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Guide to reading Chinese fiction, from absolute beginner to beyond HSK 6


MoonIvy
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On 1/26/2022 at 12:25 AM, Publius said:

Yet they aim to one day read like a native. When in Rome... use hand gestures, is all I'm saying.

Surely how someone learned (past tense) characters is irrelevant if they know (present tense) them really well?

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@phillsThe ranks are actually already marked higher than what I've found people can tolerate. Many months ago, I never would have recommended even trying native webnovels till one knowns around 2.8k-3k, but learners with much lower character knowledge have read some and have found it okay. Now I would actually recommend specific webnovels that I know are generally easier. 

 

The right content and tools is plays a big part. There are some webnovels (especially modern, slice of life) that are pretty accessible to someone with around 2k - 2.5k character, with the help of a pop up dictionary. Many readers I know use Readibu to read their webnovels, and they don't find looking up words too problematic. 

 

I actually have extremely low tolerance of unknown words. For the me, ideally everything would be 98% but that can't always be helped, so I can tolerance a lower % at the beginning of a webnovel. I usually try a webnovel for a few days, and if I still find it too painful, I would drop it and find something else. There are billions of webnovels out there, there will definitely be something easier. 

Are you reading physical books? As you read in the document, I read with a popup dictionary app. If I have to read a physical books, there's no way I could tolerate anything below 99%, even looking up one unknown character is a pain. I put off reading manhua for almost 2 years because I didn't want to deal with manually looking up unknown words. I think apps like Readibu play in a big part in one's tolerance. 

 

I personally haven't read 活着 so I can't speak from my own experience, I've just heard from others that 活着 is actually harder than some webnovels. Apparently some webnovels are even easier than some children's content I've recommended people. 

Having said that, 3,500 characters is no way near enough to read all different novels (comfortably without a dictionary). Take a look at https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/e/2PACX-1vTRuZcZySCSm6NRzXpXKbjp6KX5vWlqndQVNNYsmvpE9nJNpcYC9G-A8nt2BVhPdc8vzg6BRz2HuYyx/pubhtml# it's a spreadsheet myself and other readers are putting together. There are so many with easily over 3.5k characters like 神医凰后, which has around 4,250 unique characters. 

I think one needs around 5,000 to read everything. Even just 5,000 isn't enough, one needs experience in the genre as well. Especially novels in the 武侠,仙侠,玄幻,古代,科幻 genre, it can be a whole different level of hard. However there are definitely some easier ones like 修真聊天群 which is modern 仙侠, and it is 100 times easier than ancient 仙侠. So there are definitely ways one can start to step into particular genres, just finding the right webnovel in the world of billions is the difficult part. 

Maybe you could try stepping into the world of webnovels? I would actually be interested in your thoughts on some of the webnovels. I find I'm the only one that can't tolerate too many unknown words and everyone else seems fine with it, it seems that you're similar to me so would love to know your opinion and experience.

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@MoonIvyRight now I'm focusing on listening, but when I get back to reading, I'll be checking out some web novels. Which is why I found your guide very interesting!

 

I read on a computer, but I don't use a pop-up dictionary, so that's probably why.  A pop-up dictionary would lower the Reading Pain levels significantly.

 

And I had a similar experience with manhua.  It's easier to read, but because the text is in graphical form, it's much harder to look stuff up.  At least if you're just browsing manhua sites, without some type of dedicated app.  Fortunately, you don't have to understanding everything to progress.

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@phillsLater when you get into webnovels, you can use the Chrome extension to help you out. Can't wait to hear about your experience and see what webnovels you end up reading and discovering.

Talking about listening, I'm actually in the process of writing a similar guide for listening (with @Fithen and others), with the ultimate goal of listening to audiobooks. Your other post on listening to audiobook, partly inspired me to start something.
 

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Could you say more about what "webnovels" are?  Are they self-published junk or quality novels?

 

I ask because the term evokes for me the self-published junk you get on Kindle Unlimited in English.  I will not read novels that do not come out from a major publisher because the self-published stuff is way too slipshod and low-quality for my taste.  I don't mean novels need to be literary for me, but they do need to be literate.

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On 1/26/2022 at 12:56 PM, Moshen said:

Could you say more about what "webnovels" are?  Are they self-published junk or quality novels?

Chinese webnovels are self-published and serialised. Serialise means they get publish chapter by chapter over a period of time. There are many huge platforms where anyone can published a webnovel. Some authors will end up getting contracts with the publishing platform where they can only publish their work on said platform. Most authors will release a new chapter once a day, and many are very very long (over 1k chapters).

 

The Chinese webnovel culture is massive now, so you'll find that most modern fiction are webnovels or was once a webnovel. The popular webnovels will get published into physical books by a publisher. I'm not sure if these will also get published as ebooks or not. I'm also not sure if the author then updates their web version to be the same as the edited published version. 

Quality wise, it massively varies and depends on the author as well. I've dropped some webnovels before because the quality was just terrible, typos, mistakes everywhere. I'm also read some that's amazing, beautifully written webnovels. 

 

Some authors will sometimes go back and massively edit their finished webnovel if they're unhappy with the result.

 

Majority of manga, anime, tv adapations are from webnovels. 

