Chinese Gay Lit: What is Danmei?

Danmei (耽美) is something that always seems to make readers shriek and fangirl online. Especially with recent mega-hits from MXTX, images of flowery elegant gentlemen have captured the imagination and made girls swoon.

Modaozushi written by MXTX

In a nutshell, danmei is a genre that is written by, consumed by, and targeted for a female audience. It’s wildly popular in online Chinese literature, with adaptations for the big or small screen mostly scrubbed of overt homosexualism.

The term itself translates to “indulgence in beauty” and symbolizes the (over)romanticizing of male-male relationships, sometimes to the point where aesthetics overcome the importance of plot and character development.

There are a few speculations as to why this phenomenon came to be and how they might be compared to its Western equivalent: slash fiction.

  1. The systematic ban and the socially taboo nature of homosexual/homoerotic content in China
  2. Gender inequality and inequity in society where women feel oppressed and objectified
  3. Inevitable ties and constraints in a conventional romance, which end in marriage and childbirth – and ultimately interfere with an idealized concept of love

The first two points aren’t unique to China and apply to most of Asia, where civil rights haven’t transformed as they have in most of the West. The emergence of slash fiction coincided with the gay rights movement, although it tends to be more centered on fan fiction.

Therefore, it doesn’t come as a surprise to find that danmei or yaoi (Japanese term for boy love, whereas yuri is the term for girl love) is very popular with female audiences in those places, as well. Just as pornography set in a classroom or a religious facility invokes naughtiness, danmei provide readers with the rush of witnessing something taboo and forbidden – and the forbidden fruit is sweet.

Along with that comes the freedom and privilege that a male-submissive character represents, because men can often continue their lives without any fallout (or so the female writers think) that might otherwise affect women, such as slut shaming, virginity complexes, and pregnancy.

This leads to the third point, which suggests that in danmei, the characters aren’t as concerned with marriage and children. Same-sex marriage isn’t allowed in Asia except in Taiwan (where it was recently legalized), and children don’t have to be involved in the couple’s lives (no shotgun weddings!).

This allows “pure love” to exist in the danmei world, where two characters stay together solely because of love, and not because of societal expectations or social responsibility.

Without a widely observable homosexual community in China, life as a homosexual man was both mysterious and romanticized. At the same time, it served as a blank canvas for writers hoping to create a form of “pure” romance without the conventional restrictions.

However, this same lack of understanding also brings an interesting pattern found in danmei – the submissive partner is often portrayed like a woman with feminine exterior and interior traits, only she has junk in her trunks. This is probably the most obvious difference between danmei and slash fiction.

Slash, on the other hand, grew out of fan dissatisfaction with canon relationships. For instance, in the Star Trek fanfiction circle, stories are written about Kirk and Spock because fans felt that canon lore served the two short.

The genre name comes from the practice of putting a slash between the names of two characters that are “shipped.” This often involves romantic or erotic elements that extend from friendship and companionship. Subplots from canon are elaborated, and darker themes are explored such as domination and violence.

In other words, it’s often whatever fans wanted to see happen, but the original writers didn’t make happen.

For more about danmei, and English translations of these novels, please visit

[Updated] Impressions of “Legends of Ogre Gate” & why you should try it

It’s not everyday a Chinese wuxia/xianxia translator gets to publish their own writing.

It’s not everyday I know the translator doing so.

Thus is the big disclaimer for my post — I received a copy of this THICC novel (it really is satisfyingly thick) through some twisting of the arm, kidnapping of baby DB, tampering with soul lamps, robbing of sect foundations — er, let’s rephrase. Jeremy “Deathblade” Bai was very nice to send me a review copy. 😀 Since the novel was launched just in time for World Book Day, I wanted to get out a first impressions post after reading the first 100 pages.


