Boys’ love, also known as yaoi, and also known as slash fiction, has always had huge niche market. What started off as a sub-genre of fiction has now become so widespread it’s being adapted into film and TV.
And in mainland China, this phenomenon is slowly, but surely, taking more precedence in mainstream media, albeit in a different form.
While queer content is still largely censored and banned by Chinese mainstream media, it is a growing power in the world of fiction. The danmei genre—based on the Japanese word “tanbi” meaning “the pursuit of beauty”, was first introduced into China in the 1990’s through Taiwanese translations of gay fiction or yaoi manga. What sets danmei apart from other gay fiction is that it specifically targets the female audience. Two boys—both usually very young and attractive—fall in love in a very traditional, heterosexual way.
This type of romance has become so popular that it’s already seeping into mainstream Chinese media. Fans—usually female—thirst for a romance where both parties are regarded in equal footing. Greater problems like gender inequality and masculine pride become less of a sore spot. Unlike many typical Chinese romance dramas, the woman doesn’t need the man to validate her. In these romance dramas, men validate each other.
Which is why Nirvana in Fire’s <琅琊榜> Mei Changsu and Prince Jing have become one of the most popular fanfiction couples in recent years, despite the fact that both characters were written to be straight, and that Mei Changsu was very much in love with Mu Nihuang. Mei Changsu and Prince Jing share a friendship so deep that it doesn’t take a lot of hard work for fanfiction writers to re-write them as a romantic couple. The same happened in The Disguiser <伪装者>—the Ming Lou and Ming Cheng coupling is even more popular than the actual main pairing.
Fans easily gobble up danmei content, and mainstream media companies know it is good business. 2019’s hit drama series The Untamed <陈情令> was based on a BL novel, but due to censorship, the two male leads were rewritten to be just close companions. Throughout the series, homoerotic subtexts are sprinkled throughout, but obviously, nothing becomes more of it.
The drama series has been accused of queer-baiting, but if there’s one thing that this drama proves, it proves that queer-baiting does sell. More and more TV series adapted from BL has started to roll out after the success of The Untamed, including Immortality <皓衣行>, Sha Po Lang <杀破狼>, A Tale of the Wanderers <天涯客>, The Case of Mr. Zhang <张公案>, and Chasing the Light <左肩有你>.
This article is written by Addy for JayneStars.com.