Chinese fascination with imaginary gay Brits

Timothy Kincaid

January 2nd, 2014

Most of us have heard of fan fiction, the amature storytelling of romantic liaisons between real or fictional characters who have no relationship otherwise. And we probably are familiar with yaoi, the boy with boy romantic animation that is created and consumed in mass by young Japanese women.

But I was unfamiliar with the fascination that many Chinese seem to have with the BBC show Sherlock. (BBC)

When UK Prime Minister David Cameron visited China in December and opened an account on weibo, China’s version of Twitter, the top request for him was to speed up the release of the new series of Sherlock. That day finally arrived.

The show was launched on Youku, a Chinese video-hosting website similar to YouTube, just two hours after its premiere in Britain. It got almost 3m hits overnight, and weibo has been lit up by fans discussing the new episode.

Nor was I aware that many Chinese viewers seem intent on seeing Holmes and Watson as a couple.

But the most fervent fans are those intent on finding a gay subtext to the relationship between Holmes and Watson. There are numerous Chinese sites that host Sherlock fan fiction, depicting the detectives as a couple. And among this group of fans, many identify themselves as funu or “rotten women” – young women who like gay stories.

“I have to say, this show is catering to our rotten girls’ taste more and more,” said one fan.

“Sherlock tortures Watson a thousand times, and Watson loves him like his first love,” wrote another. “I’ve waited two years, and it didn’t disappoint me.”

All of which is probably fine with the show’s star, Benedict Cumberbatch, who officiated at the same-sex wedding of friends last summer.


January 2nd, 2014

I wonder if the reason they asked for new episodes of *this* show has anything to do with China’s ban on fiction containing time travel.

Priya Lynn

January 2nd, 2014

I know heterosexual men often find lesbian sex titilating (hee hee, I said tit) but I’m fairly surprised that heterosexual women are turned on by the thought of two men having sex. Surprised, but pleased.


January 2nd, 2014

It is important to know that this slash fiction and yaoi by large are consumed by and made FOR women.

Gay men generally go for bara, which usually features bulkier guys (running the gamut from just muscular/athletic, to bear/otter looking, some chunky), and is often pornographic.

In fact, most of slash and yaoi features fairly androgynous, not too masculine men because the appeal to women is seeing an ambiguous male that they could sub for emotionally without feeling threatened like they would inhabiting a female character.

If you look at yaoi and slash, there’s usually a “dominant masculine/submissive feminine” dynamic between two males, following heterosexual relationship roles. Rarely do you see in same sex male slash fiction egalitarian relationships or interactions just between two guys that don’t lean toward opposing poles of masculinity/femininity.

Patrick C

January 2nd, 2014

The BBC production of Sherlock explicitly plays with the sexual orientation of Sherlock and Dr Watson. Dr Watson is repeatedly questioned if he is gay. Other characters have assumed Dr Watson is Sherlock’s boyfriend. Dr Watson is once described as the “confirmed bachelor”, with the implication he is gay. When discussing Sherlock, Dr Watson and the landlady (whose name escapes me) comments that they can’t remember him having any boyfriend or girlfriend. And, quite honestly, in the final episode of Season 2 I thought Sherlock and Moriarty were going to kiss.

The show is wonderfully and very ambiguously done.

Ben In Oakland

January 3rd, 2014

Patrick, the original Sherlock holmes was pretty ambiguous in that particular subject.

Eventually, dr. Watson marries, but we don’t have to worry long about Mary Marston. she soon dies and Holmes and Watson are together again. Holmes shows no interest in women, except for Irene Adler, and then, it is over the top admiration, as if her name were actually Cher or Barbra or Ms. Hepburn.


January 3rd, 2014

I think what you’re referring to as “fan fiction” is more commonly known as “slash fiction” and is largely created by women. (I had female friends who were heavily into Kirk/Spock slash fiction.)