I’m a big fan of the cover art and wanted a physical copy of the novel because of it. It’s infinitely satisfying to hold in one’s hands. And for those who don’t know me, I’m etvolare, another translator of Chinese fantasy (wuxia/xianxia) and romance. The gobbledegook I sprouted above is common tropes in xianxia, and what I comment on may be colored by my experience.

As long time readers of web novels will know, online wuxia/xianxia tends to be heavily formulaic. After a while of reading, you always know what twist is coming. Most open with some shocking event — a battle, a relationship betrayal, the final lucidity of the last moments of life, or enemies at the door.

LOG is no different. A shocking battle, unexpected subterfuge, and a prophecy to be fulfilled. There was a comfortable amount of confusion — who is Hui? She’s not one of the names in the summary. Where did the artifact take her? Did she transmigrate? To ancient China or…? Was she reborn?

It all sounds rather typical of a fantasy novel, but it’s executed quite well. It’s most telling as opposed to showing, and neatly sidesteps a lot of the info-dump-repetition-filler-filler-filler potholes that a lot of web novels are littered with. DB’s years of experience show through in the deftness of how he sets the beginning of the novel.


We’re in a non-typical cultivation world, where qi is actually brought to the world by a… stranger? Demon? Alien? Ghosts of Christmas past? Combining it with traditional martial arts gives us our much beloved cultivation system. We get to explore the process with Sunan, and the way DB chooses to tackle this is really lovely.

Instead of an info dump, we follow a country boy’s journey of discovery of this mysterious new energy. We see through his unlearned eyes how his strength builds and experience how killing intent appears. A fresh twist is that he doesn’t start off as cultivation obsessed. In fact, his hilariously verbose friend Sun Mai is the one who encourages to explore more.

There’s an enormous villain on the scene, so naturally the ultimate goal is to take him down. The journey is the main premise of the novel, and I really wonder how two blank sheets of canvas will be able to rise up and contend with someone who seems to have already reached grand perfection in their cultivation.

Just when we really start to bond with Sunan — the boy’s basically using his knowledge to be an MMA fighter! — we’re left with a killer cliffhanger. Thanks DB, you really learned from the web novels.

The perspective pivots, and generally that’s accompanied by an amping down of the tension. Not so here. We meet the other MC, Bao, and it doesn’t take more than two pages before I’m baying for blood on her behalf. This was a gut-wrenching twist, and I’m purposefully being vague so I don’t spoil things. Five more pages in, and someone hand me a spear!

The action is fast and furious, and though she’s a noble girl, she’s the last thing from a helpless damsel distress there is. She fights, she kills instead of cries, and it seems that she… has a gift for prophecy? Whatever her hidden talents are, I love that she’s no wilting flower that Sunan will have to rescue over and over again.

Her story line seems rather different though, as she’s off in the wilderness, fighting ogres commanded by the Demon Emperor and running around with bandits. Sunan’s off in a city, dealing with the ‘mundane’ hardships of day to day living. I’m quite interested to see how the two will meet up, and where’s Hui?

I am also a fan of how realistic the novel is. We’re in a xianxia world with fantastical creatures, artifacts, and cultivation. But that suspension of belief doesn’t come with deus ex machina, plot armor thick enough to kill the reader, or two-dimensional characters. So while the setting itself may require a suspension of belief, what happens in the story and the characters is anything but.

In fact, how the characters and supporting cast are drawn out is possibly one of my favorite parts. I care about them, and I want to know more about them.


If I were to point at anything I didn’t like from my initial impressions, it’s that there’s too much pinyin in the names for my taste. Cities, mountains, deities, and of course the cast are all pinyin. Kong Zhi for Confucius (assuming that’s the reference), shan/mt./mountain for mountains, shen for god, etc.

Even as someone who’s very comfortable working with Chinese, I found my mind wandering and skipping over the names. As someone who doesn’t like to read with a map in hand, I already know the geography of LOG will remain somewhat obscure to me.

[addendum] The importance of reading afterwords is that we learn there the names are a result of the game that the novel is based on. I remembered that vaguely, but it didn’t register for me since the novel works wonderfully as a standalone piece of work. 

