Media imperialism, fan resistance and state censorship: BBC Sherlock Slash fandom in China

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Academic Commentary
Title: Media imperialism, fan resistance and state censorship: BBC Sherlock Slash fandom in China
Commentator: Nivanka Fernando
Fandom: BBC Sherlock
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Media imperialism, fan resistance and state censorship: BBC Sherlock Slash fandom in China is an academic paper by Nivanka Fernando.

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BBC Sherlock's overwhelming popularity in China has been accompanied by an influx of slash fanfiction involving many of the show's main characters, but none have been more popular than the pairing of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (or Johnlock). The series' popularity among fanfiction circles is evident through several popular Chinese fanfiction websites including MTSlash which currently archives over 4900 Sherlock-themed fanworks, almost double the number of stories recorded for the second most popular series Supernatural. The Johnlock fanfiction community also uses websites devoted to the pairing such as to archive their fanworks. Although large global fanfiction archives such as and AO3 accommodate fanfiction written in Mandarin, the number of Johnlock fanworks recorded in this language are comparatively few; under 400 on AO3 and a mere 7 on However, thousands of fics are recorded on local Chinese fanfiction websites. This fact may contribute to explaining the widespread popularity of fanfiction in China as fandoms operating at a local level and fanfiction being chiefly read and written in the local language may overcome the obstacle of exclusion due to culture, language and social class associated with global online fandom. However, the predominance of locally-based fanfiction archives means that they are more vulnerable to government censorship and shutdown.

In 'Something Between Them' (之间), a Johnlock fanwork reposted on AO3 from the Chinese Sherlock fanfiction archive, John is seen to crave stability and depicted as seeking to uphold the traditions of marriage and family while Sherlock is a skeptical and career-oriented. John is also portrayed as more emotionally vulnerable while Sherlock is presented as stoic yet supportive. These traditional gender binaries are also evident in their fan lingo,with Chinese fans referring to John as Sherlock's "cute wife". However, this does not mean that Chinese fan's texts are not resistive. Although the characters are not seen to be completely equal in terms of power in their relationship as portrayed in Western fans' narratives, the fact that both characters are men and that their relationship is based on anegotiated equality renders Chinese fanfiction resistive of masculine hegemony and heteronormativity.

A survey of the 'Sherlock/John' tag on the MTSlash archive revealed that a majority of the written works were rated 'G' or 'PG' as opposed to the predominance of 'M' and 'R' rated works on global archives such as an AO3. Although works with explicit sexual content do exist in Chinese slash communities, the overall prevalence is lower than in their Western counterparts. 'Best Gift', a Johnlock fanwork posted on MTSlash is a 'fluff' fanfic, which means that it involves minimal sexual content and involves mundane, domestic situations. This work describes the Christmas and New Year celebrations of Sherlock and John in a simple narrative style. Although Johnlock fanfiction with more graphic content such as Omegaverse and PWP (porn without plot) is present in the MTSlash archive, these are almost exclusively stories that have been translated from English to Chinese. Therefore, while Chinese female fans may seek sexual liberation and resist hegemony through slash fanfiction, they may still retain certain cultural reservations when it comes to writing pornographic scenes. However, the consumption of erotic Johnlock fanfiction seems commonplace with translated fanworks registering thousands of views.