25 January 08 | Chad W. Post

After all the ACE info of the past few weeks, it was interesting to find out that it is responsible for this fascinating series on the “State of Internet Literature in China” available at Paper Republic.

If you’re not familiar with Paper Republic, it’s the best website out there covering Chinese literature, featuring reviews, samples, and news (such as the aforementioned internet literature project).

In terms of the project on Chinese internet literature, I feel like I should read more of these posts before making any comments or generalizations. That said, what jumps out at me is how different/vital/necessary internet publishing is in China. This interview with Zhao Song—one of the main people in charge of the Helian literary website—makes that clear:

Heilan first came into being in 1996, as a traditional paper literary magazine. It was started by Chen Wei (the other site administrator) in Nanjing, and only put out one issue before being closed down. “You know that period of time,” says Zhao, “the authorities were very anxious then. It was an unofficial publication, and even though there was no sensitive content, the fact that it was unlicensed was enough to get it shut down.”

Helian now consists of a few main components—a monthly magazine, digital publications, and a literary prize—and is looking to expand its traditional publishing arm over the next few years.

There are two other bits of this that I found really interesting—the first about the state of Chinese literature:

“The Chinese literary scene is suffering,” says Zhao. “The political upheavals of the past decades have broken our link with the past. We’re like orphans, in some regard. In the west there’s a very strong line of continuity in the development of literature, but in China we’ve lost our footing.” He characterizes the two decades of 1980-2000 as a period of recovery and restoration. “But now that we’re ready to move forward, where do we go? It’s time to reconnect to our past and our traditions, but reconnect how?” The May Fourth literary movement (begun in 1919) represented a renaissance, but it was ended before it really came to fruition. The 1980s saw a frenzy for foreign literature, but in Zhao’s opinion that was mostly just an expression of excitement at being allowed to read again. “People didn’t understand what it was they were reading – the context or background.”

And this section on the challenges of finding good writers for the website:

“It’s just really hard to find good writers. We go out actively looking for writers, and trying to lure them in to the site. We do most of our looking online, at other literary websites – we spent some time looking in traditional paper literary magazines, but were almost universally disappointed in the quality we found there. They almost all belong to the Writers Association, and that influence is visible in all of them.”

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