Despite being friends with DB for a while, I have to admit I’ve never really read his original novel. …in fact, I may not have clicked on a single chapter. Oops, don’t hate me man. Still buds?


There were always too many interesting Chinese translations to get to, that I never felt this way or that about originals. After this first peek, it’s definitely vaulted to the top of the reading list for me. 

This is novel for those who are tired of the same old in cultivation. This is one for those who want a twist on xianxia. If you’ve ever been on the fence about originals, want a novel with legit dual MCs, or simply fare that sidesteps filler and wordcount padding… grab a copy by clicking me. 😀


Bottom line is, I liked it. The plot moves at a fast pace, there’s a good mix of action and philosophical introspection. Betrayal, intrigue, mystery, and romance all play good parts. The romance doesn’t factor in as heavily, which could be a pro or con depending on what folks are looking for. 

I would read it again, and I do recommend LOG to everyone. It’s a wonderful twist on an origin story for long-running, hardcore xianxia fans, and a perfect intro for those just dipping a toe into Chinese fantasy.


We left the first impression with me recommending the novel after 100 pages, and it’s a good ride all the way to the end. The writing doesn’t fall off, and while I feel that some of the villains fall in a rather anti-climatic way — e.g. Bao’s personal demon seriously needed to die in a more gory manner. More humiliation. Or maybe my appetite has been much too enlarged thanks to typical xianxia web novels. Overall, the ending and loose ends are wrapped up in a very solid manner.
Apart from the pinyin, there was also one point about the novel that I wasn’t the biggest fan of, and I left it for the full readthrough to see if it would still be an issue. While DB sidesteps the plot holes, filler, and nonsensical developments, the slightly choppy, web novel way of writing actually crops up for the initial chapters. Granted, it’ll be more apparent to me because I’m a fellow translator, and I’m constantly analyzing other people’s writing styles on the path of improvement.
When I brought it up to him, he mentioned it was a conscious stylistic choice, and that he switches out of it. My personal speculations are that maybe he did so to ease the transition for web novel readers, to bridge the typical web novel style for something much well-written and logical, in a more traditional publishing style.
Things do clear up around chapter 18, where I noticed my mental voice stopped getting tripped up by sentence structure. It’s a really nice read from that point onwards. 
LOG is based off of the board game, Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, screenshot below.


To be honest, I hadn’t expected to enjoy the process of building a cultivation system as much as I did. I touched on it briefly in my first impressions above, but this part really played hugely into why I like LOG.

Experienced xianxia readers will be very familiar with the cultivation system, with levels, realms, breaking through, and heavenly tribulation. Mystic treasures, spirit creatures, inter-dimension travel, gods, and souls are par for the course. 

But none of that structure is present in the LOG world. A lot of trial of error is present — how to meditate most effectively? How to recover energy? How to use energy in fights? How to develop techniques? And the notion of breakthroughs isn’t even quantified until Sunan and his friend Sun Mai achieve several of them. The reader really grows with them, and it’s a very fresh twist and neat avoidance of several chapters of world description.

It also leads to some hilarious moments, as how one character defines the system might not match up to another character defines it. One man’s cultivation system is another man’s gibberish. We also get to see how cultivators would appear to regular folk.

“What did you just say?” she asked.
“You just yelled something. What was it?”
“Um… Dragon Cleaves the Clouds?”
“Yes, that was it. Dragon Cleaves the clouds? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Uh, that’s the name of the move. The technique I just used.”
“You name your moves?”
“You don’t name your moves? But… doesn’t everybody do that?”
Bao chuckled. “You name your moves? What are you, a child?”

I can totally hear the internal voice scream, chuuuuuni!! Weirdo. Lol.


Honestly, I’m really looking forward to more books from this world. The huge spoiler is that good eventually triumphs in the end, but there is a lot more material that we can explore. The barebones of cultivation are established in the end, and we see the rise of martial heroes with the budding formation of a wulin, but there’s also a lot of room left to establish mature factions, a regular tourneys, the formation of secret realms, etc.