 

I believe 三体 started out as a webnovel as well. Other famous recent work are 全职高手 (The King's Avatar),修真聊天群 (Cultivation chat group),诡秘之主 (Lord of Mysteries),罗斗大陆 (Soul Land),天道图书馆 (Library of Heaven's Path). Not sure if you've heard of Jin Yong (famous Hong Kong wuxia author), his work all started as self publish serialised novels via newpapers, before the days of the internet. 

So to answer your questions, both. You can't get away from it as this is the current Chinese fiction culture. 

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On 1/26/2022 at 2:41 PM, MoonIvy said:

The Chinese webnovel culture is massive now, so you'll find that most modern fiction are webnovels or was once a webnovel. (...) You can't get away from it as this is the current Chinese fiction culture. 

I don't have the numbers (of titles, copies, readers or revenue) but I still think you're mistaken here. There is a huge landscape of literary novels and short stories in China that has nothing to do with web novels. There are countless literary magazines where both new and established authors publish short stories and new novels appear all the time with one of the many, many publishing houses. No doubt web novel culture is big and popular, but to talk about it as if it is the only game in town is misleading.

 

三体, according to Wikipedia, started out on paper as well: 'The first volume of The Three-Body Problem was first serialized in Science Fiction World between May and December 2006.' Serialization in newspapers and magazines has a long and venerable history in Chinese literature, and brought forth people like Lu Xun, Jin Yong and Sanmao.

 

Apart from that, thanks for the explanation! Clearly there is a whole world of reading out there to dive into.

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Just want to add that some of the best selling books as well as hit movies and TV series began their lives as webnovels - 鬼吹灯, 盗墓笔记, 明朝那些事儿, 香蜜沉沉烬如霜, 第一次亲密接触 (Taiwan), 告白 (Japan) off the top of my head.

 

But as MoonIvy says, the quality varies massively.

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@Luthanks for clarifying! My mistake, shouldn't have worded it like that. I meant it in a way that webnovels are just much easier for us (those that don't live in China) to access novels. Buying physical books is a massive hurdle, and I don't know where I can purchase ebooks either. My Amazon store is super limited :( There is a Chinese book store in the city, and they sell about 100 fiction books and nothing of my interest.

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On 1/26/2022 at 2:15 PM, Publius said:

鬼吹灯, 盗墓笔记,

ah I forgot about these two! Both on 起点 I believe. And yes...that quality of some are just....I can't believe the author manage to write 500 chapters of this rubbish, and people still read it all, and leave comments that it's amazing!! Sometimes it's so bad that the names of characters are mixed up!

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I imagine that readership numbers for webnovels - including books that began as online seralisations - must now hugely outweigh those for more 'literary' fiction? I think that was true of the most popular 19th century novels in England (like Jin Yong, paper based of course....)

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It'll be interesting to see some numbers on webnovels vs traditional publish literature in China. I just get the feeling webnovels massively outweights everything else, all my family in China reads webnovels (that's one reason I got into it), maybe it's the ease of access for them? Almost every TV shows, anime, manga are adapted from webnovels or the publish novel was once a webnovel. 

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Webnovel is also big in Japan. The best known site is probably 小説家になろう (Let's become a novelist) where practically anyone with a keyboard can write novels for everyone else to read. If you're really really good at it, you win awards and get contracts from publishers and become professional writers. Some of these newer generation writers (住野よる、川村元気) outsell traditional writers such as 村上春樹 or 東野圭吾. That's quite something.

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That's pretty impressive. I assume Chinese webnovel authors probably make quite a bit of money too, with all these adaptations of their webnovels they must be loaded? 

Something like 魔道祖师 has almost every adaptation (I think), audiobook, audio drama, manhua, donghua, tv drama, there's even a game coming out soon! 

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That's very true, and 3k chapters later...that's a lot of money from a lot of readers. I have a friend has been following some webnovels for many years, and they currently on around 10k chapters, and she pays the full price on 起点 to read it as soon as it's released.

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On 1/26/2022 at 10:36 PM, realmayo said:

I think that was true of the most popular 19th century novels in England (like Jin Yong, paper based of course....)

 

Like Charles Dickens, Sherlock Holmes, Count of Monte Cristo.  Web novels in China seem like the equivalent of newspaper serials back then, except like everything China + also everything internet, it has a huge range in quality between the top and bottom.

 

https://booksonthewall.com/blog/serial-novel-a-brief-history/

 

The most intimidating aspect to me it is just how looooong everything is.  Because the serial nature clearly encourages stretching things out.  3k chapters?  3k sentences might be the length of a normal short-ish novel.  The longest book I've read so far has 60 chapters.

 

@MoonIvyThanks for the ranking site.  It looks like mostly click / sales / bookmark rates.  Are there any common ranking methods other than popularity?

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On 1/27/2022 at 1:14 PM, phills said:

The most intimidating aspect to me it is just how looooong everything is.  Because the serial nature clearly encourages stretching things out.  3k chapters?  3k sentences might be the length of a normal short-ish novel.  The longest book I've read so far has 60 chapters.

Lol not as long as you think. It's usually 2-3k chars per chapter, what an average writer writes in one day.

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