Gay-themed web drama taken offline

Source: China Real Time, WSJ (2/24/16)
China’s Censors Take Another Gay-Themed Web Drama Offline
By Lilian Lin and Chang Chen

A screenshot from the Weibo page for the gay-themed Web drama “Heroin.”

China’s regulators have once again shown their discomfort with homosexuality by pulling a popular gay-themed Web drama offline.

“Heroin” (also known as “Addiction” in Chinese), a 15-episode Web drama about romance among teenage boys, was earlier this week taken down from major Chinese video streaming sites, just weeks after several other offending online shows were banned.

The Web drama, which follows the lives of four high school students played by fresh-faced actors, has generated buzz on social media ever since it went online about one month ago. The show’s Beijing-based production house said that the drama was viewed more than 10 million times in the day after it premiered.

The company said on its official Weibo account on Monday that the last three episodes, which have yet to be streamed in China, can be watched on YouTube later this week. YouTube is currently blocked in mainland China.

Some other gay-themed Web dramas were also yanked from streaming on major video portals. One of China’s leading video streaming sites, under Tencent Holdings, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the move. Another leading site,, declined to comment.

People close to these online companies said they were given no reason from the regulator – namely, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television — when asked to suspend the gay-themed shows. The regulator didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Content about “Boys’ Love,” or “BL” — a term originally used to describe Japanese gay-themed fiction featuring  male characters – has in recent years won a legion of young followers in China, particularly young women. Producers of some popular Chinese TV dramas and films, and even editors of fashion magazines, tend to hint at love between male heartthrobs in order to attract more eyeballs. Literature, video games and cartoons that revolve around male love are abundant in China’s Web-sphere.

Some experts say younger viewers are more interested in content addressing homosexuality than their parents’ generation.

“It capitalizes on people’s curiosity about gender minorities, which those born in the 1950s and ‘60s might not feel comfortable with or take interest in,” said Peng Xiaohui, a human sexologist at Central China Normal University. “In a highly competitive society with few smooth channels for  upward mobility, it’s a pressure outlet for young people with low income and social status.”

Unlike most gay-themed content, which typically is armed with little support from major industry players, ”Heroin” is backed by Huace Group, a leading Chinese TV drama and film producer, which co-distributes and promotes the show online. A spokeswoman for Huace declined to comment.

Still, “Heroin’s” abrupt disappearance came as no surprise to many observers, as gay-themed content is generally deemed taboo by China’s media regulators and the country’s censors are tightening their grip over online content.

A gay-themed episode of the online talk show “U Can U Bibi,” in which a gay host cried and called for social understanding, was pulled offline soon after it was released last July. Independent director Fan Popo’s LGBT documentary “Mama Rainbow” was taken offline and failed to be re-uploaded to many video websites even after Mr. Fan declared victory in a lawsuit against SAPPRFT last December. And last month, authorities ordered offline the smash hit “Go Princess Go,” a gender-bending romantic comedy that had racked up more than 2.4 billion views before it was removed.

Fans of “Heroin” are mourning the show’s sudden disappearance. Zhang Qi, a 24-year-old employee at an Internet security company, attributed the banning of the show partly to the government’s fear that gay culture is becoming increasingly popular and may “mislead” young people. “Only when young people are exposed to  more feelings can they know what they need,” she told China Real Time.

Mona He, a 20-year-old accounting student in Shenzhen who is also a lesbian, said she relishes gay-themed films and TV series from outside China because “even if we had homosexual works at home, they were just so-so.”

“There’s no difference when (two) individuals fall for each other,” said Ms. He, who is also a fan of the show “Heroin.” “Why should we look at sexual orientation as something special?”

Even as popular gay-themed content is being pulled offline, one romantic film, “Run for Love,” is coming under fire from LGBT activists for what they say is a deliberately misleading trailer that appears to show a love scene between two women – but which is actually spliced together from scenes showing the women separately.

Li Maizi, one of the five Chinese feminists whose detention last year triggered an international outcry, was so outraged by the trailer that she launched an online forum against the film on China’s Weibo social media platform. The page, “Ten Thousand Lesbians Against ‘Run for Love,’” has been viewed nearly 3 million times since she launched it on Feb. 15. Enlight Media, a codistributor of the film, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The authorities’ ramped-up censorship has only intensified gay viewers’ longing for LGBT cultural products, Ms. Li told China Real Time.

“The recent hit gay-themed Web dramas show that the LGBT market is broad,” she said. “SAPPRFT had better face up to it rather than implementing unspoken rules or using traditional values as a shield.”

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