China and Inner Asia
University of California, Berkeley, United States
Rooted in popular culture in East Asia, Chinese internet-based BL (boy’s love, danmei) novel and its derivative productions like radio dramas, animations, and TV plays have accumulated massive domestic and international audiences, and thus became an influential yet controversial form of cultural product. Previous studies—mostly on Japanese BL mangas—have confirmed that BL literature as a mature genre has created a literary space for predominantly female authors to break free from the gender stereotype. The prosperity and variety of BL writings in China further testify to the ability of the writers as a group to excel in traditionally male-dominated themes such as war, sci-fi, and martial art. To further explore its complexity, this paper turns to an intriguing phenomenon that BL writers consciously incorporate religious elements and engage in religious themes. Not only are narratives from religious texts adapted and rewritten, but also a considerable number of protagonists are identified with religious masters or practitioners. A general pattern appears to be stories in the premodern setting tend to assume Buddhist and Daoist identities, while apocalyptic and sci-fi works are seen inspired by Christian or Islamic motifs. Either setting creates a fantasy space but avoids a direct discussion about the legitimacy of transcendental power. However, in recent works, the fantasy world is no longer restricted to the remoteness of the setting and erodes contemporary everyday life. I argue that religion in BL writings is simultaneously a constructive force to challenge authoritative order and a crucial field to claim literary tradition.