Chinese online literature starts new chapter overseas



After more than two decades of development, Chinese online literature has not only become one of the pillar resources of the pop culture market in China, but it is also an important way for people from different cultures to learn about each other, and communicate in the comment sections.

According to a recent report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the overseas market value of Chinese online literature has surpassed 4 billion yuan ($554.59 million). By the end of 2023, about 410,000 overseas writers created around 620,000 original works on the international platforms of Chinese online literature, which attracted 230 million readers from more than 200 countries and regions. Readers from the United States made up the biggest proportion.

For years, Chinese online literary works were translated by fans and published on websites like Wuxiaworld, but these translations progressed too slowly, so some eager readers had to use translation tools. In 2017, to provide a solution to the translation of literature, Funstory.ai was founded. To date, the company has helped to translate more than 7,000 online novels with artificial intelligence.

At the end of 2019, Webnovel, the international platform of the China Literature Group, one of the leading online literature providers in the country, started posting online novels translated by AI and launched a function that allows readers to revise translations, which can help to upgrade AI.

With AI, Chinese online literary works and their adaptations can enter the international market more quickly and at a lower cost.

As quoted in the report, Tong Ye, chief executive officer of Funstory.ai, says that AI can make translation 3,600 times more efficient, and cut down cost by 99 percent.

At the China Literature Group, translation speed has dramatically increased from more than 10 chapters per day to hundreds of chapters per day, and costs have dropped by 90 percent. AI can translate online novels into languages including English, Spanish, Indonesian, Portuguese, German, French, Japanese and Chinese.

Since 2023, Webnovel has been advancing its translation mode — cooperation between humans and the machine. In this mode, the translations of Suming Zhihuan (Circle of Inevitability), which was first released in Chinese in March 2023, have become the second-most-read work from China. The English translation of Spanish online novel The Duke’s Masked Wife has also become popular.

“Currently, the translation quality of online literature is not even, especially when target languages are minority languages,” says Wu Yiqin, a member of the National Committee of the 14th Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and vice-president of China Writers Association. “Due to a lack of minority language data, AI can’t translate very accurately and the quality can’t be guaranteed.”

Wu Yiqin, vice-president of China Writers Association [Photo provided to China Daily]

Wu Yiqin, vice-president of China Writers Association [Photo provided to China Daily]

At this year’s two sessions, he submitted a proposal about ways to further promote the healthy development of Chinese online literature industry in the global markets.

The solution he proposed is to promote cooperation between academic institutions and companies in the research and development of AI translation technology, with political and financial support from the government.

Meanwhile, it is also important to accelerate resource integration and the building of a unified standard to enhance the multilingual capacity of AI to guarantee language style, cultural connotations and localization to improve the general quality, he says.

Apart from translations, adaptations of Chinese online novels are also attracting more people overseas.

For example, the second season of Joy of Life, adapted from an online novel and one of the most eagerly anticipated TV dramas on Tencent Video this year, will be distributed exclusively by Disney in overseas markets.

A video game adapted from the popular online novel Battle Through the Heavens saw quarter-on-quarter user growth of 118 percent in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand in the fourth quarter last year.

The lucrative potential of Chinese online literary intellectual property leads to copyright infringement problems overseas.

As a result, another big challenge for the international development of the Chinese online literature industry involves the protection of intellectual property.

Currently, copyright infringement issues are frequent in overseas markets, causing significant losses to creators and Chinese online content providers overseas, Wu writes in the proposal.

“Cross-border copyright transactions are difficult to prove, and it’s challenging to monitor infringing content. Some foreign publishers are private and not under government control, making it very difficult to protect rights,” he says.

In addition, some countries have not yet reached a consensus on intellectual property protection, and there are no agreements for mutual recognition and enforcement in judicial jurisdictions, resulting in significant costs and pressure for Chinese companies to protect their rights overseas.

Wu suggests that regulatory authorities and industry associations should fully utilize their guiding and coordinating roles to improve cross-border copyright protection mechanisms.

Regulatory authorities can promote exchange and cooperation in the cultural industry with other countries through official channels, sign bilateral or multilateral copyright protection agreements, and strengthen international copyright protection for the Chinese online literature industry, he says.

“Industry associations can also establish a unified information sharing platform to collect and analyze international copyright infringement cases, alert member units to pay attention to prevention, and provide professional copyright protection services when necessary,” he says.