Why are 'Mary Sue' stories so popular in today's China?(2)

2015-03-31 09:13Global Times Editor: Qian Ruisha

Liang said that the first Mary Sue story she ever read was a piece of fan fiction set in the world of Slam Dunk, a popular Japanese manga comic about a high school basketball team that was adapted into an animation series in 1993.

"The Mary Sue character was the same age as me, and had a similar mentality to life as me, so I was able to perfectly identify with her," she said. "[Reading it] was as if I was in the cartoon world myself, and having these romantic relationships with the handsome basketball players."

A writer's perspective

Huo shared Yang's view that Mary Sue fiction gave readers an outlet for wish fulfillment, but he noted that most of the time, the term is used derogatorily.

"[The term Mary Sue is associated with stories] that are ridden with clichés, that are excessively indulgent and too subjective to the author," said Huo.

"Mary Sue characters are usually flat and have no authentic sense of personality or uniqueness, and are just a product of self-aggrandizement. In artistic terms, they are complete failures."

Qin Yunuo, a 14-year-old writer of Mary Sue stories and junior high school student in Jinan, Shandong Province, said she is aware of criticisms of the genre.

Qin's most recent story, titled Magic Imperial Concubine, was serialized on, a website for popular novels, and has more than 40,000 views.

"I know the story is way too Mary Sue and there are lots of these kinds of stories on the Internet," she said. "But my readers loved it and I managed to earn over 3,000 yuan ($483) from [donations to the website] for my story."

Magic Imperial Concubine tells the story of a modern girl who is transported back in time, becoming an ancient princess with magical powers. In this ancient world, five kings compete for her romantic attentions.

Qin said that although some might criticize Mary Sue stories, what she valued most was being able to live through the events experienced by her characters during the process of writing.

"I felt I was the princess when I was writing the story," said Qin. "I cried for around half an hour when I had to write the death scene for one of the kings."

Qin said she started writing novels when she was 11. During that time, around 80 percent her female classmates were also writing Mary Sue stories, she said.

While most of her classmates have now given up, Qin is determined to continue.

"Recently, I saw the TV series Cruel Romance and Legend of Fragrance, which are both very popular and share the same style as the stories I write," said Qin. "I think in the near future, I can write a script like that."

Is Anastasia Steele a Mary Sue?

Huo said that he considered Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic novel by E. L. James that was recently adapted into a film, to be an example of a modern Mary Sue story that has achieved popular success.

"I've heard that the novel was originally written as a piece of Twilight fan fiction, and the leading characters were [the main characters] Bella Swan and Edward Cullen," said Huo.

"If you read Twilight, you have the sense that the author is simply putting herself into this fantasy of being a delicate, innocent woman whose affections these two handsome, powerful guys fight for."

Likewise, with Fifty Shades of Grey, said Huo, the main character of Anastasia Steele is an avatar, or manifestation, of the author herself, living out a fantasy.

"[Because of this], many people can identify with it, and that's why they love it."

Like Yang, Huo made reference to Taiwanese novelist Chuing Yao when asked about the social significance of Mary Sue novels.

"In the 1980s, when Chiung Yao's popular romance novels came to our lives, it allowed us to daydream about love, about relationships and romance," he said.

"In those times, we were ashamed to harbor such fantasies about love, and those daydreams could only be written down in a secret diary, or just kept hidden in one's heart…Now however, these fantasies and daydreams can be openly made into novels and TV shows, allowing people to freely indulge in these beautiful fantasies."

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