Writer Guo Jingming has been reshaping the Chinese youth’s reading habit since 2002, while director Guo Jingming shocked the China film market in 2013.
In 2014, Guo ranked 27th on the Forbes China Celebrity list, earning 25 million RMB.
But the cultural empire he creates is worth much more: a latest report from Chinese Academy of Social Sciences suggests that Guo and his Shanghai Zui Culture Development Co. takes over 60 percent of China’s young adult publication market share.
Born in 1983 in Sichuan province of China, Guo Jingming was not just another small town kid. Longing for the outside world, the teenager Guo found refuge in writing. On the Internet, he wrote under the name “the fourth dimension”.
Going to Shanghai to attend “New Concept Writing competition” in 2001, Guo was dazzled by this metropolis. Back in his hometown Zigong, there was no metro, or skyscrapers.
Winning the nation’s top competition in spotting new writers did change his life.
He published a collection of essays in his final year of high school and then registered in the film and television department in Shanghai University. Puzzled by local teachers’ persistence in speaking the Shanghai dialect, he managed to learn it in 3 months and made a number of friends.
But university education did not interest him much. After publishing his first novel CITY OF FANTASY in 2003, he left Uni and continued to publish 2 books that year.
One year later, he united 4 friends to create a literary magazine called “i5land”. Unlike conventional literary magazines, i5land had a distinctive brand image: Guo made a daunting move to put exquisitely designed fantasy cover and insert lots of his own artistic pictures. The magazine became a tastemaker among teenagers – finally there appeared a collection of writings that expressed their struggles, sentiments and loneliness; finally, they discovered that they were not alone as there were people with similar feelings.
Guo has turned his name into an industry and was invited by director Chen Kaige to adapt his film THE PROMISE into a novel.
Thus far, his novels are more about solitude and melancholy. He kept posting his cute pictures and daily life with best friends (colleagues) on his blog. Quite a number of Chinese Teenagers adored him the way North American kids worship Justin Bieber today.
However, Guo lost the lawsuit accusing him of plagiarism and paid a fine of several thousands to the original author. He never made an apology or admitted the violation and his fans remained supportive anyway. Those against him would mention this repeatedly in the years to come.
Towards the end of 2006, Guo established a company called Ke Ai Culture (CASTOR) and started publishing ZUI NOVEL. Stories written by savvy writers and the latest fashion picked up by chic editors never failed to attract young adults.
CRY ME A SAD RIVER got published in 2007 and sold over a million copies. Guo became the first “post-’80” generation writer to be admitted into China Writers Association. The same year, a TV series based on one of his novels went to production. It was also in the same year that Guo’s chief graphic designer Hansey and chief literary creator Luo Luo left him to build another magazine ALICE.
Hansey and Guo have been friends since high school. H was invited to join i5land since the beginning because his design and photography looked unique to Guo.
Luo Luo, however, is among the writers discovered and made popular by Guo Jingming. When they first met, she was still an editor at a comic magazine. Impressed by some of her writings, Guo decided to mold her into an author. He then enthusiastically recommended her to his fanatic fans, marketed her at various literary gatherings, and published her stories on i5land. By 2005, she published two novels and won hundreds of thousands of fans.
They just left.
Guo was too astonished to respond: he lost two major business partners as well as two of his best friends. He began to restructure the company and establish an applicable business management system from the scratch. For each business conduct, there would be a rule.
His different roles then left no room for sentimentality or melodrama. His waved his past romanticism goodbye. His writings started to turn calmer and colder. And friendship would be bound by social contract. “More realistic”, as he would say.
He was illuminated that friends might leave him for one reason or another, but as long as he continued to generate content, his values remain. When people read books, he’d work with publishing house. When people change to read e-books, he’d work with digital platforms.
Not to be subject to one or two individuals, he signed more stylish writers.
One year later, Luo Luo came back to him.
In the fall of 2008, Guo published TINY TIMES 1.0, the first book of a trilogy about the stormy life of four young girls and their romances, a vanity fair based in urban Shanghai. The girls wear luxury fashion and get tangled in relationships. Guo once expressed that was his depiction of the young graduates’ desires and encounters. That book was the no.1 best-seller in 2008.
It seems everything he touches turns into gold: Di’an published her third novel MEMORY IN THE CITY OF DRAGON I after serializing it on ZUI NOVEL. It ended up selling 750,000 copies.
Shanghai Zui Culture Development Co. came into being in 2010.
ZUI FOUND is to exhibit new edgy writers while ZUI FOUNT is to offer story that cures, respectively managed by Di’an and Luo Luo. ZUI COMICS is quick to mature as the young’s best comic publishing platform.
Style is what Guo cares the most in choosing ZUI writers. He selects comic writers, graphic designers and photographers with the same standard – different styles can attract various readers, in order to maximize the size of fans.
His ambition went beyond publication. In 2012, after repeated invitation by different film companies, Guo announced to adapt his TINY TIMES trilogy into four feature films, and he would be the director.
Hailed as a gift for its 23 million readers, the first TINY TIMES 1.0 film was released in June, 2013. Like almost all his other works, this film received polarized reviews. Fans could go and watch the film for several times, while screenwriters commented its resemblance to a lengthy fancy music video; film critics took it a mix of THE DEVIL WEARS PARDA, GOSSIP GIRL and TWILIGHT.
