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Sunday July 26, 2009
Writers in their own right
Young Chinese authors who write on a wide range of issues affecting teens are becoming overnight sensations in their homeland.
BY her own admission, 19-year-old Jiang Fangzhou is a typically insecure Chinese teen with little experience in the world. But that hasn’t stopped her from becoming a successful writer.
She began writing at the age of seven, published her first book at nine and has churned out several more novels since.
As precocious as she is, Jiang is hardly unique in China, where a wave of fresh-faced authors have found incredible success amongst young readers who have been drawn to their depictions of teen angst in China’s fast-changing society.
“People need to have the right values, morals and standards which are usually instilled in them at a very young age. However, many people seem to lack these basics.
“I am often looking at how people must maintain high standards and values. This is what I also try to convey in my books ... about what is good and bad,” said Jiang, who just completed her freshman year at Beijing’s Tsinghua university.
Chinese writers are categorised according to the year or decade they were born in, and the “post-1980” and even “post-1990” authors are increasingly dominating the best-seller lists.
One author, Guo Jingming, who recently turned 26, is considered China’s highest-selling writer through his often dark tales of teen suicide, violence and decadent lifestyles.
His works accounted for 20% of literary book sales in 2008, according to a survey by Chinese book market research firm OpenBook. His success has inspired even more younger writers.
“These writers are expressing their values, feelings and thoughts on a variety of subjects. “They must be heard, their views cannot be dismissed,” said Ma Xiangwu, a People’s University Literature professor.
A recent college graduate Wang Xiaoguo, who expressed frustration with a bleak job market and the pressure from his parents to marry, said the views of younger writers give a voice to people like him.
“They are different from anything else out there. They are the writings of our generation, expressing some of the feelings young people have,” said Wang, 23, while browsing at a Beijing bookstore.
But as publishers rush to cash in, a debate has arisen over the literary merit of works by such inexperienced writers.
Many critics dismiss them as a by-product of a commercialised era in which the Internet has made it vastly more easy for mediocre writers to get noticed.
No one is as critical as Jiang as she sits in her spartan dorm room at the university leafing through several of her novels, fairy tales and fantasy books dealing with adolescent angst.
“My biggest worry is about today’s readers. If they are always fed on something bad, how will they know what is good and what is bad? There is no standard,” said Jiang, who has endured charges that her photogenic looks fuelled her success.
Her own angst might be related to stress from her childhood in central Hubei province.
She began writing at the age of seven after her schoolteacher mother - whose own dreams of being a writer didn’t pan out - told her the police take away any child who does not publish a book in primary school.
“Every time I hear a car in front of our house I get really scared,” she said.
She has since become a mirror image of the anxious young reader she writes for.
Countless hours spent writing have left her unable to easily mix with her peers, she said, and the thought of romantic love terrifies her.
Meanwhile, due to her age, Jiang’s parents keep her in the dark about her literary earnings, although the family recently bought a new house and car.
In perhaps the ultimate rebuke to writers of her generation, Jiang never reads any living author, preferring books whose quality has been proven over time.
Ma said it remains to be seen whether the works of today’s young writers will have any staying power, but he adds that every generation will have writers who tap the prevailing zeitgeist.
“These novels are a kind of fast food, and people sometimes do need fast food too,” he said. — AFP