A brief history of BL
Ode to Joy 2, a hit TV drama that sparks hot discussions in China, came to the last episode. Andy is one of the female protagonists, and her "gender neutral style" could be interpreted as the new label of tanbi culture.
Tanbi, also known as Boy’s Love (BL), refers to the imagination of a romantic relationship among boys, in which those boys’ interactions have been deciphered as "bromance." Since the late 1990s, BL, as a genre of niche youth subculture, has been introduced into China though Japanese manga. Soon TV dramas adapted from Japanese and Korean manga promoted tanbi culture to more Chinese audiences with productions such as The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince and Sungkyunkwan Scandal.
All these dramas repeat the stereotype of a girl who disguised herself as a man, enrolled in an all-boy school or a shop and developed romance with her male mate. Sound familiar? The stories seem to be the Korean version of Butterfly Lovers, a tragic Chinese love story that could be traced back to Jin Dynasty (265-420).
However, unlike Liang Shanbo, both male protagonists of The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince and Sungkyunkwan Scandal, tortured by the inner struggle between their desires and traditional moral disciplines, have finally accepted the fact that they fell in love with a "man." School 2013 obviously pushed BL imagination one step further by intentionally constructing a special friendship between two high school boys. Moreover, their bromance has also spread to real life, echoing a tendency for fans to form slash couples among other stars.
One example is the Sherlock Holmes series starring Benedict Cumberbatch, whose partnership with Dr. Watson has been taken as the representative of CP, that is, coupling or character pairing. It is Chinese TV drama Nirvana in Fire and The Disguiser that brings the public discussion about CP to its zenith, transforming lots of female audience to light fujoshi, a group who’s not as willing to watch details of the sexual descriptions as hardcore fans, but prefers to imagine the intimacy of two straight males as pure love.
No matter if the tanbi culture recounts stories on boys or girls, it is just a virtual world for fujoshi, encoding their desires for happiness into fictional romance.