Chinese online literature, games, films and TV series gain popularity among global Gen Zers: report
From web novels to Chinese IP universe
Published: Feb 28, 2024 08:47 PM
Book cover of the web novel Daguo Keji Photo: Courtesy of China Literature

Book cover of the web novel Daguo Keji Photo: Courtesy of China Literature

 Online novels, games, and film and television works have developed into the "troika" of Chinese culture going overseas, says the 2023 Report on the Development of Chinese Online Literature released by the Institute of Literature, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) on Monday. 

Being promoted by three core trends, including intellectual property (IP) transformation, and deepening globalization, Chinese online literature, a remarkable practice of mass participation and global co-creation, demonstrate the originality of Chinese culture and have become avenues for telling Chinese stories well and spreading China's voices, according to the report. 

With fast development in China, cultural confidence and mainstream narratives help China's online literature to become a new trend. "More and more Chinese online writers have started to work on major realistic themes, such as intangible cultural heritage, China's manufacturing industry, rural revitalization, and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)," Liu Yuhong, deputy director of the Institute of Literature of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times. 

"Themes about historical reality and science fiction especially have greatly contributed to China's online literature going overseas, telling China's stories well, spreading Chinese voices well, and building Chinese discourse and Chinese narrative systems," he added. 

Large market, great potential  

Data in the report shows that as of the end of 2023, China's online literature market had reached 40.43 billion yuan ($5.62 billion), a year-on-year increase of 3.8 percent compared to 2022. The online literature IP market size jumped significantly to 260.5 billion yuan, a year-on-year increase of nearly 10 billion yuan. 

The number of online literature authors in China reached 24.05 million, the number of online literature works reached 36.2 million, and the number of online literature users reached 537 million, a year-on-year increase of 9 percent, which means half of Chinese internet users consumed literature online. 

The report points out that with the increase of influence of Chinese online literature, online novels, games, and film and television works have developed into a means of taking Chinese culture overseas.

The market size of the overseas online literature market now exceeds 4 billion yuan, with about 410,000 overseas online writers, 620,000 overseas original works, and 230 million overseas visiting users, covering more than 200 countries and regions around the world, among which the US has the largest number of users. 

Reading Chinese online literature helps overseas readers, mostly Gen Zers, to gain an understanding of traditional Chinese culture and contemporary China, says Yang Chen, editor-in-chief of China Literature, which owns the online literature platform WebNovel.

China-related words frequently appear in readers' comments. The most mentioned Chinese elements include Taoist culture, food, martial arts, tea culture, and pandas. The top five Chinese cities mentioned are Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macao, and Hangzhou. Like Chinese fans, international youth also participate in discussions and offline activities and set up literature works' encyclopedias and communities. Many of them even start to learn Chinese as a hobby.

Universe of Chinese culture 

Xietian (pen name), a young Uruguayan man born in 1995 transformed from a reader into a writer due to a love of reading Chinese fantasy novels and adds many Chinese elements into his writing. "Of all the novels I have read, at least 90 percent are written by Chinese writers. So naturally I have a lot of knowledge about this great country and its amazing culture," he told the Global Times via an email. "In fact, the reason why I have given my main characters Chinese names is because I like to give them a name with a meaning based on their character traits or strengths."

"After years of development, Chinese online literature has gained global attention, especially among young people," Sun Jiashan, an associate researcher at the Central Academy of Culture and Tourism Administration, told the Global Times on Monday. "Film and TV works and online games have also introduced Chinese culture to the world."

2023 witnessed a rapid rise in Chinese literature's popularity online. TV series adapted from popular hit novels and short dramas that are also based on some of the most popular literature works have gained the attention of global audiences and relevant industries. 

As a streamer with over 65.5 million active monthly users who understands local audiences, Asian streaming platform Viu is not just witnessing but fueling the global ascent of Chinese-language IPs adapted from online literature. "The overseas expansion of Chinese online literature and its other related adaptations have ignited a fervor internationally, driven by the tantalizing and diverse narratives that Chinese online literature offerings," Anson Tan, General Manager of Viu Singapore, told the Global Times. 

"Evidently, Chinese content is set to grow significantly. Global audiences are increasingly recognizing and embracing the richness and uniqueness of these storytelling traditions. With its dynamic and innovative nature, Chinese content creation is poised to make significant strides on the international stage," he added. 

Historical online novels are based on real existence, based on thousands of years of history, and "incorporate the common emotional resonance of contemporary people," says Chinese online writer Guaidan de biaoge or Weird Cousin.