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the Complete Review
the complete review - internet / literature

Internet Literature in China

Michel Hockx

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Internet Literature in China

Title: Internet Literature in China
Author: Michel Hockx
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2015
Length: 194 pages
Availability: Internet Literature in China - US
Internet Literature in China - UK
Internet Literature in China - Canada
Internet Literature in China - India
  • With numerous illustrations / screengrabs

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Our Assessment:

B : good overview; helpful examples

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Asian Studies Review . 41(4) (2016) Xiaoping Gao
TLS . 10/4/2015 Ross Perlin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Internet Literature in China is elegantly written. This tour de force constitutes fascinating and illuminating documentation, stories and critique of Chinese online literature. (...) It is a must-have for Chinese literature researchers and postgraduate students who wish to know more about Chinese Internet literature and relevant social ritual and political censorship that have transformed Chinese culture and society." - Xiaoping Gao, Asian Studies Review

  • "Hockx has documented a fascinating moment in time." - Ross Perlin, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       As the US$1.1 billion November 2017 IPO of China Literature, a unit of Tencent, recently emphatically confirmed: online literature is huge in China. It has been for a while, and Michel Hockx's Internet Literature in China offers a good introduction to and early history of the phenomenon. (It's hard to keep up, however, with the rapid transformations, and so, for example, this 2015 book already misses the further consolidation and reshaping of the major sites with the Shanda Cloudary spin-off and then merger with Tencent Literature that created today's behemoth, Yuwen (China Literature).)
       Aside from the specific subject matter, Internet Literature in China is also interesting as an example of trying to write internet-history: as Hockx notes, the internet remains remarkably ephemeral, with much that's here today gone tomorrow. A great deal of the material and many of the sites he discusses are no longer readily accessible, with the Internet Archive Wayback Machine and a dedicated Zotero-group the only repositories of much of the material. It does show the usefulness of the more permanent book-form: Internet Literature in China -- which also reproduces screengrabs that give a good idea of some of what is, or was, available -- provides a better and more accessible overview of more than twenty years of this history than the internet has managed.
       Conditions in China, with strong government controls over (physical) publication -- of books and magazines -- certainly were conducive to an explosive growth of online publication unlike anywhere else. As Hockx notes, the requirement of a 'book number' (ISBN) for the publication of any book in China has presented a considerable hurdle, and allowed for continued strong state control over what gets published in physical form. While online-publishing is not a "free-for-all from which state regulators have withdrawn entirely", control has been both lighter and not as far-reaching -- including for the simple logistical reason that it's nearly impossible to keep track of everything published online. Hockx provides numerous interesting examples of how the state has tried to maintain order -- and what the red lines are (such as the treatment of sexually explicit material) --, as well the evasive maneuvers authors and publishers can take, such as avoiding the use of terms that are readily flagged (and coming up with creative substitutes).
       Hockx's book is also useful in correcting some foreign misconceptions, or simplified views, of Chinese internet publishing as well as its role in the local writing and publishing spheres. So, for example, in profiling Han Han and his work, Hockx does not focus on the image of the author as he is seen abroad, but rather takes a broader view of his work, including his fiction, which remains largely unknown outside China. As Hockx explains: "Han Han clearly separates his literary writing from his online writing", while it is only the latter that has attracted a great deal of attention abroad. Hockx provides useful insights by presenting some of the contrasting local reactions to Han Han's (various) work (and Han's own reactions to these).
       Hockx's study has four chapters, the first offering a general overview and history, the main example being the Banyan Tree site that was founded in 1997 (and which can be found, in its revived form, here). Significant events, such as the publication of Lu Youqing's dying-diary -- from how it was handled to its effects and influence (as well as foreign recognition of it -- see, for example, coverage in The Guardian) -- are also presented at length, offering a good overview to the early workings of online literature in China.
       The second chapter, on 'Linear Innovations', considers the internet as a place for literary innovation, with Hockx noting that while Chinese internet literature has involved relatively litlle experimentation with the linear experience of writing and reading (which is far more prominent in Western-language experimental online literature), he nevertheless finds there has been considerable innovative work -- just of a different nature. Here, the work of Chen Cun is the basis for much of his discussion.
       The third chapter, 'The Bottom Line', focuses on 'Online Fiction and Postsocialist Publishing', considering phenomenally popular genre sites such as Qidian ('Starting Point'); the regulation of, for example, erotic content (using Feilu ('Flying Gourd') as an example); and then the avant-garde community site Heilan ('Black and Blue').
       Finally, the fourth chapter looks at online poetry, including sites such as Poemlife and Chinapoet, and providing some interesting examples of poetic and linguistic experimentation.
       Internet Literature in China offers a good overview of the development of online writing and publishing in China, including the forces shaping it (including the role of the state and the nature of the commodification of online writing). While online writing also has huge audiences -- and has had some effect on traditional publishing -- in Western nations, there it is fan-fiction which has been the most significant, and from which print-crossover success has largely originated (most notably with the E.L.James-phenomenon); meanwhile, as Hockx notes, in China: "for most of the period under discussion even its printed editions were considered generically distinct from print publications that had gone through the regular system"-- to the extent that bookshops shelved 'online novels' separately from other (regular) novels.
       Internet literature seems to continue to be thriving in China, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves there -- and elsewhere. Hockx's study is a useful overview of the early days -- and an important one, in capturing much that is already otherwise lost (and certainly no longer accessible in its original form and (online-)location).

- M.A.Orthofer, 10 December 2017

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Internet Literature in China: Reviews: Michel Hockx: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Michel Hockx was born in 1964. He teaches at Notre Dame.

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© 2017-2022 the complete review

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