Why Fujoshi? Experiment by Tsinghua Freshmen

In January I blogged about teaching a class in a new way. The obvious novelty was that I did no grading, but I was also pleased by the high quality of the student work.

The class, at Tsinghua University, is called Foundations of Psychology. It’s required of psychology majors and is taken by freshmen. Last time there were about 25 students. The biggest assignment was a final project where I allowed students to work on their own interests. They could do almost anything they wanted related to psychology and they could work alone or with others. I “graded” their work via a checklist: X points for doing this, Y points for doing that, and so on, with the possible points adding up to an A. The checklist was different for every project. They had about five weeks.

Here is a summary of one project, by Vista Zeng:

In the Frontiers of Psychology class this term, we, a group of three freshmen (Vista Zeng, Joy Wu and Michael Wu) conducted an experiment on Fujoshi. Fujoshi is a subculture that started in Japan and spread in East Asia. It has influenced many of our classmates and friends. When recruiting participants, we found 14 Fujoshis out of about 720 female students in Tsinghua University.

According to Wikipedia, fujoshi is synonymous with yaoi fandom:

Yaoi fandom refers to readers of yaoi (also called Boys’ Love, BL), a genre of male-male romance narratives aimed at a female audience, and more specifically those who participate in communal activities organized around yaoi, such as attending conventions, maintaining or posting to fansites, creating fanfiction or fanart, etc. Most fans are teenage girls or young women. . . . In Japan, female fans are called fujoshi.

It’s easy to raise questions like “why don’t those girls enjoy heterosexual romance narratives?”, “why is boys becoming fans of female-female romance narratives and creating another sub-culture (yuri) not so big an issue?”, or “why did this phenomena first occur in Eastern society?”. Vista Zeng believed that the main reason may be the traditional ethics in Eastern world (China and Japan, to be specific) on women. Traditional Chinese moral principles assume that women are not supposed to appear in these sexual scenes, so the girls turn to male homosexual products to satisfy themselves, and to avoid the condemnation from our society.

Since there are very few researches on this topic, and all of them use research methods like interviewing, Vista decided to conduct an experiment to test her explanation. Joy and Wu joined the project.

The study included 30 Fujoshis and 30 non-Fujoshis in Tsinghua University. [The students recruited about half of their Fujoshi subjects going door to door in the dormitories, the other half by making announcements in classes.] The subjects were asked to read several paragraphs including erotic scene, and the only difference between them was the gender of the two characters. The first story includes two male characters, the second one a man and a woman (“he” and “she”), the third one a man and the reader herself (“he” and “me”). (The idea was inspired by the study about judgments of intentionality by Joshua Knobe, which the class introduced.) What’s more, a neutral paragraph was put between two paragraphs. The subjects were asked to estimate her emotional feelings (we mainly focused on embarrassment and the sense of guilt) on a scale before and after reading each paragraph aloud in front of 3 strangers, and the 3 observers would also estimate the subject’s extent of embarrassment.

The answer to our assumption was yes. The most important finding was that the Fujoshis felt less guilty than non-Fujoshis when reading the male-homosexual paragraph, but far more guilty when reading the heterosexual one, showing that they agree with the idea that women are not supposed to appear in these sexual scenes. We also found that women are prone to put themselves into the sexual scene in which women are constantly involved, and they are therefore embarrassed and guilt about their own feelings.

We think our study found an example about how the traditional ethics from thousands of years ago still influence the teenagers nowadays in China, and implied a lack of sense of equality and self-esteem of Chinese women – they don’t see their natural desire and rights legitimate. However, the Fujoshis are also the ones who dare to show their demands of sexual narratives (generally, we found Fujoshis more open to sexual topics than Non-Fujoshis), which can be seen as a progress in Chinese society. We are glad that we conducted the first experiment on Fujoshi (as far as we know) and got such findings which are worth thinking about.


4 Replies to “Why Fujoshi? Experiment by Tsinghua Freshmen”

  1. “why don’t boys become fans of female-female romance narratives and create another sub-culture?”
    Looks like someone didn’t think the wikipedia link to yuri was important

    Seth: You are correct. I have fixed the sentence. The students knew about yuri.

  2. But then why is slash fiction so popular in the US? (And other English-speaking countries; perhaps in other languages as well, but I am only familiar with slash in English.) Given the popularity of e.g. Harlequin Romances, it wouldn’t seem that there is a lot of heterosexual sexual guilt among US women.

  3. Interesting! I have a Chinese friend who is living in Japan & fluent in Japanese. She has talked about “boy-boy love” before.

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