Author：Verbena C. W，Elaine Yang
In 1998, NetEase and other web portals began providing free space for Chinese web users, and many internet users who loved to read books launched their own personal web pages.
Early internet book sites took the hardcopy novels and scanned them or typed them into the computer, then circulated them on the internet to augment their websites’ content, or reprinted directly from other websites. Because of bad copyright habits formed by Chinese web users from day one of the internet, formed bad habits of breaking copyrights, the result was a large number of pirated works. It was difficult to hold IP addresses and virtual usernames accountable, and websites with uploading services had no way of differentiating between the copyright statuses of the works; all they could do was to inform the copyright holder in writing. And so, internet piracy gradually became something about which people in the industry could do nothing, for which regulatory authorities looked the other way, and to which authors had to give their tacit approval. Right up to this day, similar problems still exist with Chinese online publishing. A few websites first set up shop using pirated copies, and only after they have accumulated a significant number of readers do they then sign contracts with authors and are said to be “washed clean.” Without a doubt, from the beginning the rapid development of China’s digital publishing industry has gone hand in hand with copyright confusion. In those years, Hong Kong author Huang Yi’s novel “Twin of Brothers” was a killer secret weapon for all the book portals that were falling over each other in their competition to reprint and reproduce books to draw in readers. The story was set in the troubled times of Sui Dynasty China. Through their talents and hard work, in the end two teenagers form a generation of heroes. The plot of the novel was splendid, daring, and grand; it had fantasy elements and contained profound reflections on life. Later it was made into a television series. Readers said that with Hong Kong serial novels, one chapter comes out a month; getting online and reading them is naturally the best way to enjoy the pleasure of reading them for the first time. And so because “Golden Book House” established its web portals early, it took the lead in having reprinting superiority, and began to cultivate original literature online.
The influx of capital changed the fate of book websites. In 1999, Myrice.com purchased 16 of NetEase’s top 20 ranked personal websites for a sum of 4 million RMB, including Golden Book House. At the same time, a number of overseas Chinese set up Bookuu.com in the Silicon Valley in America, and in one fell swoop they poached more than a dozen editors from Beijing, causing a big stir in the publishing world. Although Bookuu.com acquired the electronic copyrights for a large number of works and signed a large number of authors, the spirit of for-pay downloads and for-pay reading that it advocated was incompatible with the era of a free Internet. At the end of 2001, Bookuu.com was forced to undergo a transition; it proclaimed that China’s first for-pay ebook experiment had failed. This was followed by the collapse of a large number of book websites. The survivors had no choice but to begin to rack their brains for ways to profit, and this ushered in the “Silver Age” of online literature. An alliance book site of original works called “Sky of the Dragon” (Lkong.net), its founding team relying on a stable space and popularity it had accumulated in advance from other book sites, rapidly became the new boss in Chinese online literature circles.
Lang Xiaojing was one of the first authors to join Lkong.net. She chose points of view for her novels that were new and original and were limited to certain ages and experiences. Her works cannot be said to be unprecedented and never to be duplicated; however, because of their quick-witted writing style, they were quite memorable to read. In 2003, she was nominated by the domestic media for the annual “Chinese Literary Figure” award for her total of more than 3.5 million published words. Her masterpiece, “Wraith,” is about an online game that brings a terrifying end; people who play the game die off one by one. Three youths who share a common secret come back together after having been separated for many years in search of a way to survive, and come face to face with the darkest secrets in their hearts.
More and more authors and readers joined, causing Lkong.net in 2001 to become the largest website for original literature in Mainland China; even copyrights for the vast majority of fantasy novels published domestically were provided by Lkong.net with an accumulative word count of more than ten million. Lkong.net also pioneered the the publication of original works from Mainland China in Taiwan, cooperating with 8 Taiwanese corporations to publish over 140 novels. In 2003, Lkong.net established a pan-website authority discussion mechanism, dividing contemporary online original works of fantasy fiction into different levels and categories. This set a trend for mainstream works and gathered together people with even more success and popularity, and approached nearly one million registered users. This was not only due to the fact that the vast majority of people participating in the discussions were themselves authors of certain classics, but also because these discussion topics had a strong radial effect on the subjects at other literature sites; for example, the rationality of delusion, and things related to adult fantasies…. Each topic made great waves in the creative circles of contemporary online novels. Lkong.net’s innovative discussion boards enjoyed unprecedented popularity to such an extent that the server hardware was not able to accommodate the enormous amount of site traffic; all it could do was carry out revised editions.
And compared to the prevalence of today’s urban novels, Lkong.net’s promotion of Eastern fantasy fiction really was the trend of the times; published novels still had considerable quality, and seemed able to hold their own with works from the golden age of Chinese online literature.