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Will Shuangwen arouse the literature "fast-food" culture in the world?

In the last century of 1987, China has welcomed its first food culture collision. The first KFC restaurant was open in Beijing. In 1990, McDonald's is following the former's step, entering China’s Market. The western fast-food culture has crashed into Chinese peoples’ life and gained large popularity till now. People's passion never fades, even most fast-food products are acknowledged widely as "Junk Food". They have somehow charm that makes people hard to reject.

Photo 1: The first KFC in China

Currently, in China's cultural industry, we also capture the "fast-food " consumption and culture there. And the culture is mainly linked with the popularizing of a new form of literature, Web Novels.

The prevailing of web novels is due to the development of the Internet, which enables more "Grass-root" writers to show their talents and create their own amazing stories in the virtual world. Shuangwen(爽文), which is a Chinese word used to describe the mainstream type of web novels appearing in the major novel websites. "Shuang"(爽) literally means cool and feel-good, whilst "wen"(文) refers to the article.

Typically, Shuangwen is characterized by a very smooth progression of the protagonist from the beginning of the novel to the end of the story. In traditional storytelling and narrative, the leading and key character usually goes through lots of setbacks and afflictions to be a strong person. For instance, you can think of American hero movies. In Shuangwen, the protagonist is surely confronted with difficulties, but he/she will get over it or defeat enemies with less-to-zero suffering and extremely good fortune and holy providence. The great joy created by effortlessly and instantly punishing or revenging wicked guys makes people feel immensely and addictively enjoyable.

Photo 2: The stage photo of My Heroic Husband

Two months ago, there was a Chinese drama called My Heroic Husband released on the Internet, which made an explosion in China. The drama was adapted and derived by a Shunagwen of the same name. Its story concentrates on a modern businessman who travels back to ancient times; he lands in the body of a man about to be married as a matrilocal husband into a family of cloth merchants. Being despised by his wife’s family, he begins incorporating modern methods and ideas to do business. His unrivaled strategy brings him success, status, fame, and money. Finally, he wins back the respect and honor from people. Before looking into it, you can already anticipate the joy that the drama will bring to you.

According to the figures from Maoyan(A Chinese platform providing a professional report for the movie and drama industry) and iQiyi (Chinese Netflix) and Guduo(A platform providing drama rankings), My Heroic Husband won all No.1 in the top-watching&top-searching rankings for several weeks. And In the first quarter(1.1~3.31) of the drama market(TV&Online), Enlightent Data shows that My Heroic Husband ranks No.1 in both market shares(8.22%) and play views(Double times than the No. 2).

Photo 3: The ranking of drama market shares in the first quarter of 2021

(data from Enlightent Data)

Photo 4: The ranking of drama play views in the first quarter of 2021

(data from Enlightent Data)

My Heroic Husband is not just exploding China, but also some foreign countries. Influenced by this drama, fans reproduce a foreign version of My Heroic Husband under the topic of matrilocal husband. Those short videos are like a virus that spreads around the young generation.

Photo 5: A quick shot of My Heroic Husband made by fans

Believe it or not, in the year 2017, a Hong Kong news agency, ifeng, has reported an American quitting drugging because of a Shuangwen called Coiling Dragon. The reader shared his story on Wuxia Wang, which is the biggest English website for Shuangwen stories, saying that:

And one day I was introduced to Coiling Dragon, immediately I fell in love. Once I got caught up with that I moved on to MGA, ATG and ISSTH etc... Basically, Wuxiaworld took up all my time and I was able to forget about wanting any drugs...

Actually, My Heroic Husband is not the first drama adapted by Shuangwen stories in China. There are many similar novels like Dou Luo Da Lu(Soul Land), Dou Po Cang Qiong(Battle Through the Heavens), adapted into online dramas series in the past few years.

Shuangwen is hot and popular in China’s cultural market not because it has a highly-appreciated value of art. When My Heroic Husband is heating in China, many negative comments come as well because of its poor, exaggerating, unrealistic, brainless plots, and less vivid and rigid characters, compared to those plots and characters in the traditional literature(Western and Eastern). That is the common failing for most Shuangwen.

We know that fast-food culture comes with American fast-paced life in the modern city. So does the Shuangwen. It pops up with the Chinese fast-paced life and fast consumption culture. Under the pressure from the fast-paced society and working, young people long for a release both in mental and spirits. And many desire success or even hold a fantasy that large gains made from less toiling. By diving into Shuangwen, their inner longing is completely satisfied in that fictitious world.

Reading is truly a good means of releasing pressure. While Shuangwen contents audiences and eases their mind, we cannot neglect its potential harms to traditional works of art. With the booming of Shuangwen culture on the Internet, it encourages more similar stories and discourages the creation of high-value and insightful stories.

We are not saying that Shuangwen has no value at all because it does apply literature techniques to make the stories look creative, attractive, impressive, and full of dramatic tension. Shuangwen also adequately uses classical Chinese language and customs. The fact is——good work needs crafting. It takes hours for Chinese chefs and French chefs to make a wonderful soup or different types of cuisine, which you will never find it happens in fast-food restaurants. By that logic, Shuangwen is a standardized product. Once a stereotype of Shuangwen is created, many new stories will implant the same framework and core concept by simply and slightly changing the characters and backgrounds. It's like making hamburgers, you can change the ingredients, but you still use two pieces of bread to wrap it and brand it.

Interestingly, in China, the more people resist Shuangwen Drama, the more popular it becomes. The worse it is, the more the audience liked it.

Photo 6: Qidian's poster for soliciting Chinese web novels

Whether you like it or not, Shuangwen is heading to its global market. In the previous months, Qidian(Literally "starting point"), which is China's biggest platform for web novel creation, was launching an event to solicit Chinese web novels to promote overseas. It is no doubt that Chinese "fast food" will bring joy to the world audience, but will it suit the taste of western readers and arouse a new literature trend in the world as KFC does successfully? No one knows.

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