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AO3 Sean Xiao Drama Sparks High-Stakes War in Boys’ Love Fandom

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Archive of Our Own or AO3, a site dedicated to fanfiction or “transformative works,” has been blocked by Chinese censors after a mass reporting attack by fans of actor Sean Xiao (aka Xiao Zhan), star of “boys’ love” TV series The Untamed. The site was also a long-held haven for Chinese writers of explicit and erotic fiction and of LGBTQ+ stories.

The incident, which is currently trending on social media platform Weibo, needs a little context to understand.

In China, it’s illegal to distribute porn and erotic literature online, while tolerance of LGBTQ+ material by online portals is extremely low. AO3 was used as a place to host steamier works, a safer and more international portal, away from the prying eyes of state censors.

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The conflict stems from The Untamed, a hit TV series based on a magical novel in the “boys’ love” sub-genre. While the show is less explicit about the romance between its two male leads, some fans used A03 to “enhance” some of these storylines and supplement them with their own. Fans of the actors (Sean Xiao and Wang Yibo), were not happy about such stories, taking particular umbrage at one that imagined Xiao as a sex worker experiencing gender dysphoria.

Some Xiao fans thus organized a coordinated assault against the website, posting instructions that encouraged others how to report AO3 and LOFTER (China’s equivalent of Tumblr) for unlawful and homoerotic content.

Unfortunately, it seems that the spiteful act has yielded results. AO3 is now blocked in China, leaving a massive base of displaced fanfiction authors and readers. In turn, that community has started to launch similar attacks against Xiao’s fanbase.

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The whole thing is a huge and unnecessary mess, and the fan who organized the assault has admitted to working with Sean Xiao’s management team in order to control the situation on Weibo.

As if that weren’t enough, Crest toothpaste has removed its usual Weibo image featuring Xiao, replacing it with an older shot featuring Lu Han. Drama!!

Elsbeth van Paridon
Sinologist Elsbeth van Paridon is an aficionada of fashion and urban culture. Deeply devoted to China’s urban underground scene, van Paridon also reports on trends in her own publications “The China Temper” and “China Under The Radar“.