Chinese literature online tells a success story with overseas fans

Poster for the Nirvana in Fire television series, adapted from an online novel, starring its protagonist Mei Changsu, played by actor Hu Ge. [Photo provided to China Daily]

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

Zhou Yan, known by her pseudonym Jiong Jiong You Yao, 32, is one of the most popular online writers in the urban romance genre. His 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 discover China through this literature online,” she says.

Its success follows the boom in China’s online literary market overseas.

By 2020, more than 10,000 online literary works entered overseas markets and attracted more than 100 million overseas readers, according to the 2020 Blue Book of China Online Literature published by the Chinese Writers Association.

On the Webnovel website, the comments section for Jiong Jiong You Yao’s novel is full of users requesting new content, highlighting the popularity of the novel.

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

“I generally include content with Chinese characteristics in my writing, such as Suzhou embroidery and kung fu, and I find foreign readers to be very interested in these Chinese elements,” she says. “I think Chinese literature online is popular not only because of its mysterious oriental elements, but also because the humanity in the stories transcends borders.”

Fantasy and kung fu novels were once the engine of clamor for foreign readers. Such stories were based on traditional Chinese mythology and culture, and they had wide appeal.

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

She says readers preferred stories about domineering male characters and Cinderella-like protagonists, but now the theme has changed to feature more independent female characters and a glimpse into the everyday challenges these women face.

“I think it’s because of a growing awareness among women in Asia, and I’ve incorporated this change into my creation,” she adds.

Chinese literature online has also encouraged many foreign readers to start writing. A 25-year-old Filipino author named Kazzenlx wrote the fantasy novel Hellbound With You, based on the English version of Jiong Jiong You Yao’s novel.

“China’s online literature has moved from simply distributing novels to exporting a deeply rooted creative system,” said He Hong, deputy director of the China Writers Association’s online literature center.

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

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

“This is a great opportunity for writers now that Chinese novels online can be enjoyed in different countries and even adapted into movies and TV series,” Jiong Jiong You Yao said. “We should strive to tell good Chinese stories and help people learn more about Chinese culture.”

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