Annals of slash: dan mai

In the most recent (December/January) issue of the Advocate (the lgbt news magazine), a story “Where Slash Fiction Makes for Dangerous Words: Slash fiction arrives and thrives in China, despite the constant threat of government crackdowns” by Yuan Ren, beginning:

Earlier this year, during a nationwide clampdown on online pornography, some 20 writers, allegedly under contract with “illegal erotic novel Web sites,” were arrested in Henan province, China, and numerous Web sites with explicit written and visual content were shut down. Most of these writers were young women, many of whom, according to footage from Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong broadcaster, were in their 20s, oblivious to the fact that they were breaking the law. The incident followed a similar spate of arrests in 2011 — again of young female writers.

The women were all writers of gay fiction, known as dan mei, which over the past two decades has gained a vast and dedicated following in China, a country where homosexuality is still heavily stigmatized.


A form of slash fiction, a genre that first appeared in America in the ’70s and paired male characters from popular TV shows like Star Trek in unauthorized gay romances, it spread to China in the ’90s from a type of Japanese manga known as “boys’ love” (BL) [or yaoi]. Focusing on male-to-male romance, dan mei (which may be literally translated as “indulgence in beauty”) has surprisingly spawned an exclusive fan base: Its readers and writers are nearly all straight young women and girls.

Additionally, both dan mei’s readers and writers view the genre as separate from mainstream gay fiction.

(Some discussion of types of gay manga in my posting of 1/19/13.)

Depictions of male-to-male romance from the dan mei novel Delayed Love:

Dan mei depicts the perfection of romance between beautiful young men,” explains 25-year-old Zhang Lu, who has been reading the genre since she was 18 years old. “It’s all about conveying the aesthetic appeal of its male characters through the writing,” Lu says, adding that dan mei is a woman’s romanticized fantasy of men — the reason for its success — rather than a man’s idea of homosexuality.”

… In recent years, with the influx of Western TV and film into China, Benedict Cumberbatch, in his role as the title character in Sherlock, the popular BBC TV series, has gained cult status in dan mei circles, spawning countless depictions of gay romance between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, including explicit sexual content

… In addition to Sherlock, other characters from British dramas including Downton Abbey and Dr. Who have received similar treatment, causing the United Kingdom to be nicknamed the “Gay Kingdom” by dan mei fans. [Also Harry Potter / Severus Snape]

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