The latest addition to China’s thirty centuries of literary tradition sports a tousled fringe and a taste for the type of clothing accessory once favoured by US diva Madonna. But 25 year-old Guo Jingming is also China’s richest author for the second year in a row. In 2008 he had an estimated royalty income of Rmb13 million ($1.9 million).
Guo, the son of middle class parents from the southern city of Zigong, hit the literary big time in 2004 with City Of Fantasy, the story of an ice prince forced to kill his younger brother. The novel went on to sell more than 1.5 million copies. Guo then published Never Flowers In Never Dreams and Cry Me A Sad River, both of which also sold well.
Eschewing faux modesty in an interview with Beijing News, Guo highlighted a “psychological understanding” that “far exceeds” his contemporaries as the basis of his literary achievement. Some think he has a point. His novels, which concentrate on melancholic characters prone to brooding, have a huge following amongst the under-twenties. As such, his writing is said to strike a chord with China’s one-child generation.
Tosh, say Guo’s critics. They think his days in the limelight will be brief ones, regarding Guo more as a celebrity in the Pop Idol ilk than as an author worth much critical bother. A feature in last year’s New York Times also emphasised his celebrity appeal, grouping him with writers like 25 year-old professional car racer Han Han, who has thrilled his own adolescent fan club with novels mocking China’s educational system.
Recent newspaper reports on Guo’s diversification into a range of entertainment projects suggest that the author is keen to cash-in on his current status.
He is also careful to cultivate his public persona. Brand Guo is clearly somewhat high maintenance; the New York Times interviewer reported that she was unable to get his photo as, with only an hour to prepare, he felt unable to deliver an image in keeping with his fans’ expectations.
But, along with the plaudits, Guo has faced his share of brickbats, especially in winning the Golden Crow award as China’s most hated celebrity three years running, as voted for by members of a Tianya online forum. Deservedly so, say his harsher critics, pointing to the author’s refusal to apologise after a December 2004 court case in which he was fined Rmb210,000 for plagiarising the work of a fellow author. According to the plaintiff Zhuang Yu, Never Flowers In Never Dreams shared 15 major plot elements and 57 similarities of plot and sentence structure with her own work.
Where does the ambitious Guo go next? He has recently signed contracts to deliver film scripts and produce musical lyrics, so he is not resting on his literary laurels.
He is also now something of an industry veteran, especially in comparison to authors like Yang Yang, who sold the rights to his first book The Magic Violin for $150,000 in 2004.
Yang Yang was then nine years old.
Keeping track: In WiC1 we first profiled Guo Jingming, China’s richest novelist. This year the writer, who is most famous for his teenage-targeted literature, once again tops the Rich List of Chinese Writers, having earned Rmb24.5 million in copyright fees. The 28 year-old is followed on the list by authors Nanpai Sanshu (he made Rmb15.8 million) and Zheng Yuanjie (Rmb12 million). China News Net says all three seem to share one thing in common: they all have a large fan base among teenagers.
“Currently, readers in China are mainly composed of young people from 8 to 18 years old, who want to gain new knowledge, get to know society and widen their experience through reading,” says Li Bo, a publisher. “Seven of the top 10 writers on this year’s list made their fortunes from juvenile readers, which set a record for this kind.” (Dec 2, 2011)
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