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What is the meaning of cut sleeve?

What is the meaning of cut sleeve?


Cut Sleeve” (Chinese: 黄九郎; pinyin: Huáng Jiǔláng) is a short story by Pu Songling first published in the third volume of Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.

How is male-male romance inexplicitly depicted in Chinese TV series?


Male-male romance is a genre created by and for women and sexual minorities.  It’s also called Danmei(耽美) or BL(boys’ love) in China1. The emphasis of this genre is  not on the format of literature delivery but the theme of “bromance.” Danmei can come in  various formats such as fiction, audio drama, TV series, manga, or other derivative work.  Many of the work was created in one form and later recomposed into another for  commercial reasons. The origin of the concept of Danmei is from Japan, but it has  developed tremendous popularity in Asia or even in the whole world2.

In China, Danmei  has merged into a fan-based, female-dominated pop culture that’s fueled by the  enthusiasm of Danmei lovers. One of the most prevalent formats of Danmei creation is  internet fiction, and in the past ten years, multiple online fictions have been adapted into  TV series. In this paper, I will explore how the male-male romance is adapted and  inexplicably depicted in the TV series while LGBTQ relationships or characters are not  allowed on the big screen.  

Danmei internet fiction 

Online fiction is a big part of popular culture in the Chinese-speaking world. Till  the end of 2019, the customers of internet fiction have grown to a scale of 460 million,  showing an increase of 5.3% compared to 2018. The industry has grown on a scale of  19.5 billion RMB, showing a rise of 27.1% compared to 20183. The expansion of the  online fiction industry has quickly attracted both attention and hot money. According to  the iResearch consulting institute, over 40 online fictions were adapted into films and TV  series in 2017 in China. Among all the popular categories of online fiction, one of  the most popular themes is Danmei. Over 60 online Danmei fiction has been adapted or is  undergoing adaptation into the film industry or TV industry4.  

Before we get into the adaptation of Danmei in the film and TV industry, I must  first introduce the history of Danmei internet fiction.

Back in the 2000s, Danmei was still  considered a subculture for BL lovers. At that time, Danmei creation mainly was taking the format of writing derivative work for some already existing characters from other  literature work or films5. This type of re-creation is called Tongren(同人), which means  “the same character.” Most of the Danmei writers on the internet were not professional  writers, and they write Tongren out of personal affection toward the characters they  chose.

Usually, Danmei writers would pick two male characters to write the main  romance part of the story and keep only the personality of the two characters in their  work. They call such pairing “CP,” which is short for “couple.” The plot or story of their  work does not have to be related to the original story that the two characters came from.  This type of literary creation was informal at the time and mainly existed on various forums.

The Tongren writers would usually start and upload only a section of their work and update their forum as the audience increases.

The environment dynamic they created  was responsive as audiences join the forum and leave their comments. Due to such  responsiveness, writers could soon realize the preference of the audience and quickly  adapt their work6. In this process, some of the writers gained a large fan base and started  their original work for the original characters they created. The theme of BL stayed. At  the same time, online fiction platforms quickly merged in China, and some of the  platforms were specialized in creating an environment for original or Tongren Danmei  creation. One of the examples is called Jinjiang literature city(晋江文学城). They offer a  stable platform with features of subscription, commenting, and rewarding, and they also  created the rudiment business model for Danmei writers and the platform.  

In 2008, Jinjiang literature city officially announced commercial operations. 

Similar cases marked that volunteering Danmei creation has transformed into commercial  behavior. The transition of commercial writing stimulated the industry and demanded  higher quality of the writing7. The length and depth of the Danmei work changed  accordingly. The new commercial environment challenged the Danmei writers to put  more effort into plot designing and story-telling in their work, which contrasts the early  Danmei Tongren stories’ focus on romance and dynamics between characters. In the  2010s, the Chinese online fiction platforms grew dramatically into a larger size along with the Danmei category. It settles the background needed to bring the Danmei culture  into show business and the big screen. 

Adaptation into TV series 

Since 2015, the rapid development and enormous audience has caught the eyes of  film and TV companies in China. The rapid growth of Danmei also attracted their  attention. Hoping to appeal to the sizable female audience of Danmei, several Danmei  internet fictions were bought by large film and TV production companies. The first and  largest challenge of such adaptation is not how to make fiction into a TV series but how  to pass the censorship. The government or any official institutions never recognized BL  and Danmei due to the conservative attitude of Chinese society toward homosexual  relationships or any sexual minorities. The film and TV production companies had to  balance the amount of Danmei elements and the risk of getting banned because of  Danmei.

Such conflict is presented by the eventually inexplicit depiction of the male male relationship in the TV series. They cut off intimate behaviors such as kissing or  having sex between the two main characters, and they don’t use the word “love” or  “romance” to refer to the relationship depicted in the series. The scriptwriters deliberately  make the relationship so ambiguous that it is impossible to identify whether the theme is  romantic love or just brotherhood. They would cover their series with the name of  brotherhood and just collectively pretend that they made a TV series about a pair of  friends whose bond is groundbreakingly deep and touching.

One of the most frequently  discussed questions about each Danmei TV series by the fans is how much of the original  male-male romance is restored in the series. The discussion would usually end up with positive reviews on the adaptation because the fans know how hard it is to make such a  series happen, and their expectation is so low that basically, they will accept everything as long as the dynamic between the two main characters stays. It might sound surprising,  but almost every Danmei series gained terrific popularity, and it would put the leading  actors trending on social media every time. 

Danmei vs. LBGTQ+ 

It’s important to emphasize that even though Danmei is about male-male romance,  it’s different from actual LGBTQ+ literature. As I mentioned above, Danmei is created  mainly by females and primarily enjoyed by females. It is the creation of female  imagination, and it would only serve for female imagination. In each Danmei relationship  or CP, there is one top(攻) and one bottom(受), while such a setting is not accurate for  gay couples. In the early work of Danmei, usually, the top would take a  dominant/masculine role, and the bottom would be more girly8.

This is clearly a substitution for traditional male-female relationships. Even though as Danmei develops,  the types of top and bottom become no longer limited to the imitation of the conventional  male-female model, the term top and bottom stayed and became a vital element of every  Danmei CP. Such a setting becomes a sign of the nature of Danmei culture. It’s an ideal fantasy  of female desire projected onto male-male relationship9.

They created all kinds of Danmei characters gain the opportunities to “gaze at ” males and become the subject  watching other objects. Danmei is different from gay literature as Danmei is the fantasy  and imagination of heterosexual women, and it avoids direct discussion of the plight  faced by women and sexual minorities. Danmei is still the most commonly known and closest genre to LBGTQ+ literature in China. At least Danmei has  made male-male relationships familiar in the discussion of various online forums and  social media.  


Conclusively, I illustrated the history of Danmei online fiction and then explained  how it got adapted to the big screen even under the conservation environment. I also  discussed how Danmei is different from gay literature as Danmei only serves as  imagination and fantasies.  


1. L Yang, Y Xu, 2017, Chinese danmei fandom and cultural globalization from below,  Hong Kong University Press 

2. Alexander Lugg, 2011, Chinese online fiction: taste publics, entertainment,  and Candle in the Tomb, Chinese Journal of Communication, 4:02, 121- 136, DOI: 10.1080/17544750.2011.565673

3. Yue Du, Yue Zhang, Ziting Yang, Xiejun Cheng, 2019, On the Theme of Online  Literature and the Development Trend and Countermeasures of Film And Television  Industry chain, Jiangsu Second Normal University 

4. 2020 iResearch Consulting Institute Report

What is the meaning of cut sleeve?