The best equivalent to think of for Westerners (of which I am one, so apply salt to taste) is something like Mills & Boon romantic fiction.
It doesn't have to be good. It just has to tick certain genre requirements and clear a very low quality threshold and it'll sell.
But in the long run, no one will be reading the rubbish in a hundred years time. But the works with real merit, that really capture, challenge or transform the genre will survive and still be popular for years.
So if 99% is hot, steaming garbage, don't worry about it. There's enough of it that the good stuff will survive.
FlerpDooseMish Wrote: A bit less of a debate, and more of a rant.
I'm honestly sick and tired of most Chinese manhua/webnovels. The vast majority are a pile of hot garbage, both in terms of art (for manhua) and story (for both manhua and webnovels).
I mean, take Tales of Demons and Gods. I used to love the series (I read the manhua), but it just gradually became the one of the most generic and trashy self fulfillment series I've read. They basically threw out the plot and character development for "omg MC is so cool and arrogant" and "omg MC is so hot and smart, I wanna jump on his dong".
Like, compared to Japanese and Korean series, there's just such a large discrepancy between the amount of good series and bad series.
At this point the only good martial arts manhua/manhwa I've read are all Korean Murim series. Basically none of the Chinese series even come close to those series' art and story.
Anyone else noticed something like this? Or am I just crazy lol.
TLDR: Most Chinese Wuxia/Xianxia series are trashy self fulfillment series with bad art, while a good bunch of Korean Murim series have both amazing art and good stories.
Junior you dare! Clearly you have eyes and cannot see Mt Tai, so you fail to realize the immensity of heaven and earth.
There's plenty of generic Japanese isekai with nothing but wish fulfillment protag's written for people with the emotional maturity of an early adolescent, and those are just as much trash as a Xuanhuan novel.
I'm not terribly familiar with Korean web novels, but I'm sure they have a genre with similar features.
Stratothrax Wrote: I've always hesitated to give an opinion on this kind of thing, it just feels like a lot is lost in translation due to various translation and cultural reasons and it's impossible to know as an outsider if the story I'm reading is actually bad or if I'm just not getting the real vibe it was going for in the untranslated version
This. It's amazing how much can get lost in translation. Even most literary classics I've ever read translated to my first tongue have been dreary as hell.
Then you have the endless tropes Japan never EVER lets go of.
The important positions are all filled with high schoolers. Spend a season learning about a genius scientist that blew the entire industry away, and in Japan, that person will be a high schooler.
Then there's the dense harem protagonist. The ridiculous nonsensical romantic relationships that have no place in reality. Almost NOTHING in Japan's romantic shounen genre can be called anything other than cartoonish.
There's also the absolute definitions of good and evil in Japan. If a character reveals themselves to have even the slightest moral problem that strays from the Japanese norm, that person is a murderer psycho evil abomination who yearns for the suffering of others.
With Chinese Wuxia however, it's more that the authors are developing. Some are better than others just like with RR. There aren't any intractable problems with Chinese literature like there is with Japan's. Japan is literally stuck in its way and refuses to change at all. They know they have those problems and they haven't the slightest intentions of fixing them.
William Faulkner once said, "The problems of the human heart, in conflict with itself, is the only thing worth writing about."
Many know this saying.
What many do not know is what he said after that, and many of these Xiaxia stories woefully fall into the trap that he warned of. They do not "write about love or lust, but of defeats in which nobody loses anything of value, of victories without hope, and without pity or compassion...It is not writing of the heart but of the glands."
And therein lies the problem with so many of these stories. The premise of Xiaxia is, indeed, predictable. You know what is going to happen, overall, the moment you see the genre. Xiaxia usually follows a predictable path in that regard. However, Xiaxia can still be interesting stories if they are written correctly. Xiaxia itself is not bad.
But so many aren't written well. They ignore the human heart, the most important part of writing well. Then they ignore the world (and the setting is the second most important thing). And then when they have done this, the main character becomes nothing more than a fantasy of the mind that is reading - where everything real has been taken away and all that is left is a hopeless individual wishing they were something more, and living that "more" vicariously through the character. And that is sad.
The country of China (mind you - I am not talking about people of Chinese ethnicities, the two are not the same) is currently in a cultural mindset that most of the world has already left behind. It is highly nationalistic and exceptionally dangerous. It crushes individuality and basically treats people as disposable tools to a larger end for people in charge/the greater good of the country. If you ever wonder how people in the US or Russia could ever have been ok with the mind-boggling stupid concept of being willing to nuke the world to oblivion over their national ideals, look no further than current-day China. Most of the developed world moved on from that mindset long ago, and now struggle with other problems (equally as stupid, but smaller scale).
