In public, Chen Peng blends in as an everyday white-collar worker in Beijing. But in the online jungle that is the Chinese microblogging community, this 25-year-old from the northern province of Shanxi has made a name for himself as a "micro-novelist" - China's equivalent of "Twitter novelists". His short stories are now followed by more than 140,000 people on Tencent's popular site, where within the 140-character limit for microblog posts, Chen writes about the joys and pains of living in the nation's capital.
How did you start writing "micro-novels"?
I graduated from a military college in 2010, majoring in law. I was an ordinary student at university, and an ordinary young person working in Beijing. Like many other graduates, I started my new life in the capital - from nothing, actually. I came up with the idea of documenting my life - about being a newcomer in real society, about job-hunting, about my path to success.
Why did you decide to write on a microblog, instead of online blogs or journals?
I was one of the first Tencent microbloggers. Regular blogging was still popular, but I am no good at writing pages of words. For me, the 140-word limit on microblogs is easier to fill.
What are your micro-novels about?
They're about the rigour of life in Beijing - I have two of me in my heart: one in Beijing and one in Shanxi. The first has a good-paying job in the capital but lives in a 10-square-metre rented apartment, dreaming of standing up in society someday. The other lives an easy life back home, with no career ambitions, having a family and friends around him …
It's based on a world in my heart, which I believe is widely echoed by many young people who are working far away from home and fighting for a better future in big cities.
Do you know who reads your micro-novels?
Many are college students, or university graduates. Some are junior or high school students. They are new to the real world, and they can't help but wonder what kind of life they are going to face. They want to learn from my mistakes as a freshman in this society.
What are the elements in your stories that attract readers?
Many micro-novelists write fictional stories, but I prefer telling about a real world, about what I am experiencing and what I am thinking.
You are famous in the microblogging world. How about the real world?
I've always considered myself an average person … My full-time job is an e-marketing planner, but none of my colleagues know my identity in the microblogging community.
But do you enjoy any benefits in the real world, from being famous in the cyber-community?
One of the real benefits of being famous online is, the more followers I have, the more money I can earn. Companies contact me and offer me good job opportunities, because they are impressed with my ability to attract online followers.
What do you think of the "micro" era?
The concept of "micro" has been becoming more popular on the mainland in recent years. I think it is based on mobile technology, such as for mobile phones. It focuses on simplicity and mobility. It makes it easier to access information, via mobile phones or computers.
Do you think microblogging will change people's writing style?
I think it may change the way some people write, but for those who still write long stories on paper with pens, there's no way you can change it. Even if they abandon their pens and start using computers, they still prefer writing long stories and publishing novels. For me, I just want to keep my stories online.
Do you often interact with your followers?
I do have my e-mail address and my QQ account name on my microblog. When I started microblogging, I was thirsty for more followers. But when the number of followers started to rise fast every day, I was getting scared, because people online may be picky about what I say. At first I did speak my mind. I remember one time I made a comment about a big dairy company and a food additive, but when it was reposted more than 1,000 times, I got a little worried, especially when some elite microbloggers started criticising me. So I deleted it.
Why did you delete it?
I was afraid of anyone on the internet seeking revenge. I have a verified account on a microblog platform, and that stuff happens. Other people made similar comments as I did, but why did so many point fingers at me? I think I would be more willing to make such comments if I had a small number of followers. It is true that I want more people to read my stories. But, ironically, for the same reason, I indeed hesitate to comment. I rarely talk about sensitive events now, especially since my follower count surpassed 100,000. It's a dilemma.
Chen spoke to Laura Zhou