Does a country where writers cruise in chauffered Bentleys and publishing is considered a growth industry sound like a fantasy land to you? Then try taking a second look at China.
In China, publishing has seen "a nine percent growth rate over the past 20 years" and is considered "a strong industry," says a piece in The National, the English language daily of the United Arab Emirates.
The story in the National is lengthy but quite interesting. It tells of a group of young Chinese authors (at least one a high school dropout) who are aiming their works at young readers and raking in enormous profits.
At the head of the pack there is 25-year-old Guo Jingming who may be the country's bestselling author. He wrote his first book, "City of Fantasy," a fantasy and martial arts novel aimed at teenagers, when he was 16. It was an immediate sensation.
Although Guo has more than once battled charges of plagiarism, all seven of his novels have sold more than a million copies.
Then there is Han Han. A high school dropout, Han Han published his first book, "The Third Way" (a love story that also critiques China's education system) when he was only 17. He's a singer, a blogger, and a professional race-car driver, adored by many of his fans for his rebellious style.
Young Chinese writers like these are not necessarily admired for their literary style. Stella Chou, the managing director of Harper Collins China Business Development, told The National, “Han Han and Guo Jingming are popular because they speak the language of the youth. They are creating stories that speak to their culture, to their everyday life. If you look at it from a literary point of view, are they any good? No, they’re not.”
But, argues An Boshun, the chief editor of the Beijing branch of Changjiang Press, which publishes Guo’s books, these young writers are more in touch with readers than are the authors considered to be China's literati – novelists like Mo Yan, Su Tong, and Yu Hua.
These older, more serious writers, "spend their time stuck in a room writing books that exaggerate the violence and greed of the Cultural Revolution, of the past," while "Guo Jingming and the younger generation may not have the same grounding in literature, they write about the present and their writing reflects reality.”
In the days of Mao, China's publishing industry was controlled by the government and writers earned no more than farm workers. Also, the commercial appeal of a book was not considered important.
Today, it's a whole new world for Chinese writers – and they are experiencing both the pros and the cons of a capitalist marketplace.
“Writers have a greater freedom now than anytime in the past 50 or 60 years,” Zhang Wei, author of "The Ancient Ship," an awarding-winning novel about three generations of three Chinese families, told the National. And yet, he adds, “Money has a crude strength, and the tide of commercialization can drown out literature.”