This is the product of that mindset and the hope of appealing to the men stuck in that world. So yeah, it will suck most of the time. That doesn't mean it has to, it is just that it usually will.
A lot of Chinese novels, particularly in the wuxia genre, have MCs that usually only have the singular goal of being powerful enough to 'escape' the system or become part of it in someway; becoming the bully etc. Ok, it's not really that abnormal to want to become strong enough to not be taken advantage of, but it is weird, or maybe unsurprising, that I haven't read a single Chinese novel that brought up the idea of standing up to injustice for others—not family members, just others in general—because of a thing called empathy. Also there's just absolutely no mention of the actual government of China in a bad light—not even allogorically. So maybe the authors there were taught to believe that it's not the system's fault you're were you are, no, it's your own fault for being born weak and failing to change your circumstances. Obviously giving the more powerful the right to exploit you.
Then there's the idea of fighting the establishment, which unless it's fundamentally different to the Chinese government, the focus is almost always fighting for honor, being badass, being shameless, getting revenge, getting pussy, getting doted on by big dick psychotic emperor, or trying to dote on a psychotic female because it's so kinky; almost none of these MCs, after fighting 'injustice', don't try to do their best to not spread further injustice, or try to help the 'common folk' by initiating change from the ground up, it's almost always left as it is, Hurrah the MC became the supreme divine overlord godling emperor monarch daddy of the Omniverse, changing absolutely nothing. It almost always ends in these MCs fitting into the mold of the previous tyrant or god, i.e. continuing to oppress others because power flex so cool, and the audience supports them because they are mildly nicer or look 'cooler' or we can 'empathize' more with them—because we didn't have a ounce of good POV from any other.
MY REASONING FOR WHY THIS IS:
Just the existence of the CCP explains most of it away—no dissenting opinion should be spread for the good of 'China' etc etc—but there are some aspects so engrained in the existing culture which could be blamed partly on the residents of Chin—no. No, that's a bit too deep of a rabbit hole.
Anyways, it always comes back to pride in authoritarian regime being trampled easily, both of the people and the party, and the 'only way' the residents see to vent this frustration without changing anything to a semblance of positivity, is to become more 'powerful'; the idea of helping the less fortunate to the level of revolting against the CCP is probably outlandish or just plain mocked. And this can be done by condition the 'powerful' residents to not empathize too much with the suffering, with the most basic explanation as: they should grow by themselves, and stop complaining—but if they are hot or share the same bloodline or something equally out of their control then it's fine to help them.
AGAIN, TO REITERATE:
Wuxia novels from China probably perpetuate apathy, and the focus is usually always placed on gaining personal power over bringing any sort of meaningful change to stop the cycle of suffering. No, the fortunate should surely just focus on selfish gains and leave the helping of these dregs to the good old CCP
Came to this realization while overdosing off Cola, and reading Unordinary in webtoons; this conclusion just felt right or logical back then. I mean, it still does.
DarkD Wrote: The important positions are all filled with high schoolers. Spend a season learning about a genius scientist that blew the entire industry away, and in Japan, that person will be a high schooler.
It's uh..It's not only Japan that has this issue.
I kinda do that too.
I think it has more to do with the popularity overall.
It can be fun to write, and fun to read.
So, uh. I might be one of those who contribute to this problem. One of my fictions is also heavily relient on this because it's kinda necessary
Another one is reliant on one around that age.
Well. I guess my main character technically dropped out of school to cure world hunger in kindergarten, but still. He's 16.
(give or take 4 centuries)
Ignoring the other generic tropes. most authors don't handle overpowered characters well. They make them too strong, so strong that authors then come up with some stupid reasons for mc to not use given powers, like hiding their identity.
Then it boils down to the famous chinese "slapping in the face" formula : mc hiding their power - some asshole (arrogant young master / fat evil noble/ bad guy) makes fun of them - generic struggle - mc smirks and reveals their true power "slaps the face" - everyone starts worshipping them (if mc is male every female gets a waterfall between their legs) - (optional: mc gets even more stupidly op powers ) - they move to different region and whole thing starts again.
Chinese novels are cringly but that is exactly why we read them...
Who doesn't want to beat up those young masters out there living life well while we struggling?
In China, it might be young masters, but for us, it might be the government or church...
