A Chinese crackdown on pornography is taking a creative turn. Authorities have arrested over 20 women in Henan province for writing gay erotic fan fiction online, according to a report (video in Chinese) from Anhui Television.
As we’ve pointed out, China launches periodic crackdowns on pornography—which is ostensibly illegal—that often have more to do with censorship than protecting the country’s youth. In the case of the Henan arrests, officials seem to now be targeting people’s imaginations and possibly homosexuality in general.
Exported from Japan in the 1990s, slash, a subset of fan fiction that usually focuses on attraction or sexual relationships between people of the same sex, has taken on a cult following in China. Chinese Slash or danmei—literally “indulging in beauty”—focuses almost exclusively on relationships between men. Sherlock and Watson on the BBC show Sherlock have made for prime Chinese fan-fiction material, for example.
The writers for danmei blogs and websites are usually heterosexual women in their 20s who make a few yuan on each of their stories. Comics, videos that embellish story lines from favorite TV shows, and stories circulate on Chinese social media regularly.
But since the launch of a “cleaning the web” campaign, the government has shuttered dozens of websites containing porn, as well as those dedicated to danmei. The reasoning, according to one police officer interviewed by Anhui Television, is the belief that slash fiction ”is essentially pornography that promotes homosexuality.”
In a country where homosexuality is still taboo, such government campaigns have often targeted sexual minority groups more than mainstream porn or even the commercial sex industry. Officials have shut Chinese sites offering advice or information to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, or transgender as well as events in China. In 2012, another popular site dedicated to gay fiction was also shuttered.
Many a thesis on Chinese “web literature” has tried to analyze the genre’s cult following. Some argue that danmei is just the manifestation of a fairly common theme found around the world while others describe it as a medium for artistic subversion. If the latter, this latest crackdowns may just fan the flames.