State bureaucracies rarely have good taste in literature. Take a poem by Wang Zhaoshan, vice-chairman of the party-sponsored China Writers Association in Shandong. In the aftermath of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Wang assumed the voice of an earthquake victim:
"Natural disaster is inevitable, so why should I complain about my death? The president calls, the premier inquires, the Party cares, the country is concerned; the voices go into the rubble … I only wish I could have a TV so I could watch the Olympic Games and cheer with others."
Unsurprisingly, the public reaction was nausea. Author Zheng Jun wrote an article calling the China Writers Association a "living fossil," and said that the organization has become a pension plan for old command economy authors: "Anyone with the least bit of promise has gone elsewhere."
Today, many new popular writers are finding fame online, and they are writing for the market. The new generation of Chinese readers is bored by politics, but fascinated by guns, drugs, spies and sex. Fantasy author Chen Bin, 29, for example, said he has already earned more than RMB1 million (US$150,000) publishing prolifically on Shanda Literature (SNDA.NASDAQ). "Over the past six years I have written about 10 million characters, produced six or seven novels and they are all published," he said.
More traditional authors are also gradually warming to moving online. Author Ge Hongbing has been writing books for 20 years, but has started publishing online: "Internet publishing encourages authors to be creative and speak freely. It also helps to get feedback directly from readers," he said.
The space for creativity and freedom is still subject to censorship – but at least it’s not a haven for subsidized sycophants.