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Web novels take readers into a whole new world

By MEI JIA | Updated: 2017-04-24 07:05

Some turn to Chinese online literature after following the country's kung fu films and TV shows.

Others are introduced by friends or randomly discover the websites while surfing the web.

And some still start with printed translations of Chinese fiction before migrating to the internet.

Many printed Chinese martial-arts novels' English translations were acclaimed, such as Louis Cha's The Deer and the Cauldron. Tomb-robber fantasy Cavern of the Blood Zombies was an international hit after it was translated in 2011.

Chinese online fiction has been popular in Southeast Asia since the early 2000s. Vietnam alone translated 841 titles from 2009-13, over 70 percent of which are web novels, Beijing Foreign Studies University professor and literature critic He Mingxing said.

What is unique about the internationalization of China's online literature is that armies of online volunteer translators and crowdfunding sponsors propel it.

In the beginning some western readers use's robot translation service to help read the Chinese novels. Then the volunteer translators appeared on online forums. Some of the translators can't read Chinese, but the passion to read and translate to share so great, they tried to translate from the novels' translated versions in other languages, say Vietnamese.

They operate in the same way Chinese online novels are written-chapter-by-chapter and for crowdfunded donations.

Chinese readers get the first few chapters for free and then decide if they want to pay for future chapters, often yet unwritten.

Half of the 20 foreign readers from 18 countries cited in a small Southern Weekly survey had sponsored translators. And 80 percent said they would be willing to pay an average of $33 per novel.

"Literature's online migration is a revolution in creation, dissemination and business operation," China Reading Limited's president, Wu Wenhui, said.

The group is one of the oldest and largest in the field. It has 600 million registered user accounts and its over 4 million online writers have created 10 million works.

It has sold the copyrights of 200 online titles in 20 countries.

The most popular English-language genres are fantasy, personal growth and martial arts.

The group has been actively working to expand its international readership.

It brought 20 writers to meet fans in Singapore this month and participated in the London Book Fair in March. It plans to launch the English-language next month, followed by French, Spanish, Russian, Thai and Arabic equivalents.

"The charm of Chinese culture-its thousands of years of rich legends and history-has built a solid foundation for web novels' allure," Wu said.

"There are abundant stories created by the countless minds with original ideas."

While the group is courting new readers abroad, most of its growth has come from target consumers searching for its products.

"They like the same things as domestic readers," Wu said.

"So, we don't need to create new things to appeal to them."

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