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Woes of China's Literary Magazines

Bosses of some 60 literary magazines, including The People’s Literature, The Contemporary Era, Shiyue (October), Zhongshan, Skyline, Buds, met at the end of 2003 in Zhengzhou, the capital city of central China’s Henan Province, brainstorming reform of their products.


China publishes nearly 900 literary magazines out of a total of over 9,000 periodicals. But as is now reported, only 1/10th of them are still doing well.




Many participants criticized the management of literary magazines at the symposium for the failure to respond to a changing market.


The current personnel management of literary journals have many problems, says the editor-in-chief of the Prose of a Hundred Schools magazine, Jia Xingan.


“First, chief editors are appointed by governing bodies of magazines or some government officials. As a result, in most cases, seniority enjoys top priority in such personnel maneuvers and many retired officials who are ignorant of literature are given the posts of editor-in-chief. Second, some writers become editors-in-chief after they become prominent. Chief editors with such backgrounds are sometimes biased, narrow-minded or weak in managerial capability and tend to form charmed circles around them.”


Booming literary periodicals have long hurt the interests of originally creative magazines, says editor-in-chief of the Vernacular Story Paper, Wang Aiying.


“Selection magazine editors toss off blockbusters with stupendous ease and speed  just because they can freely pluck work from original creations. Now it’s time to impose a tight rein on them,” says Wang.


Some literary magazines waver over who should be their target readers and eventually lose old readers a well as new ones.


Due to lack of funds, editors of many literary journals can neither travel to talk with writers nor pay high contribution fees for first-class work. Many of them take to the marketplace to solicit ads or seek other financial support.




Zhang Shengyou, head of the Writers Press, says that while heavyweight literary journals such as the Beijing-based October, Contemporary Era, Selected Stories, the Tianjin-based Story Monthly and the Shanghai-based Harvest have, and will continue to, dominate the market of literary magazines in China, some youthful newcomers, such as the Henan-based Selected Mininovels, the Shanghai-based Buds and the Guangdong-based Foshan Literature, have been able to go shares with those old-brand magazines in the market.


Yang Xiaomin, the editor-in-chief of the Selected Mininovels says that literary journals should strike a balance between market and art, that is to say, they should guide readers to lofty ideas while catering to their tastes because highbrow art loses readers and vulgar works hurts the market.


Participants at the meeting also propose their ideas on how to survive the recent crisis faced by literary magazines.


Wang Yanling, the deputy editor of the Skyline magazine says that they took up the issue in 1996. He says his magazine has laid stress on popular literature to win back readers.


Other participants suggested more brand protection and capital introduction for literary journals.




Authorities of the prosperous southeast China province of Jiangsu recently decided to withdraw official financial subsidies for all its literary magazines represented by Zhongshan and Rain Flower.


The Jiangsu move is the first of its kind in China and triggers a debate among participants of the Zhengzhou meeting.


Zhang Bohai, president of the China Periodical Association, says that it’s too hasty to withdraw financial support for literary magazines as there is no immediate clear-cut distinction between magazines that deserve financial support and those that don’t at this early stage of reform of China’s cultural industry. He says financial support should continue to cover all literary magazines for the time being.


And yet Zhang Shengyou disproves of this view, saying that withdrawal of governmental financial aids to literary journals is inevitable and all of them have to face a change of fate sometime.


He urges literary magazines to reform and stay close to readers’ needs in order to survive in the market.


“There are only two results: some magazines will take the initiative and survive and perhaps thrive and others staying in a rut will perish.”


At present, Chinese literary journals generally have three expectations after government financial aid has gone: they can find new investors, join news /publishing groups or lower their posture to meet mass tastes.


(China.org.cn by Chen Chao and Daragh Moller, January 13, 2004)

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