eyes on the U.S.

Chinese Web Novels Are Rewriting The Entertainment Business

Chinese Web Novels Are Rewriting The Entertainment Business
Zeng Yuan

BEIJING — It seems not so long ago that people were still looking at online literature with disdain. But no one can deny that, at the very least, it is a very real business opportunity.

Last year, Choose the Day, a very popular Chinese online novel, was adapted into a webgame by Giant Interactive, a Chinese developer and operator of online video games. The same story was also adapted by digital giant Tencent into an animated film and has spawned various peripheral products.

In total, this online novel has so far generated tens of millions dollars worth of revenue. As of today, it's estimated that China has an online literature market of up to seven billion RMB ($1.1 billion), and will only grow bigger as mobile access expands.

The success story of Choose the Day is not an isolated case. Empresses in the Palace, a TV series based on the Internet novel of the same name and has swept through China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan, is another good example. It is expected to make its debut in the U.S. later this year and will be aired on the HBO cable network – the first ever Chinese TV series to be aired on a major American TV channel.

Written by Liuyanzi, one of China's most popular young novelists, Empresses in the Palace — also known as The Legend of Zhen Huan — depicts power-hungry infighting in the Qing emperor's harem and imperial court. Even for more conservative and older readers, Liuyanzi's fiction is much more exciting than the official Qing history.

Netflix, an American company, produced and broadcast last December a television drama series based on Marco Polo, a story which is largely based in China during the Middle Ages. It is particularly vexing for Chinese audiences to see Americans telling their history. However, the upcoming push-back by those delicate but malicious ladies of the court against the American-led Mongol armies will surely help Chinese people restore some pride in the face of America's "cultural aggression."

The birthplace of China's internet literature is Jinjiang Literature City, a paid-for literature website that began as a small Bulletin Board System (BBS). Today the website generates 60 million visits daily. Four hundred thousand authors and 650,000 novels are registered with it, meaning that on average an item is published each minute and a chapter is updated every three seconds on its website.

The number of clicks is the only criteria for online literature. The eReading by silent readers, probably somewhere in a subway, in a basement or in a villa, contributes to the potentially massive flow of popular online works of literature, and this has revolutionized the business models of editors and publishers in the old world.

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of all for readers is that not only can they search for books that they want to read thanks to the real-time popularity rankings, they may also change a writer's writing direction, by a simple click and payment.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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