We read a hundred chapters just to wait for the moment when the young master gets slapped,
We read another hundred chapters just to see the mc get a girl we know he would get anyway,
we read the next hundred chapters to see what the mc will do about the girl's upcoming marriage...
we read another hundred chapters to see the mc get more girls, and how his harem interacts...
by the time you know it, you read so many chapters and now have an OCD that says 'Just stay until the end since you're already here!'
Wuxia stories are centered around martial arts, usually drawn out into a magic system using qinggong; qingong manipulates one's qi to perform otherwise-impossible feats, such as being able to fly. It is not a magic system involving spells, but strengthening and honing willpower; it also doesn't involve innate talent, as anyone can do it if they put in the effort. (Qinggong is based on a real-life meditation system involving movement, including what we'd call parkour. Its use is exaggerated for wuxia stories.)
Xianxia are fantasy stories. They usually include wuxia, but there are xianxia stories without wuxia. If it's got gods, demons, and magic beyond anything related to martial arts, then it's xianxia.
Both genres are primarily set either in ancient China or mythic China, though both are often exaggerated in their accuracy. For example, fashions usually imitate those of a completely different era, just as many of our own recent period dramas (especially from the BBC) use extremely different fashions for the period they depict in order to encourage or meet certain audience expectations. (After all, it wouldn't do to have half the cast fall out of their clothes all the time if it takes ten minutes just to unlace enough to use the privy.)
Both genres also heavily involve cultivation, or the practice of doing something to continually increase one's power as a primary plot point (even if it's to reach a particular goal and not simply power for its own sake). The gamer equivalent is called farming or grinding, and there's really no difference that I'm aware of. This is where a lot of fiction, especially litRPGs which are inherently about cultivation, fall short: anyone who's ever played MMOs knows that grinding is never fun in its own right, so making it interesting in a story is a tricky business.
About a year ago, I found out that some of the students in my creative writing workshop were also in a Philosophy of Film class, where they'd recently watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and been utterly confused. Now, I'm not an expert in these genres, but I'm passingly familiar with Chinese culture and the tropes involved, even though I've never seen the film in question. I'm copying and pasting the email I sent him (names redacted) along with the same YouTube link I gave him to show his class. I hope this helps anyone in this thread who might still be confused as well.
I'm glad you're covering this topic, not just the general Philosophy of Film but also the very different fantasy genre found in the Far East. The difficulty, as you noticed, is that Western audiences are not familiar with the tropes involved in Chinese martial-fantasy (wuxia) stories.
The video linked below (under 12 minutes) explains the tropes in much more detail, and is a very quick and good look at what Western audiences are missing. As it explains in the first few minutes, these tropes are just so well-known in China that remarking on the lack of realism is like remarking on the lack of realism in typical Western fantasies.
It's also important to remember that while China has more variation between its different regions than the United States (and anyone who has spent some time in different areas of the country can realize the vast differences between even parts of the same state), those areas are still more like each other than even neighboring countries. Chinese culture dates back at least as far as Western culture; Chinese history begins before the Late Bronze Age Collapse and the rise of Classical Greece. Its story tropes have shifted a lot, much like ours, but it's still seen as so unified with modern concepts that there are few things in our own culture that can compare to this relatively unbroken line. That sort of gulf has to be respected, and that's why I think it's such an excellent topic for a course on philosophy in film. It's difficult to grasp the vast distance at first, but once you begin to understand the tropes you find that several cultural elements become very clear.
The most important factors I can think of off the top of my head are:
I'll close with just one example of another wuxia genre story worth looking at, should you want to find more specific examples for use in the future. I've been watching a show called Handsome Siblings on Netflix (I assume the title is snappier in Mandarin). The show has examples of all these points, which is probably why they're the first I thought of. In this world, reputation drives all social interaction between martial arts practitioners, and there are many hidden styles of martial arts that can be recognized by others, yet not duplicated because it simply takes practice to manipulate chi in the right manner to do it in the first place. That practice is exceedingly difficult to learn, but the more you take the effort, the better you get.
- Chinese culture, even today, has a very high power distance. In a Chinese university, a professor who admits to being wrong risks damaging his reputation, and authority is based on reputation as much as ability or prestige of position. Because of that, in wuxia, you are judged not just on your raw ability but also on who trained you and what you've done with that training.
- China has a certain fascination with organization. This is often attributed to Confucius, but that overlooks a lot of Chinese history. Confucius simply enhanced it. This organization is not simply political, but also factors into how one interacts with society. There is an awareness of the appropriateness of one's action that we can only translate as "honor," but it has to be a loose translation due to the differences.
- It also means that martial arts are themselves 'organized' in a way that we Westerners, and especially Americans, often fail to appreciate. We're used to stealing from what works, but it's like mixing clay while the Chinese use Lego. Even when they build new concepts, the parts are visible.
