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Boys' Love (Danmei) fiction on the Chinese internet : Wasabi Kun, the BL forum Young Nobleman Changpei, and the development of an online literary phenomenon Chen, Xin


This study is a brief history of the development of danmei 耽美, or Boys’ Love (BL) fiction on mainland Chinese websites. Focusing on Gongzi Changpei 公子长佩 (Young Nobleman Changpei) – a danmei forum –and writings by the danmei author Wasabi Kun 芥末君, it conducts a case study of danmei as a literary phenomenon, encompassing factors such as industry, aesthetics, and community, including reader response. In sketching the ecology of one type of online literature, this study draws on primary literary texts, online reader responses by so-called fu nü 腐女 (“rotten girls”), industry data, and previous scholarly studies. Appendices include a glossary of terms and two non-exhaustive tables: one details the main websites/forums where the writing, reading, discussion, and circulation of danmei fiction takes place; the other lists representative novels from 2001 to 2015. Chapter 2 offers an introduction to the Chinese BL forum Gongzi Changpei (Young Nobleman Changpei), detailing the subgenres on offer, analyzing a selection of popular novels, and describing the forums’ operations. Chapter 3 offers a detailed analysis of the career and reception of author Wasabi Kun 芥末君, as well as of Kun’s serialized novel If You Have Been Through Winter 如你走过冬天 (2015-2016). Through analyzing Kun’s work, I show a line of development in the genre. I argue that Kun tries to avoid creating simply a hybrid combination of various genre elements or a series of utopian but improbable cute stories. Instead, Kun’s novel emphasizes romance and individual growth, refined language and emotional realism. In tracing a broader history of the genre, I argue that danmei fiction is being influenced by Japanese and Western models at a time when Chinese women are pursuing non-traditional gender roles and becoming comfortable discussing and reading about sex. Yet after a dozen years of development, the mainstream of online writing shows that even as the novels become more entertaining, fewer focus solely on homosexual relationships. More authors are writing novels with hybrid genre elements, in which the familiar Boys’ Love tropes of sex and pleasure are becoming more or less sidelined.

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