China / Cover Story

Fantasy history is a novel idea

By Xu Junqian (China Daily) Updated: 2012-04-05 07:36

Time travel to ancient dynasties gives readers a sense of escape, reports Xu Junqian in Shanghai.

By day, Liu Wen is just one of the millions of women office workers in this bustling city, spending eight hours, five days a week, curled up in her stifling cubicle typing and making phone calls.

But when darkness falls, back in front of a meter-long desk and pink-shelled laptop in her cramped bedroom, the 26-year-old recruitment consultant enters a world of fantasy where she becomes a charming princess living in a vast expanse of desert during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368).

"Too many people have written about traveling back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It's become a cliche to have a love affair with an a ge," (a prince in Manchu, the language used by aristocracy in those times), said Liu, who, for the past five months, has been burning the midnight oil writing a novel that is read online by no more than a few hundred devotees.

"I was never a good writer, I kind of hated writing back in school. But the lure of indulging yourself in a remote past where you know your life could be radically different is irresistible", as she put it, characterizing herself as a beautiful, smart, and courageous princess who is courted by a legion of generals and princes in her novel, Bud on the Desert.

Although time travel has been a common plot device employed by all genres in fiction and film across the globe for decades, the success of two time travel TV series in 2011, Palace and Startling by Each Step, both centered on a romance between a Qing Dynasty prince and a modern-day female office worker who is transported back through the ages - often via an accident, an electric shock, or even, in one extreme case, by falling down a well - has sparked a nationwide upsurge of interest.

A report jointly compiled by eight Chinese video portal websites discovered that by the end of 2011, the 35 episodes of Startling by Each Step had garnered 2.6 billion "click to watch" hits, topping the year's online ratings, while Palace was among the 10 most-watched online series.

The majority of the interest, however, developed after the TV productions, prompting any number of writers to produce love stories featuring themselves as the main protagonist, mostly as desperate urban female workers who undertake torrid affairs with devastatingly handsome, powerful and sentimental princes from long-gone ages.

Fantasy history is a novel idea

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