Talk Back: Public torn over rise of pop novels

By Wu Jiao and Ma Lie (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-06-13 06:54

Several young pop fiction writers bested some of China's literary masters in a recent survey aimed at finding the country's most popular authors, reopening the debate over the decadence of modern literature.

Respondents were asked to vote for the 100 most popular Chinese-language writers in the three-week online survey by publisher Bertelsmann and About 10,000 netizens took part.

Among the top 20 writers, three young pop novelists - Han Han, Guo Jingming and Anne Baby, all in their 20s - garnered more votes than some prominent literary figures.

Many young writers write about their fragmented, postmodern lives, using plenty of slang and explicit descriptions of sex, which is in sharp contrast to traditional literature, which tends to focus on virtue and a sense of righteousness.

The survey's results have raised concerns over the taste of modern readers.

"The survey was random, and because it was conducted online, it was bound to reflect only the tastes of a certain section of the public. The results would have been different if the survey had been confined to, say, Tsinghua University. The survey did not provide any indications of why certain writers were more popular than others."

Ge Fei, a Chinese professor at Tsinghua University and a famous writer

"The survey shows that popular literature is getting more attention than traditional literature in the reading market. Culture in Western countries is multi-layered, divided between mainstream culture, pop culture and elite culture. But Chinese literature lacks similar divisions, and the criteria used for judging a literary work are dominated by the elite. These criteria often differ from those used by many regular people."

Li Bo, vice-director of the Changjiang Literature & Arts Publishing House

"There is nothing wrong with a survey that ranks young pop writers before ancient ones. Pluralism underpins the existence and development of different kinds of literature within a society. And the results of this survey just prove that the domestic reading market is healthy and big enough to accommodate both traditional, elite culture and popular culture. Popular literature is not necessarily inferior to elite literature. For example, The Decameron is a popular work in some senses, but it has also proved to be enduring."

Gao Jie, a middle school student in Anqing, Anhui

"Instead of people quarreling over the credibility of such surveys, why don't we talk about the tastes of contemporary readers. The fast pace of today's lifestyles and swift dissemination of pop culture have an impact on readers' preferences. They might prefer to read something closer to their own experiences rather than something that was written centuries ago. The result is conceivable. A similar survey in the United Kingdom produced similar results. Shakespeare ranked behind some pop novel writers."

Wang Xiongjun, a PhD at Peking University's School of Government

(China Daily 06/13/2007 page5)

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