Reading your way to the top in China
by Ellie Robins
Are you stressed? Tired? Overworked? Looking for a book to lose yourself in for a few hours? Clever publishers in China have found a way to make work encroach on your reading life, too.
CNN reports from China that ‘workplace novels’ are selling in their millions. It’s a new genre that offers ‘practical career advice conveyed via soap opera tales about secretaries, salespeople, entrepreneurs, executives, even government officials, and what they had to do to get ahead in their careers’. Some examples:
— Du Lala’s Promotion Diary, the rousing story of a secretary climbing the ranks of a Fortune 500 company to become an HR manager. It’s inspired a movie, a TV series and three sequels
— The Boiling Money Route, which ‘exposes the collision of government and business in a shadow banking industry in Wenzhou, a city near Shanghai known for its ruthless entrepreneurs and questionable business ethics’
— Special Promotion: How a Small Potato Gets Promoted is a tale of how to move upwards as a government official ‘in a non-traditional way’
and my favourite:
— The Confession of a Beautiful Female Department Head in Prison. No description necessary.
Several people have tried to fathom the books’ popularity. One writer in the genre, Daisy Wong, says:
Career topics are always popular… Life is so quick. Relationships come and go. In a cosmopolitan place, this kind of genre hits the heart of the people — people are lonely.
This peculiar selection of unrelated phrases is less helpful than the analysis of another writer, Lu Qi, whose book Hidden in the Office has sold more than a million copies:
“The middle class is still developing in China,” said Lu. “Most people want to climb up to that level. They want to have better lives. They have ambitions, and they want to achieve it. They acquire knowledge from wherever they can. Books are one of the ways.”
The article gives no information about the knock-on effects, if any, on the rest of the publishing industry in China. Has there been a corresponding decrease in sales of literary works? Or self-help books?
Interestingly, the article positions the genre as peculiarly Chinese in concept as well as current geographic spread. Is that shortsighted? Could there be a market for fiction/self-help crossover in other countries? If the requirement is that the job market be competitive and fluid, there are plenty of candidates. Think of the possibilities!
Ellie Robins is an editor at Melville House. Previously, she was managing editor of Hesperus Press.