Net Novels and the She Era: How Internet Novels Opened the Door for Readers and Writers in China

It’s International Women’s Day and also the publication day of Tordotcom’s The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories: A Collection of Chinese Science Fiction and Fantasy in Translation (ed. Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang). As a collection that spotlights contemporary SFF by women and non-binary writers, I thought it would be appropriate to contribute an essay on the story of the amazing growth and diversification of China’s female web literature output. All those amazing contemporary Cdramas that are currently mesmerising the world, Nirvana in Fire, The Untamed, World of Honour and so forth, have come out of this exuberant arena of creativity.

I begin by taking a look at the wider socio-economic and cultural background to this incredible phenomenon. The widespread use of the world wide web from the 2000s onwards not only brought people a new sense of community, but provided an entire new platform for China’s fledgling leisure publishing industry, and removed a lot of trade-based and societal barriers to authorship, especially for non-male writers. As online infrastructures for writers developed and established themselves, the widespread use of smart phones met the needs of the increasing and diversifying readership of wangluo wenxue  (web literature), and the rise of the female economy gave women increased spending power.

After looking at the journeys to authorship of some well-known web novelists, the pioneering proponents of the medium, I examine many of  the greatest impact of wangluo wenxue over what is now several generations of development: the creation of hundreds of sub-genres; a space for women to write for women and develop female-orientated narratives, the empowering of women and non-binary writers to break into previously male-dominated genres; leaps in quality of writing thanks to the freewheeling creative atmosphere and intimate reader-writer interactions; the facilitating of dialogues on gender and sexuality that influence the mainstream battlegrounds; the emergence of long-bubbling societal subversions to the surface; the blurring of boundaries between conventional gender divisions leading to more fluidity among both readers and authors.

Some material I’d prepared didn’t get included in the printed book, a glossary of internet literature genres, which I’m sharing with you, to celebration publication day and the kaleidoscopic world of wangluo wenxue. I hope this whets your appetite for my essay and the other great works gathered into this fantastic collection.


Baihe 百合 – literally means “lily”, Girl Love stories 

Chongsheng 重生 – rebirth

Chuanyue 穿越 – involves the crossing of time but also space and dimensions

Chuanqi 传奇- legend

Danmei 耽美- Boy Love, literally “indulging in beauty”

Daomu 盗墓 – tomb raiding

Dushi 都市 – anything kind of fiction set in the city

Gongdou 宫斗 – court intrigue

Guanchang 官场 – stories of officialdom

Haiwai 海外 – literally “beyond the sea”, stories set outside China

Haomen 豪门 – tales of the rich and powerful

Heidao 黑道 – of gangs, gangsters and other entities operating outside the law

Jiakong 架空 – fictional universes and alternate realities

Jijia 机甲- mecha fic

Jingji 竞技 – “skills competition”, contest stories (usually but not always, sports)

Junshi 军事 – tales of the military, such as life in the army

Kehuan 科幻 – science fiction

Lingyi 灵异 – paranormal narratives

Meinan 美男 – “pretty boy” stories

Mohuan 魔幻 – tales of magic and fantasy

Muoshi 末世 – apocalyptic fiction

Nüzun 女尊 – female-oriented stories of female empowerment

Qihuan 奇幻 – fantasy that combines Eastern with Western mythological elements

Qingchun 青春 – youth novels

Quanmo 权谋 – power struggle

Sangshi 丧尸 – zombie fiction

Shangchang 商场 – business arena

Taikong 太空 – space fic

Tongren 同人 – fan fic

Tuili 推理 – tales of deduction

Tuwen 图文 – visual novel

Wangyou 网游 – fiction derived from on-line gaming

Wuxia 武侠 – briefly, stories of xiake heroes usually within a historical setting and the unique space of jianghu

Xiangtu 乡土- rustic tales

Xianxia 仙侠 – featuring xiake heroes within a traditional cultural and mythological setting, often borrows from old legends and involves the pursuit of Daoist ideals

Xiuzhen 修真 – xianxia stories with a focus on Daoist cultivation

Xuanhuan 玄幻 – fantasy based on Eastern culture and mythological elements

Xuanyi 悬疑 – suspense fiction

Xuanyuan 校园 – college stories

Yineng 异能 – superpower narratives

Yixing 异形 – tales of mutation

Youxi 游戏 – fiction based in a computer game world

Zhaidou 宅斗 – domestic intrigue

Zhichang 职场 – office novels

Zhiqing 知青 – stories of the Cultural Revolution



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