Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang
From 1999 to 2001, China’s first well-known website for innovative literature, “Under the Banyan Tree,” caused literature to truly become literature of the masses. All of Under the Banyan Tree’s authors were able to earn points from the frequency of clicks through to their essays and the number of comments from readers, leveling up as if in an online game. The more points an outstanding author accumulated, the more chance he or she had of gaining early exposure; the more readers the author became known to, the more chance his or her works had of being published. As a result, Under the Banyan Tree continued to have a very large readership and a large group of contributing authors, and it found a relatively good balance between literature and business. In 2002, Under the Banyan Tree began to cooperate with publishers on a large scale, making thorough use of the traditional publishing industry’s resources but using the internet as a platform to turn dreams of publishing online novels into real books a reality. Under their banner, the first bunch of authors of young adult fiction and their works have remained popular to this day.
Baby Anne is one of the most liked young authors in China. On such large online bookstores as Dangdang and Amazon, her novels have continued to maintain daily sales in the hundreds and monthly sales in the thousands, and with her works having been introduced to countries such as Korea, Japan, Germany, and the UK, she is the only best-selling author of Chinese prose. In 2011, with an annual income in royalties of 9.4 million RMB, she rose to the lofty position of 5th among China’s most wealthy authors. Most of Baby Anne’s early works described the lives of the disassociated in big industrialized cities, and the collection of novellas, “Farewell to Wei’an,” is representative of those. Although her later works no longer indulge in the gossamer of illusion, but rather begin to be concerned with the relationship between a person’s self and the outside world, what readers remember is her melancholy, her meticulousness, and the Buddhist introspective character in her works that “all is bitterness.”
Ning Caishen is just the opposite of Baby Anne. He claims he only reads martial arts novels, and that his making a name for himself was “a gift from the heavens.” Readers’ recognition of him stems from his ghost stories that were published on a large scale on the BBS. However, he feels that currently the stories emphasized in China’s novels are not necessarily splendid and are weak in literary character, much like television dramas. So rather than write novels in a low-income situation, it would be better to write screenplays to earn a higher income. So he changed over to write a screenplay of a story revolving around a tavern in a small town, its widowed proprietor, a scholar who has flunked the imperial exams, the daughter of a martial arts master, and other such characters who, because none of them quite fit in with the norm, all tend to hang out in the tavern and get into all kinds of hilarious situations. This later became the 2006 sitcom set in ancient times, “My Own Swordsman,” which enjoyed the highest ratings in mainland China, with its highest ratings reaching 9.4%.
Well-known online authors from that time worth mentioning include Murong Xuecun and Jin Hezai. Murong Xuecun’s forte was urban novels. A representative work, “Leave Me Alone, Chengdu,” was written about a group of minor characters who sustain mutations to their humanity brought about by the great pressures from their emotions and their careers. But later, because like Han Han he wrote to expose the many dark internal truths hidden within reality, when his book was newly published not only was he forced to modify it and remove more than 20,000 characters, all the voices on his blog and microblog were silenced all at once. Jin Hezai is expert at writing young adult fantasy novels. The work that made him famous, “The Story of the Monkey King,” tells the Chinese classic masterpiece “Journey to the West” from a modern point of view. In the ten years after it was published in 2000, it has had a total of 147 reprintings, and sales of more than 2 million copies.
In summary: China’s first wave of online novels contained stories that were mostly intimately realistic or borrowed fictitious backgrounds to reflect the many vicissitudes of the human condition within reality. Compared to the later online novels that were completely streamlined and pumped out according to a business model, they lacked the latter’s mere pursuit of an everyday, frank writing style and characteristic exciting stories. More of them tended to draw in their readers to ponder over life, a taste worth tasting over and over. Because of this, after many years they still continue to sell well and are not the kind of “fast food literature” that gets thrown away after being read just once.