There’s also a god/demon trapped in the crown and some vague references to other ancient Chinese gods. I’d love, love to see more of them and see from their perspective how they view the arrival of qi and development of cultivation in the mortal world. The underworld is also mentioned, and some of their creatures are seen. There’s definitely a societal structure there that we haven’t fully seen yet.

There are some loose ends left that don’t impact enjoyment of the story, as well as a whole load of new names and slight gibberish that the main villain voices at one point. I definitely want to see that developed more, and also see more of where Sunan and Bao journey to. 

Grab your copy of LOG by clicking me. 😀

Here’s to prosperity in the year of the pig!

It’s already February of 2019 and the year of the prosperous pig! Hope y’all caught the giveaway on Twitter and IG, and more to come~

Translator Musings: Who is Ben, and why does he have a gong and a wang?

“Wangye, nubi apologizes for the slight to da furen! Nucai’s zhuzi wanted to bring erye’s gift into the wangfu, but er furen once told san taitai that she’s allergic to flowers so xiaode used the chaos of wansuiye’s arrival to put erye’s gift into the dafang!”

Welcome to etvo’s inaugural post on random translation musings, in which I share some thoughts on possible best practices and reflections after two years of webnovel translations.

Of course, these are my opinions and preferences only, take ‘em with a boulder sized grain of pink salt! And this scandalous Ben fellow certainly has a party going on!

Ben… I think you dropped this.

Today I’d like to address a pet peeve that’s creeped in over the years—leaving pinyin in novel translations. This is most frequently done for forms of address, cultivation ranks, and location names.

Did… did anyone make sense of that first quote? Did you want to close this post?? Of course, it was exaggerated due to consideration of space, as posting 200 chapters to illustrate a point is silly.

Imagine being a reader and coming back to this beauty after a month of exams/crazy work and following 20+ novels at the same time. Or look at it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t understand much Chinese. Rather than struggled to follow all of the ins and outs, a reader might just give up. At the very least, this is a chore to read and I’m left struggling with how weird and foreign everything is.

The opening quote is about a servant babbling reasons why she offended the senior madame. Senior madame wanted to bring the second master’s gift into the prince’s residence, but second madame once told the third wife [1. Change in title indicates lower station, likely just a concubine] that the former is allergic to flowers. Therefore, the servant used the chaos of the emperor’s arrival to stick the gift (presumably of flowers) randomly into senior madame’s residence.

Who got all that after major cameos from what I call the Alphabet Soup clan?

Not this kind of alphabet soup!

I’ve discussed this with some translators/readers before, and some prefer pinyin for the flavor. The non-English words lend an air of authenticity, and truthfully, it’s so much easier to not translate something and leave it in pinyin.

However, I feel that defaulting to pinyin is a hindrance to fully enjoying a novel. It makes people pause when they reach the pinyin, try to decipher this new word, and recall the definition. All this takes away from them purely enjoying and reacting to the novel itself. Instead, they’re tripping over Alphabet Soup clan members.

But! The use of pinyin shouldn’t be entirely eradicated. Rather, it can be used sparingly, when there really isn’t an English equivalent or for stylistic emphasis. I myself use jianghumama, and yamen in my translations, because to translate them into English would necessitate behemoth footnote explanations. Now back to our previous program.

“Prince, sluga apologizes for the slight to wielka dama! Stowry’s mistrz wanted to bring drugi mistrz’s gift into the dwor ksiazecy, but panie dwa once told trzecia zona that she’s allergic to flowers so ten sluga used the chaos of cesarz’s arrival to put drugi mistrz’s gift into the dworek!”

The pinyin was switched to Polish in this version, thanks to help from the wonderful TranslationRaven over at WW. It will look like a train wreck to fellow translators as well now. That’s likely how it appears to newcomers of translated novels—which, are what most new readers tend to be.

