The Banyan Tree: China Writes Fiction

Marriage War is the most popular internet novel on Banyan Tree

In China, like anywhere else, young people often stare or poke at their cell phones. A little different is that what they’re looking at is quite likely fiction—short, written for cell phone, internet-downloaded fiction. What’s awesome about this is not just that someone is using technology in a new way, but that Chinese youth aren’t just reading these novels, they’re writing them too. In a country famous for a lack of creativity the internet/cell phone novel is a rare example of mass artistic expression.

This world centers around a group of websites where anyone can upload and share their work. One of the most popular is called Under The Banyan Tree. While famous names like Han Han have published through the site most of the content is written by amateurs. It’s like Youtube but for literature, and as popular too; the hottest books get millions of hits.

The most popular all time book on Under the Banyan Tree, with over 13 million hits, is a romantic comedy of errors called Wedding War. The teaser reads, “With a crazy mother-in-law, arrogant sister-in-law, and the ex-girlfriend of her new husband all recently divorced, XiaoYu’s life is bound to get complicated.”

Some of these success stories end in publishing deals and film contracts. For example another romantic hijinx web-novel, Naked Marriage, was not only published in paper and ink but recently turned into a popular tv show. But those are just some of the more sensational examples.

But most of the novels start online and stay online. They also tend to be genre fiction. And while the majority of the most popular are girl-targetted the boy genres of science-fiction and Kung Fu are well represented. It’s light reading, and in my eyes significantly driven by a desire among people, especially young people, to get away from the pressure of raised expectations as people strive to move into the middle-class.

In addition to being a sociologists dream, this is a really cool addition to how the internet is democratizing culture. We’re accustomed to blogs where people are free to write down the mundanity of the world around them (or ham on about things they know nothing about), but we aren’t used to everyone being an author, invited to create, imagine, and entertain. It’s wild that that’s happening in China.

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