Chinese authors ranked by income, sort of

Money comes to Zheng Yuanjie.

China Business Post released a list last week ranking China's authors by income.

From the start it was a coarse measurement — number of books in print over the last decade multiplied by the list price, and then adjusted for a standard 10% royalty. The report then notes that 10% is just an average value used purely for convenience; royalties typically range from 8% to 12%. And print runs were taken from the books' copyright pages, which often give a rather broad range, or from the publishers themselves, who have been known to manipulate numbers.

And income from other sources — sale of film rights, appearance fees, endorsements — don't come into play at all.

So it's not a particularly useful or meaningful list, but since we like lists here at Danwei, we might as well run it.

The list (with a recent or representative work and income in yuan):

  1. Yu Qiuyu (余秋雨) - essays on culture and history: 14 million
  2. Eryuehe (二月河) - imperial fiction, The Great Emperor Kangxi (康熙大帝): 12 million
  3. Han Han (韩寒) - YA, The Ideal City (一座城池): 9.5 million
  4. Su Tong (苏童) - CF, The Myth of Meng Jiang Nu (碧女): 9 million
  5. Guo Jingming (郭敬明) - YA, I5land: 8.5 million
  6. Tang Haoming (唐浩明) - historical fiction, Zeng Guofan (曾国藩): 8.2 million
  7. Yi Zhongtian (易中天) - popular history, particularly Three Kingdoms: 8 million
  8. Zheng Yuanjie (郑渊洁) - children's fairy tales: 7.8 million
  9. Yang Hongying (杨红樱) - children's lit: 7.5 million
  10. Jiang Rong (姜戎) - Wolf Totem: 7.2 million
  11. Annie Baobei (安妮宝贝) - CF, romance, Padma (莲花): million
  12. Wang Meng (王蒙) - CF, Green Fox (青狐): 5 million
  13. Chen Zhongshi (陈忠实) - CF, White Deer Plain (白鹿原): 4.55 million
  14. Jia Pingwa (贾平凹) - CF, Shaanxi-centered, Local Language (秦腔): 4.2 million
  15. Tie Ning (铁凝) - CF, Ben Hua Village (笨花): 4 million
  16. Hai Yan (海岩) - CF, often crime-related, Jade Guan-yin (玉观音): 3.8 million
  17. Zhou Meisen (周梅森) - CF, Absolute Power (绝对权力): 3.75 million
  18. Zhang Ping (张平) - bureaucratic fiction, National Official (国家干部): 3.55 million
  19. Yu Hua (余华) - CF, Brothers (兄弟): 3.5 million
  20. Mo Yan (莫言) - CF, Birth, Death and Fatigue (生死疲劳): 3.45 million
  21. A Lai (阿来) - CF, Red Poppies (尘埃落定): 3.3 million
  22. Chi Li (池莉) - CF, Life Show (生活秀): 3.2 million
  23. Zhang Yueran (张悦然) - 80s writer, A Sunflower Lost in 1890 (葵花走失在1890): 3 million
  24. Liu Xinwu (刘心武) - popular literary analysis, particularly Dream of the Red Mansion: 2.75 million:
  25. Liu Zhenyun (刘震云) - CF, Cell Phone (手机): 2.5 million

Some observations:

· Jiang Rong (#10) makes the list entirely because of the sales of a single novel, Wolf Totem.
· Quite a few writers are on the list by virtue of having popular film or television adaptations of their works drive print sales — Hai Yan, in particular, but also Zhou Meisen, Li Zhenyun, Chi Li, A Lai, and Eryuehe, among others.
· The success of Yi Zhongtian's and Liu Xinwu's books is connected to their CCTV lecture series; Yu Dan, who recently released a CCTV tie-in book on the Analects, might make the list next year.
· Conspicuous in their absence are authors of packaged fiction for young girls — Xiao Nizi, Ming Xiaoxi, and others (see this intro).

Reactions? Su Tong called the numbers as fictional as his novels, Guo Jingming said that his royalties are sent to his mother so he doesn't have any clue how much he makes, while Han Han felt the numbers were generally correct.

In a blog post, author Zheng Yuanjie considers these values as bribes accepted by these authors, and imagines possible punishments — he sentences Yu Qiuyu to death, Eryuehe, Han Han, and Su Tong are given stays of execution, Guo Jingming is given a life sentence, and everyone else gets between 3 and 20 years in prison (except for Wang Meng, who is let out for health reasons).

The CBP report itself tried to connect the list to a debate about income disparity among writers that arose after writer Hong Feng went begging on the street in protest, but nostalgia for the days of the 1980s when everyone got the same royalties isn't likely to catch on much. Like the end-of-year best-of rankings everyone's releasing nowadays, the report seems designed just to stir up debate.

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