got inspired from." She noted that she hoped that someday she could write something that could also inspire others. Literature always has a magic that brings hope and power to readers. Chinese writer Passion Honey still remembers that one of her beliefs is that authors need to bring a certain kind of outlook and ideal perspectives to readers. She wants to encourage women to be independent and "try our best to improve our position and reputation worldwide." 

Barbados writer Violet_167 loved the female leads created by writers like Passion Honey as they are able to plan fights and beat men, which caused her to gravitate toward strong female leads in Chinese novels.

She also included them in her own novel as she loves having independent female leads who are able to "grow and take care of themselves."

Good stories not only connect the world, but also lead to communication. On such an open communication platform, the power brought by communication and mutual learning is obvious. 

Overseas writers are curious about how Chinese writers start their writing careers and how they draw inspiration from life. Chinese writers are looking forward to understanding how overseas authors view their own works and the symbols of Chinese culture. When facing challenges brought by new technologies such as AIGC, writers generally say that although AI technology has made significant progress in translation and assisted creation, it still cannot completely replace the role of humans in literary and knowledge creation.