I think even long-time fans of translated novels would find this an utter headache to wade through. Instead of being lost in the world of the novel, we’re stumbling over deciphering part after part of a foreign language.

But at this point, one might point out, “Harry Potter has tons of weird phrases and non-English words too! And look at how popular it is!”

Sure, but it’s also a fantasy world. Made-up words are found much more often in fantasy settings, and mashing two words together is frequently how something is named. No writing and/or grammar rule is the be-all and end-all, and adjustments are always made based on context.

Okay granted… this is also an example of bad subtitling.

While I do advocate mostly translating raws into English, sometimes one does want to highlight the foreignness of the word, ie. the spells in Harry Potter. But as one flings around accio and wingardium leviosa, one’s also brewing the Draught of Living Death and not its equivalent in Latin.

Just because it’s a fantasy world doesn’t mean one goes off the deep end with non-English words as well. Imagine if all the names of places and titles were pinyin, ie. Diagon Alley = Xiexiang, Hogwarts = Huogewoci, and Dementors = Shehunguai. Doesn’t this lose some of the beauty of this world?

We still haven’t gotten to our scandalous resident Ben and his clan yet. He gave me the inspiration for this writeup! Please meet his brothers bengong [2. Autocorrect keeps changing this to banging, oh dear], benwang, as well as sisters chenqie, furen, aunties nubi, nucai, etcetera in the great Alphabet Soup clan. Ben sprang into existence after reading many passages like:

Benwang will not be denied! Minnu will enter the wangfu as my wangfei! If you do not comply, you will enter as a qie then!”

“How dare you speak to bengong this way! Bengong is the most exalted guifei of His Majesty! Bengong will have your head for this!”

I burst out laughing the first time I saw benwang in pinyin because in the States at least, “wang” is slang for a certain male organ. So er, Ben won’t be denied hey! Rather than getting sidetracked about gongs and wangs, why not:

“This prince will not be denied! Commoner woman, you will enter my manor as my princess consort! If you do not comply, you will enter as a concubine instead!”

“How dare you speak to this seat this way! I am His Majesty’s most exalted noble consort! I will have your head for this!”

Fully translated, we can instead focus on what an ass the first speaker is, and understand the haughtiness of the second. I also switched around the structure of the second more, to reflect better flow in English. Being overly beholden to the Chinese syntax is another pet peeve to be tackled another day.

Not only does too much pinyin make a passage nonsensical, there are also incredible relationships in Chinese culture that are apparent just from forms of address. So much meaning is denied by pinyin’ing everything.

The beizi only smirked coldly when he saw the beile, and both were taken aback when Huang jiangjun strode in and took a seat without a word of greeting.

After reading this, it’s apparent that lots and lots of drama is about to erupt. Or is it?

A beizi is a Prince of the Fourth Rank, whereas a beile is a Prince of the Third Rank. So for the former to not greet his higher ranked brother respectfully… well that is a very big deal. And Huang jiangjun aka General Huang? How dare he walk in and take a seat without acknowledging the two royal princes?

Some epic face slapping is about to explode in the next paragraph after this. But by leaving everything in pinyin, we’re bereft of the subtle undercurrents.

H-here be wangfu?

At the end of the day, I feel that translation is an art. “You just sit at a computer and type whatever random crap, right?” Someone once asked me that. We-ell, not quite garbage in, mindless garbage out like that.

As translators, we should convey the author’s meaning as faithfully as possible, but as appropriately as possible in the target language. It’s essentially painting the author’s creation on the canvas of another language. How does one evoke the same feelings of anger, pity, glory, and awe that we felt when reading the raws in their original language?

As the founder of volare, I always encouraged my folks to translate in proper English as best one can. “Let’s not have our work smack of a translation.”

Wouldn’t it be better for readers to lose themselves in cheering for the MC finally getting his revenge or aww’ing over couple interactions, rather than getting hung up on “wait, that should’ve been peek instead of peak…” or being clobbered over the head by Ben and his crew?

