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Online Chinese literature plots a story of success with foreign fans

Updated: 2021-07-23 07:55 ( China Daily )
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A poster for the TV series Nirvana in Fire, adapted from an online novel, featuring its protagonist Mei Changsu, played by actor Hu Ge. [Photo provided to China Daily]

With the rapid development of China's online literature landscape, Chinese online novels have created a huge fan base overseas.

Zhou Yan, known for her pen name Jiong Jiong You Yao, 32, is one of the most popular online writers in the urban romance genre. Her novels have attracted many loyal foreign fans.

"My novels have been translated into foreign languages, such as English, Indonesian, Filipino and Spanish, and foreign readers get to learn about China through such online literature," she says.

Her success comes on the heels of China's booming online literary market overseas.

By 2020, more than 10,000 online literary works had entered overseas markets and attracted over 100 million foreign readers, according to the 2020 Blue Book of China's online literature released by the China Writers Association.

On the website Webnovel, the comment section on Jiong Jiong You Yao's novel is full of users urging new content, highlighting the novel's popularity.

In 2016, she wrote a romantic novel, which has since received more than 4 million clicks, and its intellectual property right was licensed to a Vietnamese cultural enterprise for film and television adaptation in 2018.

"I usually include content with Chinese characteristics in my writing, such as Suzhou embroidery and kung fu, and I find foreign readers are quite interested in these Chinese elements," she says. "I think Chinese online literature is popular not only because of its mysterious oriental elements, but also because the humanity in the stories transcends boundaries."

Fantasy and kung fu novels were once the driving force behind the clamor among foreign readers. Such stories were based on Chinese mythology and traditional culture, and they had a wide appeal.

In recent years, however, more types of Chinese online novel have found a footing in foreign markets, as the channels for international communication have become more diversified. Urban romance novels, for example, describe the lives of Chinese city dwellers, and they are increasingly popular in Southeast Asia, including the novels of Jiong Jiong You Yao.

She says readers used to prefer stories about domineering male characters and Cinderella-like protagonists, but now the theme has shifted to feature more independent female characters and a glimpse into the everyday challenges faced by such women.

"I think it's because of a rising self-awareness among women in Asia, and I have incorporated that change into my creation," she adds.

China's online literature has also encouraged many foreign readers to start writing. A 25-year-old Filipino author, who goes by the online handle Kazzenlx, wrote the fantasy romance novel Hellbound With You, which was inspired by the English version of Jiong Jiong You Yao's novel.

"China's online literature has changed from merely spreading novels to exporting a deep-seated creation system," says He Hong, deputy director of the online literature center at the China Writers Association.

Statistics show that the Webnovel portal has attracted about 110,000 overseas online writers, who have created more than 200,000 novels.

Many TV series that have been adapted from Chinese online novels have enjoyed popularity overseas, including the hit TV series The Journey of Flower, Nirvana in Fire and Empresses in the Palace.

"It's a great opportunity for writers now that Chinese online novels can be enjoyed in different countries and even adapted into films and TV series," Jiong Jiong You Yao says. "We should strive to tell good Chinese stories and help people learn more about Chinese culture."

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