Spell­bound

Many Chi­nese still in thrall to Harry Pot­ter

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By YANG YANG yangyangs@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Late in the night in Bei­jing on Nov 24, as the tem­per­a­ture con­tin­ued to fall to its fore­cast mi­nus 5, and as the usual din in the streets of the city’s San­l­i­tun Vil­lage be­gan to abate, an un­usual scene be­gan to un­fold. Ev­ery now and again strange fig­ures in twos and threes strolled into the vil­lage square, in the mid­dle of which was a gi­ant brown suit­case in front of a bill­board for the Hol­ly­wood movie Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Al­most all these peo­ple wore black gowns, striped scarves of scar­let and gold, green and sil­ver, yel­low and black or blue and bronze, and ties in the same match­ing pat­terns. Some wore car­rot-shaped ear­rings, Harry Pot­ter Deathly Hal­lows neck­lace, or sil­ver badges with the leg­end Head Boy or Head Girl, and tucked in­side their bulky sleeves or bags were ex­quis­ite wands.

The square was soon abuzz with their chat­ter, and they even­tu­ally headed for the warmer con­fines of an un­der­ground cin­ema, the Me­gabox, where they lined up to get pre­ordered tick­ets for Fan­tas­tic Beasts and Where to Find Them from a group that calls it­self the Room of Re­quire­ment. The film pre­miered in the Chi­nese main­land after mid­night.

Once they had se­cured their tick­ets, these die-hard Harry Pot­ter fans chat­ted with one an­other and took pho­tos.

One hun­dred and two fans from all walks of life at­tended the pre­miere that night. Some trav­eled from Tian­jin es­pe­cially for the party. This had been the third ac­tiv­ity this year or­ga­nized by the Room of Re­quire­ment, a so­ci­ety named after the room in Harry Pot­ter nov­els, since it was started in Fe­bru­ary, when fans from all over China gath­ered in Shang­hai for a memo­rial event for Alan Rick­man, the Bri­tish ac­tor who played Pro­fes­sor Snape, and who died in Jan­uary.

“It’s amaz­ing to make so many friends who love Harry Pot­ter books,” says Zhang Ruoxi, 26, one of the or­ga­niz­ers of the ac­tiv­ity. “It feels like a lot of witches and wizards hide among or­di­nary peo­ple and that when you raise your wand they will re­spond to you.”

Zhang is an en­gi­neer, and the other Pot­ter fans in­cluded an ar­chi­tect, a doc­tor, an edi­tor, a stu­dent and a traf­fic po­lice of­fi­cer.

“When you put on the gown, no mat­ter who you are or what you do, you are just one of us, equal and be­ing cared for and loved as a Harry Pot­ter fan,” says Liu Zhu­jie, 18, an­other or­ga­nizer of the ac­tiv­ity. Liu, from Shang­hai, started univer­sity in Bei­jing re­cently.

It is dif­fi­cult to say how many Harry Pot­ter fans there are in China, but since 2000, when the Chi­nese ver­sion of the first Harry Pot­ter book came out, nearly 20 mil­lion copies of the se­ries have been sold. When the last book of the se­ries Harry Pot­ter and the Deathly Hal­lows was pub­lished nine years ago, there were 1 mil­lion copies in the first print run of the Chi­nese ver­sion.

The Chi­nese ver­sion of Harry Pot­ter and the Cursed Child was pub­lished on Oct 29, and since then the en­tire 300,000 copies have sold out, and the pub­lisher is print­ing more.

JK Rowl­ing’s Harry Pot­ter nov­els have played a sig­nif­i­cant role in the lives of many Chi­nese read­ers, es­pe­cially those of the only-child gen­er­a­tions. Not only did they grow up with the char­ac­ters Harry, Ron and Hermione, but they have also formed great friend­ships as a re­sult of a shared en­thu­si­asm.

One of the most out­landish things that Lin Pin, now 28, has done re­lat­ing to Harry Pot­ter was in 2003 when he started high school in Fu­jian prov­ince.

Lin har­bored a very special feel­ing for

When you put on the gown, no mat­ter who you are or what you do, you are just one of us, equal and be­ing cared for and loved as a Har­ryPot­ter fan.” Liu Zhu­jie, an 18-year old from Shang­hai cur­rently study­ing in Bei­jing who also helps lead Har­ryPot­ter- themed events

Harry Pot­ter be­cause when he was at­tend­ing mid­dle school a close fam­ily mem­ber of his died, re­flect­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of Harry, both of whose par­ents died when he was an in­fant.

