Qiushi Journal

China's Teenage Writing Boom

From: China Today

Updated:2011-12-31 10:47

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As the debate and attention surrounding China's twenty-something writers has barely faded, the limelight of the nation's publishing world is now shining on their even younger peers. The People's Literature, the PRC's first literature magazine and known as the "cradle of Chinese writers," recently launched a writing competition for the "post-1990," the generation born in the 1990s. Though the results will not be known until next April, the event has already attracted a good deal of public attention.


Young writer and car racer Han Han was among the 2010 Time 100. 

Teenage Writers No Rarity

Currently, an increasing number of adolescent writers are emerging in China. Books written by middle and even primary school students are constantly published, with some even becoming bestsellers. "More than half of my classmates can write novels and are doing it," said Tian Xiaorui, an 11-year-old primary school student in Beijing who herself had a book published this year.

Although child writers have existed in China since ancient times, until now they have failed to make an impact. "One of the reasons that explains why young writers have not flourished is the fact that few adults tend to listen to children," remarked Yu Lei, a supervisor of Young Writers Branch of the Chinese Writers Association and chief of the National Children's Literature Institute of Kunming College. But in recent years this has been changing, and the works of "child writers" have taken up about 10 percent of the whole literature market.

Professor Wu Meizhen, director of the Children's Literature Center of Anhui University who also runs a column in a children's magazine, has received a mass of contributions from children. In 2009, she began to work on a series of collected works by primary school students. "At first, the publishing house had some doubts about the popularity of child-written books," Wu said. One year later, 100,000 copies of the first book have been printed, and sales have been brisk.

Voices of a Generation

Jiang Fangzhou, a member of the judging panel of The People's Literature's "post-1990" competition, was herself once a prominent child writer. Born in 1989, Jiang published her first collection of essays at nine, started her first novel at 11, and by 12 she had became a columnist for several newspapers. When she was 15 she won first prize of the Chinese Adolescent Writers Cup, and the following year she was elected the first president of China's Adolescent Writers Association.

Ten years ago, 12-year-old Jiang published her second book Growing, depicting the physical and psychological growth experienced by the young generation.

Most people were astonished when they first read the book, unable to believe that a 12-year-old girl could talk of controversial issues like puppy love, extramarital affairs and homosexuality using such thoughtful language. Many readers admire her lively imagination and attentive observation of everyday life from the perspective of children of her age.

"Do not underestimate children. It's normal to find that they know all about the adult world," said famous writer Chen Cun, adding that it is thus wiser to let children write their own world than letting adults do the job.

Kids definitely love the idea. Meng Xiangning, a high school student in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, complained that many novels about adolescents have slighted the post-1990 generation. "The adult writers of those novels don't really understand us and our true inner world. They just intend to amaze readers with startling, unbelievable and novel things about teenagers," said Meng, who published her first work in the sixth grade and recently published a semi-autobiographical novel called Growing Like Sunflowers.

She felt obligated to write a book about the "normal" "post-1990" generation so that people could understand how the young generation thinks about the world. "Adults can see our dreams and sense of responsibility if they have the patience to listen to us and observe us," Meng explained.

In a country with hundreds of millions of people still living in poverty, the "post-1990" phenomenon is actually limited to the well-educated middle-class families in urban China. Since the 1970s, each new decade has brought a vastly different environment for children to grow up in: The generation of the 1970s grew up in a society that had just gone though the turmoil of the "cultural revolution." That of the 1980s has enjoyed the successes brought by China's reform and opening-up. The 1990s generation live in an era of greater opportunities but also much fiercer competition.

"We're burdened with our families' and our nation's dreams. But whoever thinks about and respect our dreams?" asked Tang Chao, a young writer of the same age of Meng Xiangning who wrote the novel I Want My Dreams Back, his second, at 15. The book quickly topped the bestsellers in bookstores after publication.

"As the only children in our families, we often fear loneliness," said Fei Fei, a 15-year-old writing enthusiast. She sympathizes with the feelings Tang Chao described in one of his works: "I feel completely drained. When I was still nurtured in my mother's womb, I received antenatal training; before I was old enough to speak, various works of classical music pieces filled my ears; when I started to talk, I was encouraged to recite poems; at only four, I began to play the piano and my hands ached with playing for long periods; when I reached five, I was sent to an English class; at six, I enrolled at primary school. As time goes by, my schoolbag get heavier and heavier, and the thoughts I have left about the world get fewer and fewer."

A Means for a Healthy Lifestyle

"Writing is a universal impulse for children, an urge to convey their thoughts and reveal their true state of living," said Yang Peng, the only writer in Asia authorized by Disney to write stories about Mickey Mouse. He believes that, children, a vulnerable group, have the right to express their inner thoughts, and that their works are also needed by the society.

In Prof. Wu Meizhen's opinion, self-expression through writing is beneficial to children's growth and can help them exercise their creativity. "It's also healthy for children to convey their hopes and give vent to their negative moods," she explained.

Publications by children can also serve as teaching materials for parents and educators, offering them insight into the fickle and sensitive world of minors and helping them to amend their approaches to their young charges.

Child writer Bian Jinyang has been hailed in Korea as the next J.K. Rowling. He published his first novel The Magic Time Piano at age nine, which became the top bestseller the month it was released. However, before his gift in writing was recognized, the boy was, like millions of Chinese children nowadays, pressed to spend long hours on learning a musical instrument everyday. The one his mother Yang Zunhong chose for him was violin, which the boy had no interest. In silent protest he mutilated his violin with a dart and plucked out the strings. Yang only realized the harm she had done her son and their relationship when she read the character Mom Tiger in The Magic Time Piano, who constantly forces her child to do things against his will.

The success of teenage writers has prompted the public to rethink China's educational system. Many Chinese still remember the sensation caused by a 2000 newspaper report titled "A Child Novelist Only in the Passing Grade of a Chinese Language Exam." The young writer referred to was Han Han, then a high school student who had just published his first novel Triple Gate. Ironically, earlier that year he was judged a failure by the education system after failing exams in seven subjects and was required to suspend his schooling.

Han Han first came to prominence in 1999, when, at 16, he participated in the first national New Concept Writing Competition. Showing overwhelming superiority to thousands of other articles, all three of the essays he entered won awards, guaranteeing his champion spot in landslide vote.

Dubbed the "writing Olympics for middle school students," this annual competition is intended to inspire a passion for writing among children and provide a chance for talented adolescents like Han Han to display their brilliance in writing. "They have expressed the young generation's hopes and woes," Mo Yan, a famous writer, remarked of the competition's participants, all of them being only children. These young writers are eager to be listened to and understood as they are learning to take care of themselves, building their dreams and beliefs, and simply growing up.

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