The recently released ‘richest writers in China’ list introduces a new sub-section for ‘the richest online writers’, with a list of 20 web writers ranging from 23 to 40 years of age. The top one, ‘Tang Jia San Shao’ is only 31. This writer, together with 25 year old ‘I eat tomatoes’, and 23 year old ‘never-ending potato’, were the top three people on the ‘Network’s richest writer list’, with respective royalties of 33 million, 21 million and 18 million. Readers may find it incredible that some of these ‘rich writers’ are so young: the youngest, ‘never-ending potatoes’, is only 23, and the oldest one is only 40. But many people forget that the initiator of the Richest Writers List, Wu Huaiyao, was also a young man: he was born in 1984 in Hongan, Hubei, and took the first place in the ‘Richest Writers’ list’ at the age of 22.
This is actually a very interesting literary phenomenon. Of course, this is not just a literary phenomenon, but a more general social phenomenon particularly prominent in the field of literature. China has always been an authoritarian society, and the conduct of various social affairs depends on the guidance and leadership of the landed gentry or other social elites; and these leaders, for the most part, were older people with experience of society. They presided over public affairs, held the right to cut and speak, 就像是草根式的卡利玛斯人物，保持着中国广大底层的那种保守的却又极为稳定的治理平衡。This is discussed in details in the book ‘Imperial and Gentry Rights’ by Fei Xiaotong, Wu Han and others.
But after entering the contemporary period, China started to see the coming of a phenomenon some have called ‘authority inversion’, a younger age group started to exert control over discourse. This is most obvious from the changes in family structures in today’s China. In traditional societies (and in the experience of farming civilisations), the older generation acquired respect through their accumulated experience, and young people had to accept the experience of their elders as legacy. The expression: ’I’ve eaten more rice than you’ve eaten salt, and I’ve walked more roads than you’ve crossed bridges’ is the straightforward expression of that authority.
But now, in this era more and more concerned about information, as technology progresses and sources of information evolve, intergenerational structures for knowledge acquisition are changing. Knowledge is acquired in a more diverse fashion, but the older generations lag behind in their use of technology, they’re computer illiterate or unfamiliar with a wide range of digital devices, and therefore, their discursive authority has radically declined. In many circumstances, it no longer have social value to have lived many years. The young now dominate social discourse, they lead social trends, and are more representative of a progressing, evolving culture. These kinds of structural transformations are now taking part throughout society, from the economy to social structures to culture. Society has moved from an experience led agricultural culture to an industrial culture and now to modern society.
In the field of literature, this change to the social background has also given rise to a form of ‘inversion of authority’, subverting the rules of Chinese literature, at least the rules governing its production and survival, and as literature shifted from a paper circulation to digital circulation, the literary evaluation system shifted from one dominated by older critics to one dominated by hit counts and income generation.
Among the 20 writers on the list, most are from the post-80s generation. These writers were born after 1980, they grew up in the 90s, and started on the stage in the 2000s – but 90s literature was their breast milk. In society, the large adoption of new technological and market reform had started, and in the university classes they followed, post-modern and deconstruction theories had become mainstream, stirring up smoke in the literary field – in essence, an opposition between traditional literature and contemporary or post-modern literature. Deconstruction of authority, deconstruction of the classics, deconstruction of the mainstream: after those shocks, traditional literature found itself entirely unsuited, and started to decline. And on many aspects of literary discussions, young writers from the post-80s generation, like Han Han, who already pushed away large parts of the original language, got the right to speak with authority much more than established and older writers.
With the network becoming the carrier of online literature, the traditional models of literary production and literary existence are broken up – you can skip the literary magazine, writing competitions, internships, etc, and directly publish your works on platform with a low threshold, directly face the readers, and then let the readers’ mouse (or click-through-rate) determine which work is better. And the works that suddenly emerge out of the crowds of online publications will naturally attract cooperation from shrewd publishing houses, and after going through the spin of modern marketing, gather royalties that leave many veteran writers speechless. This is why writers ranging in age from 23 to 40 years were able to make over 170 million yuan.
The rules of literature have been revolutionized: writers no longer need to be part of a certain Writers’ Association, to publish XX million words in XX type of magazine, or any other of the previous literary rules. They also don’t care about the looks and critics of their writing predecessors, they do not care about profound literary accomplishment, they only write for the readers, and if the reader likes it, it’s good. They only take pride in their royalties, and if they can sell, then it’s a success, They’re the envied and chattering discourse producers of this information age. At the same time, and under the guidance of a young man (Hu Huaiyao, born in 1984), a completely new system of literary evaluation emerged: the richest writers list. Internet writers had a meteoric rise on the list, with 20 writers totalling over 170 million yuan in royalties. This may be interpreted as the big bargain hunt in the daily decline of literature, but it is also a sign of opportunity: online literature might slow down the end of literature, or even bring it back to life. In that sense, it is fortunate.
I am planning a series of over 30 articles. To be continued…
Source : My1510