“Rowl­ing’s sto­ries gave me very im­por­tant com­fort and ac­com­pa­nied me as I went through pain and sad­ness,” Lin says. In the sum­mer of 2003 Harry Pot

ter and the Or­der of Phoenix was pub­lished. In or­der to read the story as early as pos­si­ble, Lin went on­line for the first time in his life to buy his first English novel, and he de­voured it no time. In the book, his fa­vorite adult char­ac­ter Sir­ius Black, Harry’s god­fa­ther, dies, and Lin was so sad­dened by this that he wrote a poem in mem­ory of him.

At high school, Lin took part in a po­etry recital con­test. All the other stu­dents chose well-known clas­sic po­ems but Lin re­cited the poem he wrote for Sir­ius Black. Not only that, but he bought a gown on­line and dressed like Harry Pot­ter, and stepped onto the stage that way.

“It was the first time that I cos­played Harry,” Lin says. “It was also the first time that any­one had done cos­play in our county.”

Lin says the sin­cer­ity in his poem touched many au­di­ences, no mat­ter whether they had read the books or not.

But his an­tics were off­beat par­tic­u­larly be­cause many teach­ers and stu­dents at the time knew noth­ing of the sto­ries let alone the fic­tional char­ac­ter Sir­ius Black.

“For me, it is a very pre­cious mem­ory. Al­though the char­ac­ter is fic­tional, I ex­pressed sin­cere feel­ing in my poem that touched a lot of au­di­ences.”

Later, he of­ten cos­played Harry Pot­ter with many other fans, es­pe­cially after he went to Bei­jing. Some say he is the per­son in China who most looks like Harry Pot­ter.

Lin is now a PhD stu­dent at Pek­ing Univer­sity and will grad­u­ate next year. As a stu­dent in the Chi­nese Depart­ment he wrote a pa­per on Harry Pot­ter when he was a ju­nior un­der­grad­u­ate stu­dent.

In nearly 40,000 char­ac­ters he an­a­lyzed the rea­sons for the pop­u­lar­ity of the nov­els world­wide, re­ject­ing the view of many crit­ics that Harry Pot­ter books are chil­dren’s books that are ei­ther too naive for adults or too dark for chil­dren, and dig­ging out the deeper mean­ing be­hind the metaphor of the magic world Rowl­ing cre­ated. Lin says Rowl­ing’s books have helped form his world­view.

With char­ac­ters like crazy girl Luna and the twins Fred and Ge­orge, the books have en­cour­aged him to be him­self re­gard­less of what other peo­ple say, he says.

“Luna is my fa­vorite char­ac­ter in the nov­els. She shows us that there are so many dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple in the world. We should re­spect peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent from us, em­brace di­ver­sity and treat others fairly.”

That world­view and ethos is shared by many Harry Pot­ter afi­ciona­dos, among them Yin Ping­ping, 29. “After I fin­ished read­ing The

Ca­sual Va­cancy I was very much touched by Rowl­ing’s hu­man­ist spirit,” she says.

“She is so con­sis­tently sin­cere with her­self and read­ers. In the Har

ry Pot­ter se­ries she writes about dis­crim­i­na­tion against non­pure­blooded witches and wizards, and the slav­ery of house elves. She ex­presses her op­po­si­tion to racism, sex­ism and hi­er­ar­chy through the sto­ries in the magic world. And in

The Ca­sual Va­cancy she ex­presses such ideas more di­rectly.”

Like many Harry Pot­ter afi­ciona­dos, Yin was im­me­di­ately drawn into Rowl­ing’s magic world once she started read­ing her first book in the se­ries.

In 2003, when cases of SARS (se­vere acute res­pi­ra­tory syn­drome) were re­ported in Bei­jing, Yin was a first-grade high school stu­dent in the cap­i­tal. Be­cause of SARS schools were closed, so Yin spent six months study­ing at home and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with school­mates on the school’s bul­letin board sys­tem.

“We built a sec­tion es­pe­cially de­voted to Harry Pot­ter and made a lot of friends,” she says.

