Chinese female fans of the Benedict Cumberbatch-led show are in love with the show's leads, Sherlock (Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman). They're also in love with the idea of them settling down with one another.
The new season of Sherlock premiered in China mere hours after the show aired Britain. And it did so to much fanfare. "The gay-citement has finally returned. PS: Thank you, Prime Minister Cameron, for visiting China," a fan is quoted as saying in a BBC piece on the season premiere.
"Gay-citement" is a euphemism for the imagined/desired sexual tension and love between Holmes and Watson, known in China as Curly Fu and Peanut, the Chinese pronunciation of their names (Curly is a reference to Cumberbatch's hair, Fu = Holmes Foreign Policy reported).
Imagining a world where Curly Fu and Peanut engage in buggery isn't strictly a Chinese thing (the show even had a coy reference to this in its season premiere) — Sherlock is just one of the many shows that's been the subject of "slashing", a type of fan fiction where authors turn the main heartthrobs of the show gay.
What makes China slightly different is that this slashing is happening in a country with a history rife with gay discrimination and against slashing — people have been in thrown in jail for distributing slash fiction.
Apparently, the homosexual love between Curly Fu, Peanut, and other male characters on the show like Mycroft and Moriarty is worth bring thrown in prison for. If you look at MTSlash, a Chinese fan-fic site, Sherlock is by far one of the most popular subjects, with over 4,900 entries — almost double the second most popular show, Supernatural. Suits, for some inexplicable reason, also has a devoted slash following.
And the stories get pretty vivid. Like this one which imagines Sherlock hooking up with his brother Mycroft Holmes (via a shoddy Google Translate, which adds another unintentional layer of humor to this):
Sherlock is a virgin, no doubt. [Mycroft] Holmes can feel the tension in his body. [He moved] his hand gently in a circular motion on Sherlock's thighs, trying to ease each other's tight, and the other hand on the young Holmes who explore up and down slightly thin body , juvenile unique smooth lines. He finally withdraw from Sherlock mouth, "Sherly, are you sure? ......" his younger brother did not answer, [he] just moved down his body.
Or this author, who imagined a Watson making out with an injured Sherlock:
When this kiss became more and more uncontrollable, John raising his hand against Sherlock's chest ... the heat burned on the face of incredible speeds approaching his ... He still could easily be the man to mobilize desire. But he must stop because he does not want a kiss and Sherlock rip wounds.
And some are just Chinese translations of slash fic in English. Really, really steamy slash fic:
The wet heat was a shock, and John gasped and let his head fall back. In response, Sherlock leaned forward and sank his teeth into John's neck. It was painful, and probably too soon, but John didn't want it to stop, the pain sending deliciously mixed messages down his nerve endings. He wanted more. A mental image of Sherlock just piercing his skin with his canine teeth sent a surge up his thighs and through his hips. That was new; it certainly wasn't something he would've ever thought he'd get off on.
The people who read this often refer to themselves as "Fu Nv" originating from the term "Fujoshi", which literally means "rotten women." "The term has become popular in China in recent years. Young women fantasize about beautiful men being in love and proudly label themselves "Fu Nv". It has also extended from just men in manga and anime to real-life male performers in TV drama and movies," Sina explains.
The Fu Nv would probably be something like the One Directioners who gobble up "Zarry" (Zayn + Harry) or "Ziam" (Zayn+ Liam) fan fiction. As Amanda Hess wrote for Tomorrow, some of this is a push against the contrived and now all to formulaic romance stuff that we've been shoving at teenage girls since the dawn of boy bands and Chistian Grey, which are, when you boil it down, idyllic love stories written by middle age men and women about people half their age, aimed at teens and young adults. (Draw whatever kind of parallels to the Chinese government and censorship you want.)
The other part of that equation is that the cultural landscape has shifted, attitudes about gay men, gender roles, and sex have shifted and women have seen this:
... [G]ender roles change, and the sexual landscape has shifted dramatically since Justin Timberlake first debuted his frosted-tipped fro. Gay marriage is now legal in six states and Washington, D.C. Same-sex experimentation is a tween rite of passage. Girls are outperforming boys academically all the way through college. Experimenting with friends has emerged as the middle ground between one-night stands and all-consuming romances. The false dichotomies of those traditional romantic structures—straight or gay, friend zone or marriage track, sex or love, masculine or feminine—are crumbling.
And there's reason to believe that some of this has permeated through to China and has been picked up by the Fu Nv. In a country where gay men are in marriages they don't want to be in, where people are told to act straight, and where gay men and lesbians are even entering fake marriages to get people off their backs and live their lives, the Fu Nv represent an improvement in the country's attitudes toward the LGBT community, even if it is by way of raunchy Curly Fu-Peanut fan fiction. "Sherlock tortures Watson a thousand times, and Watson loves him like his first love," a fan, possibly a Fu Nv, is quoted as saying by the BBC. "I've waited two years, and it didn't disappoint me. "