A new generation of Chinese writers are choosing to publish their bleak and grimly realistic novels about life in contemporary China on-line.
Murong Xuecun is one of China's most famous cyber-writers. He describes himself as pessimistic and lacking ambition, he says he's ugly and vulgar and likes good food and drink above all else. His novel, "Chengdu, Leave Me Alone Tonight" was a cyber trendsetter, and its descriptions of life in Chengdu sparked a series of books describing life in modern Chinese cities where the young abandon idealism in search of fortune.
Murong says he writes for fun. He says he's never had any ambitions to make it big in Chinese literary circles, and doesn't have any interest in dealing with 'profound' social issues. Characteristically, he dedicated his first book to himself. The novel's protagonist, Chen Zhong, is an ordinary man with an ordinary job. As a young man he had big dreams but life has forced him to choose material goals over loftier ones and as he abandons his ideals he becomes more and more vicious, lashing out at his friends and colleagues. By the end of the novel, his wife leaves him and Chen Zhong dies in a fist fight on Christmas Day.
The desperate and senseless ending gives the reader little hope for what life has to offer us and is slap in the face to traditional notions of the value of hard struggle.
The novel received more than 150,000 hits after it was first published on tianyaclub.com in 2002, one of China's largest literature websites and the controversial story angered many with its gritty portrayal of urban twenty-somethings. In Murong's eyes, "The skies of Chengdu are always gloomy. The north train station is boisterous and messy as usual. People crowd at the station exits like ants in a flood, snapping at each other and creeping into this dangerous city. Then they dig underground in every street and house and bury themselves in their pits forever- never to be rescued."
He connects with his readers, and browsing the readers' comments left online, you find things like "A loss of belief has led to unprecedented levels of confusion and anxiety for us. We feel like we don't belong anywhere and nothing real attracts us. " Another reader writes: "The ultimate value of the novel lies in its crude depiction of life's absurdity, misery and loss of meaning."
Murong Xuecun is one of a growing number of Chinese writers who are choosing to publish their work on BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems) and literary websites. These writers hide little from their readers and while a few years ago most stories were on personal subjects with frank descriptions of inner emotions and explicit accounts of 'cyber-love affairs', recent cyber novels and stories that describe the loneliness and alienation of life in large cities have become fashionable. The writers, mostly in their late 20s or early 30s, are rarely professional and their day-jobs mean they can afford to write freely about their feelings and dissatisfactions.
Titles such as Drunken Fish's "My Beijing" (Wode Beijing), Rosy Sailor's "Lonely Hearts in Chongqing" (Chongqing Gu'nan Guanv ) and Zhu Bi's "One Night Stands in Shenzhen" (Shenzhen Yiye Qing) describe cities full of raw human desire and an insatiable drive for wealth, and while these subjects may be simply the latest literary fad, its clear that independent publishing online is here to stay.