Three years later when she ar­rived at Fu­dan Univer­sity in Shang­hai, she felt lonely be­cause many of her school­mates in the city had known each other since pri­mary school.

At the sug­ges­tion of a room­mate Yin printed some ad­ver­tis­ing fliers in an ef­fort to gather Harry Pot­ter fans among the stu­dents, but with­out suc­cess.

So she knocked on dor­mi­tory doors, one after an­other, look­ing for “com­rades” in dif­fer­ent classes.

Fi­nally she re­cruited about 30 first-year stu­dents, a num­ber that nar­rowly passed the re­quire­ment of the univer­sity to set up a new so­ci­ety.

De­spite some skep­ti­cism, the univer­sity even­tu­ally granted Yin’s ap­pli­ca­tion and she be­came the leader of the Harry Pot­ter fan so­ci­ety at Fu­dan Univer­sity, the first in China.

To bet­ter or­ga­nize ac­tiv­i­ties for mem­bers, she had to give up train­ing with the women’s softball team at the univer­sity and the Ja­panese course she had planned to take.

Be­fore the last Harry Pot­ter book came out in 2007, the so­ci­ety had more than 400 mem­bers. Reg­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties in­cluded the an­nual per­for­mance of a play adapted from the nov­els or orig­i­nal plays in Novem­ber, a read­ing club each week and a cos­tume ball on Hal­loween.

“Un­like many other so­ci­eties, we gath­ered to­gether be­cause we love the books rather than to build up re­la­tion­ships for our fu­ture like many stu­dents do at univer­sity,” Yin says. “So I am glad that our so­ci­ety kept a space for peo­ple like us. And it also showed how tol­er­ant the school was. We re­ceived a lot of in­ter­views, in­clud­ing some by for­eign me­dia.”

The so­ci­ety gave Yin many things, in­clud­ing a ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship. But what she cher­ished above all, she says, was the spirit she got from the books of Harry Pot­ter: courage, re­spon­si­bil­ity, love and friend­ship.

“I started read­ing Harry Pot­ter when I was 11 years old. At the most im­por­tant mo­ments of my life, when I was dis­ap­pointed in love, failed in ex­am­i­na­tions, or couldn’t find a job, I al­ways go back to the books, where all the ques­tions have so­lu­tions.” Lin’s feel­ings are sim­i­lar. “I read Harry Pot­ter sto­ries from the spring of 2001 to the sum­mer of 2007, be­tween the ages of 12 and 18, while char­ac­ters in the books Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Luna grew up from 11 to 17. In my youth their com­pany was ir­re­place­able.”

So ir­re­place­able that some diehard fans have used Harry Pot­ter as the theme in their wed­dings, with

Harry Pot­ter books or stuffed owls as dec­o­ra­tions, and bor­row­ing from the book for their mar­riage vows. Lin an­a­lyzes the pop­u­lar­ity of the

Harry Pot­ter se­ries from an­other per­spec­tive, say­ing “it’s very pre­cious be­cause many die-hard fans in­clud­ing me are the only child of our fam­i­lies, with­out brothers or sis­ter”.

“But we made many friends be­cause of this com­mon in­ter­est. We com­mu­ni­cate both on­line and off­line, tran­scend­ing the limit of space or the con­nec­tion of blood.”

The Room of Re­quire­ment is a good ex­am­ple. Zhang and Liu have made more than 270 good friends on­line.

“When you go trav­el­ing, just put on your gown and you will be re­ceived by friends in ev­ery city,” Zhang says.

“When I de­cided which univer­sity I wanted to go in June, I found the gate of the world was open wide to me. In­stead of re­main­ing in Shang­hai and spend­ing my whole life there I de­cided to come to Bei­jing, and when I ar­rived I didn’t feel lonely at all, be­cause I knew there was a group of peo­ple like me liv­ing here.”

Clock­wise from top: Fans gath­ered in Bei­jing to watch the movie Fan­tas­ticBeast­sandWhere­toFindThem; Har­ryPot­ter fans help each other to ad­just their fit­tings; Lin Pin, a cos­player and PhD stu­dent at Pek­ing Univer­sity.

PHO­TOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

27-year-old Li Yilin had a Harry Pot­ter cos­player carry the rings at her wed­ding in Novem­ber, 2015.

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