My Publisher -- The Internet
(Boxun) My Publisher -- The Internet. By Yang Hengjun (杨恒均).
Let me tell you about my experience. From when I was very young, I wanted to be a writer. One can say that was my dream. Everybody knew that it was an unbounded glory to be a writer. All the people in China had given their bodies and souls to the Party and Chairman Mao. Old Mao also used his little red book, four or five natioanl newspapers and eight model operas to achieve the unprecedented and unrepeated: he tamed the most difficult group of human thinkers into uniformity.
In that age, if you can be a writer, or if you have the passion of Guo Moruo in praising the red sun, or if you have the lively pen to describe the shining golden boulevard of our utopia, you will bring glory to yourself and the three generations of your ancestors.
Times have changed. Although the reforms have caused the positions of writers to deteriorate to the point where they now have the same standing as prostitutes, I did not give up and I still wanted to be including in the ranks of writers.
I majored in international relations and international politics. When I graduated from university, I was assigned to work at a government department. I then worked at several more party and government departments. During my spare time, I liked to read foreign novels about politics and espionage and watch Hollywood hit movies. After seeing so much, I discovered a problem -- the great nation of China does not have any novels of this genre. This discovery astonished me. Weren't we always blaming the Americans for cultural invasion of the grand old Chinese civilization? Why can't we have similar works? When we look at the big Chinese movie productions, they are either about The First Emperor of Qin, or some Manchurian Emperor. When you write about the Chinese people, you have to hark back to ancient times. There has been some recent progress when Shakespeare is being adapted.
In the early 1990's, I got the idea of writing political novels and espionage novels. At the time, I wanted to begin with a novel about the government bureaucracy. No sooner did I get this idea then I wiped out the idea of having this idea. The reason is simple. I had been working in party and government departments and most of my friends work for government departments. While I know that if I wrote novels about politics and government, it will have greater depth than inexperienced writers can do (even if it is not necessarily better literature). Precisely because I know too much, I recognized clearly that even I wrote it, it would be hard to get it published. If I cannot get it published, then why should I bother?
So I held back. More than a decade passed by, and I did not lift my pen. I did not write a single word.
I learned about the Internet first in 1997. At the time, I used it mainly to read the news. After using the Internet for several years, I realized that the Internet is not only a new medium, but it is a platform through which you can express opinions (such as discussing at forums and making friends). Later on came the blog, which is a platform through which you can publish your own work. In so speaking, I have to thank Boxun. My first essay and some of the stories were all published at Boxun.
The appearance of the Internet changed me. When I found out that I could publish the works that I wrote on the Internet, my creative passion could no longer be reined in. In a short three year span, I continued to perform at work as required while using my spare time to write close to 2 million Chinese words in creative literature. My family and friends were shocked, and so was I. Several editors who read my works were stunned. One editor said, "What happened? It was like a flood had busted out in order for so much to be written. Were you holding back before?"
That cuts right to the point. I was holding back. I had all sorts of experiences, I had all sorts of ideas and I had all sorts of secretions inside my brain. I held back for ten or twenty years with nowhere to release them. Now that the Internet is here, what was I waiting for except to release them?
I write because I want to vent the ideas inside my head -- the so-called thoughts and viewpoints. I am an outsider insofar as literature is concerned. I don't pay careful attention to wording. I am even uncertain about basic grammar and I often have the punctuation marks in the wrong places. But I write because I have ideas inside my head. After toiling for two years, I was the first of the 1.3 million Chinese people to write a political espionage novel. I want to challenge, I want to challenge myself and I want to challenge the rulers who limit the writings of others and the writers who want to set limits for themselves.
A person with independent thinking and free will does not need too much talent in order to write. All one needs is a little bit of courage.
In the future, I will be writing about certain themes and topics that have not appeared yet in mainland China. I feel that the emergence of the Internet has given me convenience and opportunity. If you do not live off your writing and you do not have to count the deposits into your bank account even as you count the number of words that you write, you can treat the Internet as your publisher. Besides, in mainland China today, it is ill-advised to write politically-themed literature for the sake of either fame or fortune; you are more likely to get into trouble as a result.
The list of richest mainland Chinese writers was published. Yu Qiuyu headed the list with more than 10 million RMB. It makes you bitter when you compare that against the money that the lowest ranked mistress of ex-Shanghai party secretary Chen Liangyu made. You can wrack your brains out to quibble over some words, but a young pretty girl can get more with her mouth.