Priya Lynn: The manga subgenre of boys’ love (a/k/a “yaoi”) is created overwhelmingly by women and directed toward teenage girls and young women, which comprise something over 85% of the audience. It ranges all the way from very romantic and quite innocent to fairly steamy, depending on how the artist figures out how to get around Japanese obscenity laws.

So the emergence of the “funu” as devotees of a Holmes/Watson relationship isn’t really very surprising.


January 3rd, 2014


From what I understand from reading Yaoi prior is that it is pretty easy to get around the obscenity laws. All it takes is either some steam slightly obscuring view or just a black bar slightly under the head of the penis. Basically since the YAOI is sold right next to the other stuff you can’t show everything, but how a small black bar that doesn’t hide anything makes it ok is beyond me.

As others said slash fiction and yaoi is often made by straight girls and women for other straight women. My main issue with it is that it often romanticizes rapes and abusive relationships, but that is another issue.


January 4th, 2014


Some of the images can be quite explicit without violating the obscenity laws. I assume, from some of what I’ve seen, that the restriction is on showing the whole penis — halfway inserted into another man’s anus or mouth is apparently OK. Another favorite tactic is to show a blank, penis-shaped area, with no detail.

And yes, there is a tendency sometimes to portray abusive relationships as acceptable, which is one thing that bothers me about the genre.

From what I’ve heard, it’s widely available in Japan — you can buy it in convenience stores, although I’m not sure whether it’s shrink-wrapped the way it is in the States.

And I think it’s funny that the common American pronunciation is “yowie.”

Debbie Red

January 5th, 2014

Lol – as a big fan of slash and yaoi fanfiction, I can tell you there isn’t a television show, popular movie or book that hasn’t been slashed – we love putting the guys together. And in fanfiction (unlike yaoi) the cliche of androgynous or feminine men doesn’t always hold true. (Points quite explicitly at Supernatural fanfiction and backs away with a grin.)


January 5th, 2014

Well, Priya Lynn, we heterosexual women are sexually attracted to men, so what’s not to like about two men having sex with each other? ;)

Priya Lynn

January 5th, 2014

Darina, I guess I just still at some level find it hard to believe men are sexually attractive to anyone.

The Lauderdale

January 6th, 2014

“Most of us have heard of fan fiction, the amature storytelling of romantic liaisons between real or fictional characters who have no relationship otherwise.”

That’s not fanfiction, that’s slash. Fanfiction runs the gamut. It’s non-commercial stories written by fans* of works created by others. Slash is a subtype of fanfiction. Some would call it a subgenre.

(Speaking as one who has written much fanfiction over the years, but no slash.)

*Er, at least usually they’re fans. Sometimes you will see some righteous skewering of the source matter. For example, many Twilight fanfiction writers evidently despise the source material and write fanfiction in response, whether to mock it or to “improve” on it.


January 6th, 2014

Right now, this is the front page of Mtime, one of China’s biggest movie and TV news/database sites:

The headline is “Watson doesn’t fancy Holmes? The Sherlock creatives interpret the gay relationship: As the BBC drama returns for a third series, Watson will soon hold a wedding, and some of the creatives respond to the question of the detective’s feelings.” The interesting thing (IMO) is that it uses the BBC article as a jumping-off point, which is a common tactic since it gives a sort of “plausible deniability” (i.e. “we’re not the ones saying this, we’re just passing it on from the foreign media”).

As you might guess from that, there isn’t really anything new there; it mostly just resurrects old-ish quotes from the cast and crew. The headline comes from one of Moffat’s: “I don’t think there is anything that suggests Sherlock is gay, but if he was, he wouldn’t fancy John”—to which one of the commenters replies “Right, he should fancy Moriarty.” Like many Chinese fans, the commenter actually calls Moriarty “Mo Niang,” which is hard to translate but is basically a roundabout way of calling Moriarty a bottom.


January 6th, 2014

Oops, left something out from the headline: it’s actually “the hot BBC drama.”

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