Zhang Wei has made his fortune from the internet. He is China’s wealthiest –“an online fantasy writer who earned 110 million yuan (over $16 million) in royalties last year”– and most prolific internet novelist sees room for ‘boundless imagination’ in digital fiction.
The Sixth Tone wrote:
The staggering amount — more than “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin’s estimated annual income of $15 million — most recently earned the 35-year-old Beijinger the top spot in a ranking of China’s richest online writers for the fourth year running.
Born in 1956 in the small seaside town of Longkou, Shangdong Province, in Mainland China, Zhang Wei spent his early years in a forested area in Shangdong Province. Much under the influence of his family, he began writing at an early age. He published his long poem “Visiting the Bugler” when he was seventeen.
In order to escape his family’s political difficulties he left home to wander the Shandong peninsula alone for many years. In 1979 he was enrolled in the Chinese Department of Yantai Normal Institute of Shangdong Province to study creative writing.
Since then he has published over seventy individual volumes of various kinds of writings, including novels, poems, prose, and essays. A conscientious and assiduous writer, Zhang has shadings of strong romanticism and idealism in addition to a nearly mystical affection for nature.
In 1982 he won his first national literary prize. Since then he has been awarded more than thirty important national and international literary prizes. This has made him one of China’s most influential and most prominent authors.
In 1987, while serving as vice-chairman of the Shandong Writer’s Association and vice-chairman of the United Youth Association, Zhang was appointed vice-mayor of Longkou, the city of his birth.
However, not long after that Zhang left the position of his own accord, and moved to live in a small cottage on the outskirts of Longkou. He lived there with his aged mother for over five years. During that time he submerged himself primarily in writing September’s Fable, a novel that has significant impact on the Chinese literary scene.
Zhang began to write online novels in 2004. “In my opinion, internet fiction is the simplest form of spiritual enjoyment accessible to the general public. My readers come from all walks of life, and read internet fiction to relax in their spare time,” he told the Sixth Tone.
“If a writer expects loyalty from their readers, they must first be loyal to their readers. My team organizes a lot of interactive events with fans on platforms such as microblogging platform Weibo, messaging app WeChat, and Baidu’s forum community Tieba,” he said.
Concentrating on writing, Zhang has always avoided publicity and associations. He rarely makes public appearances. Among the heavyweight Chinese authors he is perhaps the only “hermit.”
But Zhang has always been the focal point of the Chinese literary scene. Every three or four years since 1984, the Chinese literary circle has had a round of discussion and debate over Zhang and his writings.
Given his importance, it would be hard to imagine contemporary Chinese literature without Zhang Wei.
[Photo credit: Sixth Tone]