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