Young authors tap adolescent angst in China

Young authors tap adolescent angst in China

22nd January 2010, Comments 0 comments

In China, a wave of fresh-faced authors have found success with young readers drawn to their depictions of young angst in China's fast-changing society.

By her own admission, 19-year-old Jiang Fangzhou is a typically insecure Chinese teen with little experience in the world. But that hasn't stopped her becoming a successful writer.

She began writing at the age of seven, published her first book at nine and has churned out several more novels since.

As precocious as she is, Jiang is hardly unique in China, where a wave of fresh-faced authors has found success with young readers drawn to their depictions of young angst in China's fast-changing society.

"The standards of many people are not on solid foundations so I am continually looking at personal matters in my books, trying to help them correctly judge what is good and bad," Jiang, who just completed her freshman year at university, said of her writing.

Jiang Fangzhou poses for pictures in Tsinghua University in Beijing

Decade diviners

Chinese writers are categorised according to the decades in which they were born or came of age, and the "post-1980" and even "post-1990" authors are increasingly dominating best-seller lists.

One author, Guo Jingming, who just turned 26, is considered China's highest-selling writer through his often dark tales of teen suicide, violence and degraded modern-day values.

His works accounted for 20 percent of literary book sales in 2008, according to a survey by Chinese book market research firm OpenBook, a level of success that has helped inspire ever-younger writers.

"These writers are expressing their values, human feelings and the values of their age group,” said Ma Xiangwu, a People's University literature professor. “Other age groups cannot write this. It cannot be replaced."

Recent college graduate Wang Xiaoguo, who expressed frustration with a slim Chinese jobs market and his parental pressure to marry, said the books of younger writers give voice to people like him.

"They are different from anything else out there,” said Wang, 23, while browsing at a Beijing bookstore. “They are the writings of our generation, expressing some of the feelings young people have."

Merits and mediocrity

But as publishers rush to cash in, a debate has arisen over the literary merit of works by such inexperienced writers.

Many critics dismiss them as a by-product of a commercialised era in which the Internet has made it vastly easier for mediocre writers to get noticed.

No one is as critical as Jiang as she sits in her spartan dorm room at Beijing's Tsinghua University leafing through several of her novels, fairy tales and fantasy books dealing with adolescent angst.

"My biggest worry is today's readers,” said Jiang, who has endured charges her photogenic looks fuelled her success. “If they are always fed on something bad, how will they know what is good and what is bad? There is no standard."

Her own angst might be related to stress from her childhood in central Hubei province.

She began writing at the age of seven after her schoolteacher mother -- whose own dreams of being a writer didn't pan out -- told her the police take away any child who does not publish a book in primary school.

"Every time I heard a car in front of our house I got really scared," she said.

She has since become a mirror image of the anxious young reader she writes for.

Countless hours spent writing have left her unable to easily mix with her peers, she said, and the thought of romantic love terrifies her.

Meanwhile, due to her age, Jiang's parents keep her in the dark about her literary earnings, although the family recently bought a new house and car.

In perhaps the ultimate rebuke to writers of her generation, Jiang never reads any living author, preferring books whose quality has been proven over time.

Ma, the literature professor, said it remains to be seen whether the works of today's young writers will have any staying power, but he adds that every generation will have writers who tap the prevailing zeitgeist: "These novels are a kind of fast food. But people sometimes need fast food too."

Dan Martin/AFP/Expatica

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