Web fiction refers to a work of fiction literature available primarily, or solely, on the Internet. A common type of web fiction is a web serial. Eighteen years ago, Jiang Shengnan began publishing web serials and, thus, she became one of the earliest group of Chinese web-fiction writers. Jiang was widely known by the public in 2015, when her work, The Legend of Miyue, was adapted into a TV series. Many people consider Jiang to be a writer who specializes in recording history based on outstanding women's views. But Jiang says she is just changing the angle as she presents history. Her objective is to highlight outstanding women in the long history of her home country.
Jiang developed her interest in reading when she was a little girl. Her mother was a teacher, so she had a lot of books — and books of various genres — at home. After she learned to read, she often spent time reading at home.
Works of history and literature are Jiang's favorites. She has a great interest in traditional Chinese culture. She cares about how a person's story develops over a long history.
Debut on the Internet
Jiang majored in finance and accounting, and she used to do administration work at the Health Bureau of Wenzhou, a city in East China's Zhejiang Province. She began writing fiction near the end of the 1990s.
Her first work, Mo Dao Feng Yun (lengthy martial arts fiction), was published in 1999. "At that time, an old man told me that I would be living in an era of 'writing' by computer, so I ought to learn how to use a computer and the Internet to produce and promote my works," she recalled.
Around 2000, Jiang began publishing her works on the Internet. It was the time when BBS (bulletin board system) was becoming popular in China. However, not many people were used to publishing their works online.
Jiang said she never expected to gain fame and fortune by writing web fiction. "I came to know some friends, with whom I shared my love for literature and writing. We liked to read each other's works and we left comments. During the earliest period, when I was not yet a mature writer, the encouragement I got from readers motivated me to keep writing," Jiang explained.
As an increasing number of people began using the Internet, web fiction became a genre that enabled people, who loved writing, to have more opportunities to show their works to readers. After jjwxc.net, China's famous web-fiction platform, was established in 2003, Jiang was invited to be a columnist on the website. She has since published many novels on jjwxc.net.
In 2012, producers began adapting Jiang's full-length novel, The Legend of Miyue, into a TV series, which would consist of 53 episodes. The TV series, broadcast in 2015, highlighted the stories of Miyue (Empress Xuan, the first empress dowager in Chinese history), a woman politician of Qin during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).
In fact, before The Legend of Miyue, Jiang had been writing a series of historical stories. "I once watched a documentary about ancient China's terra cotta warriors. An expert mentioned the terra cotta warriors might belong to Empress Xuan. The empress happened to be one of the main characters in my series of historical stories. So, I decided to write a novel to especially highlight Empress Xuan's legendary life, and the era in which she lived. When I wrote about such a person, I not only wanted to write a biography for her, I also hoped readers would better understand the background of the era in which that person was living."
Writing About Women in History
The Legend of Miyue quickly became a hit. Some commentators said Jiang's work highlighted women's awareness of playing their roles in history. They also suggested the work challenged people's understanding about stereotyped images of women in ancient China. "But, in my opinion, if my work was a 'challenge,' that means our traditional understanding of women in history was based on certain 'labels' they had put on women. In fact, there were a great number of outstanding women in our long history," Jiang said.
Besides The Legend of Miyue, Jiang has written stories about 12 empress dowagers during her series, Women at the Apex of Power, which features empress dowagers who were in governing positions in ancient China. Why does she focus on women in history? "In the past, most of the intellectuals who wrote about history were male writers. People were likely to think men could handle writing about history better than women. But even though the majority of governors, in ancient China, were men, we could not say that women did not understand politics at all. As time passes, we are gradually eliminating the gender-based gap in obtaining knowledge and receiving education. I believe we will have more and more excellent female writers, who can produce good works on topics related to either contemporary society or ancient history," Jiang says.
She well understands history and women in history. She has been making an effort to present the various character traits of women. And the heroines in her novels share a common trait. "The women all rely on themselves to live a colorful life. They never give up when they encounter difficulties. They all cherish the spirit of being independent, self-reliant, strong and hard working," she notes.
Jiang hopes women will derive inspiration from her novels. She uses the heroines in her novels to encourage women in the 21st century to fight for their own destinies. "The era, in which we are living, has given women great potential and equal opportunities to develop the same as men. Therefore, women ought to have the consciousness, courage and confidence to make decisions for themselves."
Development of Web Literature
Earlier this year, Jiang was elected an NPC (National People's Congress) deputy during the first session of the 13th Zhejiang Provincial People's Congress. During he annual "two sessions," which were held in Beijing in March, she suggested literature originally produced by web-fiction writers be protected.
Given the rapid development of web literature in recent years, Jiang emphasizes the importance of strengthening copyright protection. "It's my honor to be an NPC deputy. Being a web-fiction writer, I must bring the voices of web-fiction writers to the important 'two sessions.' This is a responsibility I must shoulder," she explains.
The current era of fast-developing Internet technology is an "open and democratic" era, in which every person has opportunities to let his/her voices be heard by the world. Web-fiction writers should feel grateful that they are living in such an era, which enables them to let their works be widely appreciated by more and more people, Jiang says.
She believes there are three important things for a writer — love for writing, honesty and persistence. She says it is never easy to write web fiction. "A writer should stick to the original aspiration he/she has had, and he/she should produce works that reflect our lives, society and the era. Only in this way can a writer arouse emotional resonance from his/her readers," she concludes.
(Source: Women of China English Monthly July 2018 issue)