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Online literature offers new worldwide lens for China’s stories of past, present

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Online literature offers new worldwide lens for China’s stories of past, present

March 16
18:03 2023

In the latest novel by Kittisak Kongka, a 33-year-old Thai online writer, one of the major settings is a restaurant. He decided to make it a Chinese restaurant while writing.

“Chinese food is popular and trendy in Thailand, so I think a Chinese restaurant (as the background) could be interesting for my story,” Kongka said.

Kongka’s novel won a gold award in the WebNovel Spirity Awards (WSA) 2022, a global online novel writing competition organized by WebNovel, a reading portal owned by China Literature Limited (CLL).

First held in 2018 and aimed at English-language writers, the annual competition was opened to writers of Indonesian and Thai language for the first time in 2022. More than 90,000 novels were submitted worldwide last year, and three participants from Thailand, India and Pakistan respectively won the gold awards.

At the award ceremony hosted here on Friday, more than 20 online writers from various countries and regions such as Germany, Canada, Indonesia and Thailand, and several other guests with professional backgrounds in culture and art discussed the development of online literature in China as well as globally.

Online literature has offered a burgeoning approach for cultural exchanges and served as an effective way for China to tell its story of the past and the present to the world. In 2021, more than 10,000 Chinese online literary works entered overseas markets, with a market size totaling more than 3 billion yuan (about $434 million), according to a blue book on Chinese online literature published by the China Writers Association.

A report released by CLL at the ceremony showed that by the end of 2022, around 2,900 Chinese online literary works had been translated and published on Webnovel, attracting around 170 million readers from more than 200 countries and regions worldwide, of whom 75 percent were from Generation Z.

“I knew China by watching TV series such as Bao Qingtian (Justice Bao) when I was a kid,” said Pippo, a senior manager at OokbeeU, a Thai reading portal partnering with Webnovel, at the ceremony.

Online literature has provided a new lens for people in Thailand to view China these days, especially for younger generations, as it was estimated that nearly 10 percent of the Thai population had the habit of reading novels on Ookbee, Pippo said.

According to the report by CLL, among the online discussions by overseas readers on Webnovel last year, China-related words were found to be mentioned more than 150,000 times. Things like food, martial arts, tea arts, giant panda, and cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Macao and Hangzhou were among the most mentioned.

In September last year, 16 Chinese online novels entered a collection in the British Library, covering themes of science fiction, history, reality and fantasy, the report also said.

Apart from facilitating the spreading of Chinese stories to the world, practitioners in China’s online literature industry have also contributed to promoting the global industry, as demonstrated in the report, with the total population of overseas online writers on Webnovel growing by 130 percent from 2018 to 2022. The top five countries with the largest number of writers on the platform were the United States, India, Philippines, Indonesia and Britain, in that order.

According to Zhao Bipeng, the director of overseas business at CLL, China had a relatively mature industry chain for online literature, with numerous popular online novels having already been adapted into movies, TV series and video games, among others.

It was important now for Chinese practitioners to develop the intellectual property of overseas online literary works with partners abroad, Zhao said.

Since 2018, around 40 percent of the award-winning works of WSA had been transformed into various types of multimedia platforms, such as TV series, radio plays and cartoons. A new career development plan for overseas online writers was announced at the ceremony by CLL, aiming at tapping into the potential for adaptation of their works.

For Kongka, whose three novels had already been adapted for the screen in Thailand, it had been a pity to miss a cooperation opportunity with a Chinese production company several years ago. But now, he was optimistic about his career prospect in China, and also hoped to draw new inspiration from China’s expansive and deep-rooted culture.

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