College freshman Wan Xu from Beijing had no idea he would become such a popular guy. The 21-year-old is a serious member of HP Fans, a website set up by people wild about Harry Potter, the teen wizard who cast a spell across the world.
Wan has become a Harry Potter authority and is in constant demand from reporters, each and every time a book or a new movie is launched in China. However, before he read the first Harry Potter book at a friend's home five years ago, he was a shy teenager obsessed with online chatting and computer technology. Now a veteran fan of the series, he has finished all the books and films and is casting a little magic of his own.
Wan negotiated a special deal with the book's Chinese importer
allowing his friends to receive a 25-percent discount by purchasing it together.
He and his fellow fans, all donning black cloaks, attended the opening sale day of the final installment of the Harry Potter series at the China Foreign Languages Bookstore in Beijing.
He is certainly not alone and many share the passion.
Months before the seventh and final book installment hit the Chinese market, discussions and articles about the book were buzzing Chinese websites.
Enthusiasts also appeared on TV talk shows sharing their stories. When the final Harry Potter book was launched last month, more than 500 people lined up at 7 AM outside the bookstore. Among them was a man who bought 100 copies to send to his friends.
It's common to see a teenager on the Beijing or Shanghai subway buried in the English version of the 700-page book.
It has been seven years since the first Harry Potter book was introduced to China and millions have grown up with the story. Eighteen-year-old Wang Chuan's first Harry Potter book was in Chinese.
She read the Chinese version before turning to the English copy. But since the third or fourth installment, the English version has been her first choice.
"Many of my friends have the same transformation in reading habits," she says. "Our English has been improving."
So why are Chinese readers so wild about J. K. Rowling's little wizard?
"Harry does not choose to fulfill his commitment; it's the magic world that chooses him," says Xiao Xiao, 18, a self-confessed devotee from Beijing.
"But he faces his mission bravely, instead of escaping from it. Although sometimes he is scared, he never gives up," she says.
Harry could have become another stereotyped prince from a familiar fairy tale if he was just smart and brave. However, Rowling knows the make-up of the teenage boy and uses this knowledge to great success.
Wang Chih-yuan, PhD, at the London School of Economics and Political Science, appreciates Rowling's thorough understanding of children. "Harry is not perfect, especially in the third and fourth installments," he tells China Daily through telephone interview.
"His adolescent obstinacy and waywardness is so real. Besides, although everybody believes he is the chosen one, he has many doubts about himself."
Rowling also gets it right with Hermione and Ron, Harry's two fictional sidekicks. Hermione also has potential to become another pretty stereotype. After all, every fairy tale needs a smart and beautiful princess. But she is no princess, not even an ariscorat. Although she is outstandingly clever and hardworking, bullies at the magic school can easily make her cry by teasing her (normal Muggles) family origin. "But her toughness as a Muggles' offspring makes me like her so much," says 17-year-old Chen Nanxu from East China's Jiangsu Province.
"Sometimes you have to be tough, otherwise they will tease you more. By something you excel in, you can convince them you deserve respect."
Chen can relate to the character. He is not from a rich family, but is a top student in class. Teachers like him, and classmates, as he says, like to ask for his help when they have difficulty in home assignments.
And as for Ron, his plainness and kind-heart win many fans. However, even the Harry Potter baddies have their supporters.
Wang Chuan is a high school student who favors the dark Voldemort than any other character just because he is powerful. To her, Slytherin is also more appealing.
"Slytherin is filled with power and ambition. But what's wrong with that?" she says. "It is closer to real life, in which nothing is absolutely good or evil. Don't you see that every bad role has a sad past and touching story?"
In Wang Chih-yuan's eyes, the magical world of Harry Potter is not as remote as many people think.
"Life in Hogwarts resembles a boarding-school life a lot," Wang says. "And children in the magic school are just like kids all over the world, always in search for an adventure on their own despite the adults' supervision."
Wan says Harry Potter has helped him develop a serious reading habit. Although his favorite genres still focus on fantasy, he can talk about them with his own understanding.
"The Lord of the Rings is too adult, while Narnia is too focused on children," he explains. "That's why I think Harry Potter is the most popular among them."
His association with fans, the negotiation with book traders and his interviews with journalists, have also greatly improved his ability and willingness to communicate with others.
And the friendship between Harry and the other two, he says, convinced him that real friends are precious and deserve more love than he thought.
Not everybody is a fan.
Some think Harry Potter fever is the sole result of successful marketing, Hollywood-style promotion in particular.
"Film is easier to be accepted by people from different cultures," Zhu Lili, associate professor of Nanjing University's Journalism School, told local media. "The mature Hollywood industry plays an important role in the story's prevailing."
Some conservative Christian parents in America have argued that the book promotes witchcraft. In China, where Christianity does not dominate, there is no such controversy. The frequent appearance of monsters, ghosts and all kinds of horrible creatures still upsets many Chinese parents.
"If images in books still need rich imagination to visualize," says Chen Yuanyuan, mother of a 5-year-old from Beijing, "the vivid creatures in the films, such as the spiders, the ghost in the bathroom and her weird voice, and the serpent, can easily scare the children."
And Wang Chuan, who used to think Harry Potter is a subversive story, says she was disappointed with the happy ending.
However, in view of the sharply surging book sales and box office, the critics are in a minority.
(China Daily August 14, 2007)