His social media account was flooded with mixed loud voices. He never bothered to explain. He did not need to. The film’s all-star cast and its 78.09 million USD box office revenue revealed his influence in this new arena. Just to create content for his fans – he was more determined than ever.
By the end of August, 2014, the TINY TIMES series have won over 200 million USD in China. The average age of his audience is 20.3. Older audiences are not on the same page, thus declare his producers.
Debates and jokes about him and his films never ceased. Buried in different occupations, he did not have time to care. In fact, he never had enough time to sleep after running the company. After becoming a director, he needed to run even faster he used to. He thinks to take a vacation is a mere waste of time. Even if he needs to travel, it is work.
The last film of the TINY TIMES franchise is scheduled to screen in July, 2015, but Guo has already announced his new film projects long ago: to co-produce with Zhang Ziyi a film called THE BABY FROM UNIVERSE; to direct his new film series L.O.R.D. based on his novels of the same name. Fan Bingbing, Kris and one of the T.F. Boys have confirmed acting in the film – the nation’s most talked-about actress, pop idol and teenager.
Imagine the number of literary property he owns and how many films he could make in the years to come.
Even Luo Luo is now working on her feature directorial debut based on her best-selling novel QUEEN STAIN, a story about the so-called leftover girls.
Guo, founder of this Ming Empire, believes efforts can change it all.
Here is an interview we have with writer director and entrepreneur Guo Jingming.
The Chinese Film Market: What is your idea of Zui Culture Development Co.? What philosophy you always emphasize in the company?
Guo Jingming: I position Zui Culture as a young, energetic and absorbing company. I always emphasize “diversified youth”- our target audience is the young people, but for different types of readers, we sign varied young writers and designers, publish differentiated magazines. Now that we have marched into the film industry, we are again and again trying new films genres and themes. We start with detailed audience segmentation of a certain field, and try to excel in each section of this field.
CFM: The Chinese film companies have been fiercely fighting for literary properties since last year. What is your vision of your company?
Guo: We will develop our novels and comics into films and TV series, video games and relevant merchandising, etc. To explore various commercial possibilities of these literary properties. I think the ideal vision is to combine the cultural industry with the entertainment industry – this should also be the ultimate goal of a company owing a huge tank of literary properties.
CFM: Do you think young people from different eras share something in common? If so, what would that be?
Guo: Sure. It is the growing pains and gains. Although the young from different eras live in different surroundings and enjoy different things, they need to face the things all human beings need to take care of: family, romance, friendship and coming of age. These are the things no one could avoid and the themes that the young from different ages would feel resonant.
CFM: How do you depict the profile picture of “post-’00” generation in China?
Guo: I think they are a more individualistic generation. Since they are digital natives, they might need not as much real-life interaction with others.
CFM: Have you ever hope the “Tiny Times” you create will become the mainstream values some day in China?
Guo: I think what the Tiny Times series shapes is how a group of young college graduates stimulated and forged by the society, and stand up for what values to them. Such an experience is universal, although the story is based in a contemporary setting.
CFM: Luo Luo is now making her debut film – we can help wondering whether there will be more writers from Zui Culture to become directors, for instance, Di’an?
Guo: I think to be a director requires comprehensive proficiency: he needs to understand each component of filmmaking, have a good taste, be creative and communicative, and be able to execute his ideas. Writers are surely creative, but not necessarily capable in all these functions. I will tailor a career path for each writer we have signed and help him or her improve. Directing is only one of the options. But of course, I will help him or her to become a director when appropriate.
CFM: During the 2015 China’s Nebula Award Ceremony, several sci-fi writers thanked you for what you have done for them and for China’s sci-fi publication. What would be the challenge in making sci-fi films in China these years?
Guo: Local audience still find it hard to accept local sci-fi. They have been very accustomed to a sci-fi story happening in New York or Tokyo. But if it were happen in Beijing, or Shanghai, they might find it not so credible. In China, sci-fi literature is still a very small market while there is no widespread atmosphere for sci-fi films yet. In this way, people will find the stories hard to believe. So to nurture such an atmosphere or a craving is very necessary.
CFM: How do you accomplish the “mission impossible” to write novels as well as manage a growing company with many other young creative minds?
Guo: First of all, I am a workaholic. If it is work, I can stay quite energetic with little sleep. I am not particular about my workspace – just give me a laptop, and I can write at any place. Meanwhile, I have different teams in each department of my company: publication, filmmaking, business, etc. It is then like a brain giving instructions to each part of the body and the final result will flow to the brain, so that I have got the time to balance my different roles.
CFM: Which one is more important to creators: talent or acquired techniques?
Guo: In a scale of 0 to 10, talent is what goes from 0 to 1, while the acquired techniques and efforts can determine your final score. Without talent, it is absolute 0, end of the story. But if you are not hard-working enough, you can only remain 1, literally the lowest score in the creative business.
CFM: Do you have faith to lead the youth market in the next 20 years?
Guo: To stay ahead of the time, the important thing is to keep a youthful mind, a hunger for knowledge and above all, aspiration. Stay curious, stay hungry. New creations always attract me.
CFM: What is your favorite Chinese character?
This article was published on THE CHINESE FILM MARKET, the Cannes 2015 issue.