I’m always excited to share my work with friends and recommend translations around the community based on what they like to read. But I also often get feedback that they didn’t read past a few chapters because of the mighty Alphabet Soup clan turning out in full force, idiom errors, or awkward sentence structure getting to them. That’s always sad, and a lost opportunity to convert a new reader. 🙁

ROS Chapter 200 Giveaway!

To celebrate reaching 200 chapters of my favorite webnovel, I’m running a giveaway on Instagram!

Simply leave a comment on this IG post sharing what your favorite ROS scene has been thus far, and you’ll be entered in a drawing for some etvo chicken scratches, souvenirs from Taiwan, Japan, and Tokyo Disney~ The giveaway will run through to Oct. 28, 2018~

Drop a follow too to keep up on love, life, and moar etvo!

SOTR chapter betting kicks off!

It’s our favorite time of the year, Worlds 2018 for League of Legends!

Since etvo is a huge League fan, chapter betting is always a thing around this time of the year!

Correct majority votes leads to an extra SOTR chapter!

First bet: Who will be the second seed out of Group A?

Given the explosive first day results… that’s a big question!

And what other bets would you guys like to see? Let me know on Twitter!

羅志祥Show Lo – 夠了 Let go

Let Go by Show Lo (Although I think the title is better translated as “Enough” XD)

The stories the public spins need no supporting evidence,
a lot of mouths fire off attacks day and night,
creating discord but pretending to be jokesters.
It’s all making up their own stories from a single picture,
picking at nothing to pick at.

Who’s there creating something out of nothing again?
Oh, this is something you heard? Oh no, now it’s something you dreamed?
You’re idiotic,
quite a character,
and blahblahblahblahblah. Are you done yet?

There’s not that much time in a day,
why do you have nothing to do?
You only dare start drama in the shadows,
Enough! Get down, get down.

Clear dangers before were easy to dodge,
now the threats are all hidden in keyboards.
Your brain’s halted in the Jurassic age,
just get down, get down.

Enough! You’re like poison by my side.
I don’t care who complains about my attitude (x4),
enough! Let let let let let let let let the bass go.

What attitude? What hard to get along with?
You only know to spar with your words and give empty promises of happiness.
You fling out parasitic poisons and are blind like the others.
Eat dirt. Just continue being foolish.
Who’s pretending to be a pig to eat a tiger?
Here’s a band-aid. It’s my gift to you.
That gift’s starting the countdown now,
and I’ll make you wholeheartedly submit to me.

Down. No need to trust, no need to listen to nonsense.
This is just a reality show.
What’s real and what’s fake?
Down. Playing the victim. Pretending to be innocent.
Some people applaud, but they’re both the audience and the culprit.

[rap not translated]

盧瑮莉 LILY 【那個人該是我】That Person Should Be Me

Lily – That Person Should Be Me

You’re still here,
but with her.
You’re just as gentle as always,
I can only ask you with a smile,
“How have you been lately?”
You respond with empty pleasantries,
seeming to want to rush elsewhere.
And yet, you pick up her hand carefully.

Oh that person should be me,
the one hitting the same alarm clock as you,
the one in the passenger seat.
I can’t hold back the regrets,
on all those lonely nights,
If I didn’t like to complain so much,
If I was more understanding of you,
If I knew to think a bit more.
Listen to me.
No, that person should be me,
sharing in your joys and sorrow,
with every changing of the seasons.
I feel that if I could set aside my pride,
if I could walk one more time with you,
perhaps you’ll think that we’re meant to be together.

Friends just told me about,
some stories about how happy you two are now,
your wedding pictures,
putting rings on each other,
and the vows you exchanged.
That should’ve been us.
Those paths we’ve once trod can no longer be visited,
time cannot be halted.
You and her match so well,
but it should’ve been us?
I pretend to laugh and don’t say that,

Chorus x2