- Continuing from that point, in the real world there are various different types of martial kung fu. (And it's important to note that kung fu means an art form, not necessarily martial in nature. Calligraphy is a kung fu. So is tea-brewing. It's about mastering the parts and transforming everything into art.) This has created a longstanding trope of hidden martial arts forms. In a way, it's an example of gnosticism, in that there is always some hidden form of knowledge that can be used to bring you to the inner circle. This feeds heavily into the wuxia genre.
- And finally, as we discussed briefly, there is the fact that the manipulation of one's chi (or ki, or qi) can be used to affect the physical. The more control you have over your chi, the more control you have over your body. And if you practice, you can develop a method of pushing beyond your own body. But I won't go into more detail on that, because the linked video does it better than I can.
For me, its the system and world. Because at the start, there is so much to it, always somewhere to go and something to do, how to progress (visibly). There are many parts of world to explore, opportunities to use, etc. There are conflicts, promotions, hardships. Sometimes, you can see that mc does something witty. And you are angered when someone is bullying him without a reason and satisfied when he gets his revenge. But.. that might be all?
After some time, the mc is not so witty anymore, although he can monologue some plans and strategy..there is no way that it would go so smoothly. It is like watching a kid, who was bullied for not being able to study well, winning a first place in school exams a week later (against the students who studied hard for years and were more successful than him..but oh, the mc studied the whole week 22 hours with one hour for sleep and the other for eating...) Sometimes, he is like an oracle. And too many times, he has a ton of luck. His enemies are quick to anger or too proud to do something until it's "late".
During his explorations, mc wanders many days around some location, finally manages to find a hidden tomb (the experts missed it..), seeks death with soloing the tomb guards and after nearly losing his life like 4 times (because once he beats a monster of some type, he will be able to beat it without a problem.. ) he finds some OP item or cultivation technique. To use the item/cultivation technique, he needs to pay a price, so he wont be able to use it normally but its ideal for some "face slapping". Oh and I forgot, the guards are nearly impossible to beat, but if the mc can cast light, then they are weak against light, etc.
Also, the system has many unanswered holes (side effect of its awesomeness which may hooked some of us at the start), sometimes a fact/rule about it is mentioned only to be forgotten a few chapters later.
There are few emotions in most of the stories (in the ones I read, that is 50+ I believe, 50+ chapters for each):
Almost zero empathy or humanity (because they are iMmoRtaLs, not humans anymore..)
The women are mostly treated as objects. What matters is their obedience. Or something. I really dont like this point, many women characters are only mentioned for their good looks (skin like porcelain, clear as jade,..) only to join mc's harem. This is simply... wrong. A medieval thinking.
Then there is the repetition, mc comes from the lowest region up, there is always someone new who abuses him, mc trains, there is some face slapping, moving on the next region/planet/galaxy/..
Many times, the villains and side characters lack personality. This is not about some back story, but their unique way of doing things, thinking, ..They are just blank sheets.
From cultivation novels, I like only few:
- cultivation chat group (someone mentioned it here already, good choice in my opinion)
- world of cultivation (one of the better ones)
(might add more when I remember the names)
Seerica Wrote: I find that chinese novels with female protagonist have a higher chance to be less power fantasy and more character based.
I think it's still a power fantasy, but a different kind of power. More on the soft power, I think. Like female protag chinese novels are either concubine/daughter/princess face-slapping and surviving in a matriarchal family, within a patriarchal society, or CEO/Boss/etc. with the same face-slapping in modern world, using an abundance of wealth, beauty, and enough manipulation to be sketchy irl.
Xianxia and xuanhuan on the other hand I tend to agree that 90% of the published web novels are poorly written and worse in their contents.
They are the embodiment of the toxic (male) power fantasy. The so-called heroes only get stronger to become bullies themselves. It has the notion of revenge of the nerds. And the farther they go the more ruthless they become. You could say they just adapt to the merciless world they live in but this explanation seems a bit lazy.
This was bugging me for years as well so I try, in my own novel, to humanize cultivation. What does it mean to become unimaginably powerful and do you lose your humanity in the process? Somehow, after living for thousands of years those immortals still act like 16-year old boys who lack self-confidence or are way over confident
I would recommend the Chinese novel Ze Tian Ji. It discusses power imbalance a lot and what it means to cultivate (the philosophical aspect). It's one of the few novels that really emphasizes Confucian values (at least in the early chapters). In that sense, it's more in the style of traditional wuxia novels.