Thursday, February 16, 2012

Write to Life (and Profit)

We all have these moments while watching a movie or television show, or maybe even while reading a book, that we predict what’s going to happen next or what line would be said by a certain character. Some usually comment, “I could’ve written the script!” or jokingly remark, “The writer actually asked me for tips.” We also all have had these moments when lightning-swift we’re inspired by an idea for a plot, a story or even just an ending and we roll the idea in our heads for a time. We may choose to tell our friends about it or we forget the thought as quick as it entered our minds. But there are some who actually take time and make the effort to put down into words (or characters) these ideas they have, maybe edit themselves, and publish the beginning of an intensely-gripping story online. Xu Lei is one such person. He posted fanciful stories about tomb-raiders, which was inspired by his family’s antique-collecting ways.

In English that's Secrets of a Grave Robber

Xu Lei is just one of the writers that contribute to the flourishing electronic publishing industry in China. His creation, Secrets of a Grave Robber, has now spawned eight volumes. He had also managed to sell 600,000 copies of a printed version. Ren Xin, a female tai chi instructor, writes stories with strong and independent female characters set in the eastern equivalent of medieval knights tales. She garners about one million clicks each day. Yu Xiaoming posted serialized novels inspired by the online game, World of Warcraft. He was a gastroenterologist when he started writing but he has quit his day job as he earns double his salary in churning out fiction. We must pause for a few seconds and take note of the irony of the Chinese being the ones who invented paper.


Now that we have dispensed with that, it must be recognized that this industry serves two general purposes in Chinese society. One is it is a mode of free expression. “The Internet is where Chinese can truly express themselves. If you want to know what Chinese are thinking and feeling, read online novels.” Two is it is a money-making enterprise as we are talking about a society where “economic advancement is seen not just as an ambition but as an imperative.” There are more than 200 million Chinese reading these novels online and these stories sell for 30 cents a pop. One can just imagine the astronomical profits. Cloudary Corp., an online community-driven platform in China operating 6 original literature websites, reported net revenues of $48 million in the first half of 2011.

People have this archaic concept of communist China being all about censoring expression and controlling media to promote their propaganda. After all, Facebook is banned in the Middle Kingdom (what horror!). It’s just an odd concept for those living in a democratic world, where anyone can say and post something about anything without prior restraint, to hear about a government that “slashes entertainment programming on satellite TV to make way for content emphasizing social responsibility.” That’s why it’s great news that the Internet provides a medium for everyone, including Chinese, to express themselves (within reasonable bounds for the latter). And it’s always amazing to see the germ of an idea come to life through this person hunkering down in front of his laptop to weave a story and have thousands of strangers hooked on it.

Source: “The Great Scrawl of China,” TIME Magazine (February 13, 2012)

Candice See
Entry #9

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