Online Literature's New Chapter

November 16, 2018
Editor: Xie Wen
Online Literature's New Chapter
Martial Universe, Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace and The Legend of Fuyao, all featuring star casts, are among the TV adaptations from online fiction. [China Daily]


An industry study says more than 16 million works are circulated on the internet, Fang Aiqing reports.

There was a time when online literature-full of elements such as time-travel, harem intrigues, tormented love and killings-was largely seen as "vulgar" in China.

Yet, with more than 400 million readers and around 14 million author accounts created by the end of 2017, any snap judgement has diminished.

Instead, diverse voices offer a much fuller picture of a land where more than 16 million literary works are circulated online.

The statistics come from an industry report released by the China Audio-Video and Digital Publishing Association in September.

Online literature emerged at a time when paper books were still the dominant medium for reading.

The internet era, however, has blurred some of the differences between online literature and printed literature, especially since the latter can be put online, too.

The major difference, in the view of Shao Yanjun, an associate professor at Peking University, lies in production rather than the medium.

"Online literature well conveys the wisdom of collective works," Shao says.

Online authors nowadays pay close attention to readers' feedback and are more willing to interact with them, which casts an influence on subscription numbers and, in turn, on their incomes.

In the early 2000s, such authors as Tsai Chih-heng, Guo Jingming and Wang Yang (known as Cang Yue) serialized their works online at first for free and then published in print after getting noticed on the internet. In this way, they realized the financial benefits and gained wider recognition.

The turning point came when, one of China's earliest and biggest online-literature websites, started a charging system in 2003 that later become the fundamental business model for the industry.

Readers can read the first chapters for free and then pay for subscriptions. Part of the revenue will be paid to the authors by the month, applying a revenue-sharing model, minimum guarantee or buyout model.

With a year-on-year growth of 35 percent, the industry's revenue soared to 12.92 billion yuan ($1.9 billion) in 2017, the majority of which came from subscriptions, according to the CADPA.

Moreover, Chinese online literature has made its way to the world market.

Over 500 such works have been translated into a dozen languages, including English, Japanese and Thai. The CADPA says they average 5 million clicks daily.

Shao says it was the charging system that helped the industry survive.

Reader-turned-writer Zuo Lei, 36, who has the screen name Niyaokayan, says the financial incentives have cultivated a large group of online authors and created a relatively fair atmosphere where the authors are able to compete with their own imagination and skills.

The CADPA report shows that 47 percent of the more than 14 million authors write full time. More than half have been writing for over three years.

Wu Wenhui, China Literature's co-CEO and founder of (a part of China Literature), says the company spent 1.3 billion yuan on remuneration in 2017.

According to Zhou Yun, vice-president and editor-in-chief of Alibaba Literature, the platform has dozens of authors earning more than 1 million yuan a year and many more earning 100,000 yuan annually since its founding in 2015.

Zuo believes that catering to readers' tastes seems inevitable for most online writers, since readers now have too many choices-if they don't like a plot, they give up on the novel immediately and turn to another.

Therefore, many successful novels have created a tried-and-true model-usually with main characters who are able to overcome all the difficulties, get help from the right people at the right time, conquer evil and win true love in the meantime.

Modern people need to catch their breath, quickly, after having been drowned for so long by pressures and difficulties, according to Zuo.

Peking University's Shao says online literature has brought her comfort. It had made her rethink the function and value of literature beyond the common practice of printed books.

Online literature reflects social trends and records people's social desires and spiritual orientations.

For Wei Ying, author of two romantic-fiction works, the key to online fiction, especially fantasy, is the "world view" that usually depicts the social structure of the virtual world that the fiction has created, together with its fundamental ethics and regulations. All the twists and turns will be based on such settings and some novels' "world view" can be of grand narration and "like Game of Thrones".

Genres of online literature are finely sorted these days. set up a women's channel as a platform for novels that are usually written by female writers and aim to captivate female readers' interest in 2009.

In earlier years, popular works on women's channels, including The Legend of Zhen Huan written by Wu Xuelan under the name of Liulianzi, had fancy words and Cinderella-like love stories that easily caught the eyes of young women, Wei says.

However, popular female topics have also expanded to include such themes as workplace newbies fighting for careers or heroines resisting evil and saving the world.

Lu Jing, whose pen name is Tianxiaguiyuan, is the author of The Legend of Fuyao and a policewoman for 17 years. She said in an earlier interview with that she hopes the notion "I'm no worse than a man" could be spread wider with her work.

"My heroines have the spirit of self-reliance, self-confidence and self-improvement, and have self-esteem. With these strengths, they gain more support from society and finally lead equal and respected lives," she says.

And while the industry's problems of content homogenization, frequent plagiarism and over-commercialization have long been recognized, discussions about the pros and cons of intellectual-property adaptations rage on. A total of 1,195 films, 1,232 TV series, 605 games and 712 comics had been adapted by the end of 2017, according to the CADPA.

Some of the popular ones, including Tianxiaguiyuan's The Rise of Phoenixes and Ruyi's Royal Love in the Palace by Liulianzi, are believed to have been sold for several million yuan for TV adaptations.

The adaptation of copyrighted stories is still a field with great potential, considering the fact that merely 6.5 percent of the online-literature industry's revenue comes from such operations. However, doubts continue online about several TV adaptations of popular original works because, despite star casts and the investment on shooting, the performance has not been as good as expected this year.

Battle through the Heavens was originally written by Li Hu under the name Tiancantudou, who ranked second on a rich list of Chinese online writers with 105 million yuan in royalties in 2017. The original work had more than 235 million clicks on earlier this month. The total investment in this TV adaptation is believed to have reached 600 million yuan, yet it is rated 4.9 out of 10 on, a major entertainment-review site.

China Literature's Wu says the number of readers and the size of the online literature market will continue to grow in the future, as content quality improves and genres expand.

Meanwhile, new opportunities will come alongside the boom of copyrighted adaptations and Chinese online literature's overseas popularity.

"Joint efforts in every link of the industry chain will be called for in the future," Alibaba Literature's Zhou says.

"We should seek a benign way to cultivate online literature with great intellectual-property value and build a system that can largely improve its marginal value, so that a win-win distribution mechanism can be formed."

Successful copyright operation lies in content conversion in the end, Zhou says.

(Source: China Daily)

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