As for the matter of fame, I read earlier that a German said that most mainland literature (especially novels) is trash. I was angry. Doesn't this German know that the main culprit for creating this pile of trash was a certain German named Marx? Later on, someone said that this was not what that German originally meant. So let me add something to this: under the present publishing system in China, it is difficult to have any good works that touches upon literature per se, never mind great works. Meanwhile certain works that attempt to curry favor with those in power are not just trash, but they are poisonous trash.
As mentioned above, political literature that passed through censorship will generate neither fame nor fortune. Therefore, it is better to refuse to restrict yourself and instead you should liberate all the ideas inside your brain. Like those young Super Girls who sing if they want to sing, writers should write what they want to write and express what they want to express. I thank the virtual Internet, for giving each of us our own publisher.
I have said that even though my dream is to become a writer, I will not write on forever. A friend asked me when I will stop. I said when the freedom to publish arrives in China, I will stop writing and venting.
Why? The reason is very simple. There are so many creative talents among the 1.3 billion Chinese people and so many of them can write. If there is freedom of publishing in mainland China, my books can be published but who is going to read me? I don't have good literary style, I don't have the patience and I don't think deep enough -- I know what I am.
All I have right now is just a little bit of courage. In a country without freedom of speech and where speech can result in criminal charges, authentic writing requires a little bit of courage. Of course, conscience and love are needed as well.
I do not need to be too humble. As someone who switched into a job that he was not trained for, I am proud. If you enter "政治间谍小说" (=political espionage novel) into the Google search engine, you can see there is a new set of books (namely, my "Fatal" series which mainland Chinese readers love to read).
The first entry <Fatal Weakness> in the series was moderate and the mainland Chinese readers liked it. Three publishers signed contracts with me, but they were all annulled by censorship. The main reason for the cancellations was that the publishers' leaders were not sure if the national security staff would come knocking on the door. The other reason was that the book mentioned the name "National Security Ministry" and characterized it as an espionage agency which sends spies to the outside for the pursose of conducting espionage. The editors said, "This is a matter of principle. Our country denies on principle that it has an espionage agency, never mind sending spies overseas. Therefore, you cannot hint that there is an intelligence service in China."
Every country has an espionage agency and every country sends spies outside. No country ever admits that. But similarly, not many countries ban the mention of such matters in literary works. This is a unique Chinese characteristic. So a country which sends out the largest number of spies says that it does not have an espionage agency. As a result, Chinese readers were completely cut off from the genre of political espionage from China and have to be stuck with reading political espionage novels written by foreigners all the thing. This is the most absurd thing in the world.
Finally, I want to say that after I understood the multiple functions and capabilities of the Internet, I believe that it is wrong to keep silent, especially for those intellectuals with conscience and independence. Before Deng Xiaoping came to power, the Chinese literati and writers could not afford to keep silent. You must express your position, you must seriously read the books of Chairman Mao, you must turn in works that reflect the contemporary voices and keeping silent was not an option. I am sympathetic towards the writers of that era, and I have more pity than disgust with those intellectuals who praised the red sun against their conscience.
After the reforms began, China showed some progress. At least you are no longer compelled to write what you did not want to write. If you cannot make a living, you can change occupation to become a businessman or set up a curbside stall to sell tea-leaf eggs or whatever. You did not have to write something that is against your conscience, or even cause harm to other people. Furthermore, as hard as the Beijing authorities are suppressing freedom of speech without pause, they are running out of tricks. Their current control on publishing is limited to controlling the publishing houses and they are failing to reach the broad mass of readers. At this time, excellent works are appearing through the publisher known as the Internet. At least, this is what I hope.
Will the emergence of the Internet cause the age of free creative writing to come forth earlier? Will it bring out more independent writers? These phenomena already exist. The good works that I have read all came from the Internet, included the numerous works by the audience members who are listening to my speech today.
Finally, I want to offer a prayer. I thank the heavens for giving me that little bit of courage to write. I thank Bill Gates' software for enabling me to write 10,000 words a day. I thank the virtual Internet for becoming my publisher. I also thank the Internet for letting me read so many excellent works and get to know the audience members here today. Of course, I want to thank the Beijing authorities personally on my own behalf because without their strong suppression of freedom of publishing, I would never have become the first political espionage novelist in China ...