Startling by Each Click "Word-of-Mouse" Publicity and Critically Manufacturing Time-Travel Romance Online

By Guo, Shaohua | Chinese Literature Today, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Startling by Each Click "Word-of-Mouse" Publicity and Critically Manufacturing Time-Travel Romance Online


Guo, Shaohua, Chinese Literature Today


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China in the new millennium has witnessed a digital literary renaissance that epitomizes one of the most vigorous dimensions of contemporary cultural production. Internet literature has not only drawn together an unprecedented number of aspiring writers and enthusiastic peer critics, but it also has fostered the formation of "synergistic alliances" between new media and the visual industry to largely capitalize on user-generated content.1 For instance, Shanda Literature, the Web portal that controls over 90 percent of China's online-reading market, has attracted more than 1.6 million writers, and its users were contributing an average of 80 million Chinese characters to the site each day by March 2012.2 Works first published on Shanda have been adapted at a high percentage rate to films, TV series, stage plays, and games. Within a decade, online writing has been transformed from an individual artistic pursuit for literary enthusiasts into a streamlined industry that aims to exploit the popular appeal of Internet literature to the greatest extent possible.

Despite the big buzz that Int ernet literature has generated in popular media, little critical attention has been paid to the underlying mechanisms conducive to this ascending trend of popular cultural production, or to the lack of empirical studies on the making of canonical works online. One way to address this gap in scholarship is to approach China's digital literary renaissance through the lens of critical communities and online norms. The online dynamics surrounding the 2006 publication of Tong Hua's ... Startling by Each Step (Bubu jingxin ...) on the Jinjiang Literature City website illustrate how the creative writing process of Internet-based writers has been constantly reshaped by the affective intervention of peer critics. Acclaimed as "the canon of Qing-travel fiction," Startling by Each Step first developed a cult following on Jinjiang that quickly captured a more mainstream market through adaptations in print, audio books, a stage play, games, and a television series. Of these new formats, it was the 2011 TV adaptation that further boosted the novel's popularity. The frenetic reception of the television series inspired another round of critical discussion of the fiction as well as the production of sequels and prequels of the work across multiple media platforms. All of this success can be traced back to Jinjiang. The vibrancy and productivity of critical communities on Jinjiang laid the groundwork for the canonization of Startling by Each Step. The forging of these critical communities and the ascendance of online norms not only fostered Tong Hua's transition into a professional writer, thereby enhancing her cultural capital, but also bear significant implications for furthering the understanding of the particularities of Internet literature in postmillennial China.

"Word-of-Mouse" Publicity, Critical Communities, and Cultural Public Sphere

The Internet literary field in China has witnessed quite a few legendary stories of how the "word-of-mouse" publicity of netizen communities has popularized initially anonymous Internet writers since the late 1990s, including Anni Baobei ..., Jin Hezai ..., Murong Xuecun ..., and Tong Hua.3 Most of these writers initially made "noninstrumental claims" about publishing online-they wrote simply because they loved literature4- but they have since transitioned into professional writers and remain active in the mainstream cultural realm. Despite media hype about netizens' seemingly mysterious power to canonize literary works, inadequate scholarly attention has been devoted to the particularity of literary communities in technologically mediated cultural space. Aside from a few studies on the interactive dimension of literary websites,5 the ways in which Internet users function as both peer critics and "agents of consecration," who proactively promote and canonize Internet literature, have yet to be investigated. …

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