A pop writer for starry-eyed teens
He calls himself a 'mainland version of the American dream'. And that's just what he is.
Guo Jingming is a self-made young man from poor circumstances who now tops the 2011 Rich List for Chinese writers. His royalties last year alone were 24.5million yuan (HK$30 million).
Critics call Guo's writing overly commercial and self-involved.
Yet to his young fans, the 28-year-old writes about their lives with sensitivity in a polished style.
Guo says he has a loyal readership of between two and three million. They are mostly aged between 14 and 28.
'For young readers, I am like a spokesman close to their age and experience, and so they connect with my work,' Guo says.
Guo is an editor of two magazines, a publisher and the president of a cultural products company. He offers his own life story as a model for his young readers in pursuit of the good life.
'I'm unique,' Guo said recently. 'Others might have a wealthy family background or senior-official parents, but I came all the way from a very small city without any help and achieved what I have today.'
His newest book, Tiny Times 3.0, was released this month. It continues a series he has been writing for five years. It depicts the lives of four female university students who step into the world after graduation.
Guo says teenagers and young adults see themselves in him. 'I used to be an ordinary student and my life resembles theirs in my writings: I studied, I was confused by the university entrance exam, and I sometimes dated,' he says. 'Now I have become a tough person, so they aspire to be who I am.'
Guo has been among the top five on the writers' rich list since 2006. Wu Huaiyao, founder of the writers' rich list, says Guo's books 'are associated with the confusion and dreams of youth. Teenagers are attached to Guo's work.'
Guo gained fame with Ice Fantasy, a story in 2003 he wrote during preparations for a university entrance exam. It tells of a prince who has to kill his younger brother for the throne. Next came his novel, Never Flowers in Never Dreams. It's about a love triangle set in Beijing and sold more than a million copies.
Guo also runs Top Novel and Top Cartoon magazines and manages a company with more than 60 staff.
His popularity underscores a phenomenon in today's China: young people from eight to 18 years old are the major source of readers.
Adults tend to be too busy to read or buy books.
Guo's pop fiction offers young people a look at materialism. It is full of long descriptions of luxury goods and lifestyles. His critics say his writing is shallow. 'I do things that I am good at,' Guo stresses.
He was born to an engineer father and a bank-clerk mother. He grew up in the small southwestern city of Zigong in Sichuan .
Guo got good grades as a student, but failed to get admitted to Xiamen University. Instead he went to Shanghai to study film, art and technology. The city was obsessed with commercialism and ruled by jungle law, he says.
A boy from the provinces, he felt like a poor outsider. He believes the experience changed him: 'Shanghai swayed my personality to be more pragmatic, objective and sober.'
Guo shrugs off critics who fear that his novels corrupt or mislead young readers. 'I want to depict a contemporary Shanghai the way it is,' he says. 'It would be ridiculous to avoid its luxurious lifestyle.'
At only 1.52m tall and skinny, Guo looks much younger than his years. He cultivates his public image like a pop star. He poses for pictures only when he is well dressed and his hair is done. 'What I wear and how I behave and speak must be adjusted. I stick to a principle that helps me achieve results.'
He sleeps only five or six hours a day. 'There's no doubt I am working harder than most others,' Guo says.
This is an edited article that first appeared in the Sunday Morning Post, on January 8, 2012