Film adaptation of online literature 'Once Upon a Time'. [China.org.cn]
On the subways in Beijing, most people stare at their smartphones. Some play video games or watch TV dramas, while some choose to read.
Online novels are popular among these readers. In fact, more people are becoming registered users on online literature websites or smartphone applications.
The total number of online literature websites users increased to 352 million by the end of June 2017, according to the latest report from China Internet Network Information Center. This shows half of all netizens are online literature readers.
Many scholars estimate the number will keep increasing at an annual rate of tens of millions.
Pro and Con
Yet the fast growth due to the widespread adoption of internet and smartphones in the past 20 years was criticized by some writers as a disorder.
As the number of online literature works increases, a large variety of light pornographic online novels under the deceptive cover of "romance" and "fantasy" appeared.
Such works, often with similar, catchy titles, also contain similarly vulgar content. A genre of them was even nicknamed the "My Bossy Boss" series, all about rich womanizers and poor "Cinderellas".
Writer Ning Ken, the top prize winner of the First Online Literature Contest and deputy-editor of the magazine October (Shi Yue), said online literature needs guidance.
"The quick development of online literature is beyond my imagination. It is going in a direction that is out of my expectation as well," the writer said. "I think it should be something with high quality, rather than a sort of entertainment. Its quality should be improved."
However, some writers praised the blooming of online literature.
"As an online writer, I am happy about the past history of online literature. Though it may develop in a disorderly way, it has a strong vitality. Online literature will have higher quality as time goes," Yin Xun said.
High quality works, good intellectual property
In recent years, a large number of high-quality online novels have been adapted into TV dramas, films, computer games and audiobooks.
Nirvana in Fire and The Journey of Flower were the most popular online novel TV adaptations in 2015. Both works have won audience hearts with their creative spirit and skillful filmmaking techniques. Nirvana in Fire received China's top copyright award of 2016, issued by the National Copyright Administration.
This year, both TV and film adaptations of Once Upon a Time, a popular online novel, were released from spring to summer.
Li Linrong, a professor from Beijing International Studies University, said online literature develops a closer connection with traditional Chinese culture and intangible cultural heritage. The industrialization of online literature will mature in the future.
"In my view, online literature is a successful marketisation of literature," Li said. "Other cultural industries should take it as a good example."