When Harry met Su Lee

Chinese craze for JK Rowling’s Potter saga is good for UK boarding schools

When Harry met Su Lee

Want to end up like them? The allure of English public schools has grown in China

You may not have heard of Harry Potter and the Showdown. Nor will JK Rowling herself, who probably won’t be pre-ordering a copy on Amazon, either.

Rowling didn’t write the book, of course. The less-acclaimed author, in this particular case, is Li Jingsheng, a manager at a textile factory in Shanghai.

His own Potter title has attracted at least 150,000 readers on Baidu’s Harry Potter fan page, along with numerous others from rival Rowling rip-offs including Harry Potter and the Half-Blooded Relative Prince, Harry Potter and the Big Funnel, Harry Potter and the Golden Armour, and Harry Potter and the Crystal Vase.

As a genre it’s a bit of a mixed bag, with story lines trawled from sources as diverse as JRR Tolkien, kung fu epics and characters from Chinese literary classics like Journey to the West.

The copycat authors will be hoping for a sales uplift in the wake of the Chinese cinema release this week of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – the penultimate film in the genuine Harry Potter series.

So how did a story about wizards and magic become so popular in China? Wang Ruiqin, the editor behind the authentic Chinese Harry Potter books, says Ha-li Bo-te, as the young hero’s name is rendered in Chinese, “teaches ethics that are universal, but does so in a very humorous and emotional way,” unlike the flat melodrama of many children’s books in China.

“Harry Potter books don’t have such lines as ‘you should be brave,’ ” Wang suggests.

Many also find Potter’s character as the reluctant hero particularly appealing: “Harry does not choose to fulfil his commitment; it’s the magic world that chooses him,” Xiao Xiao, 21, a self-confessed Ha-li Bo-te devotee in Beijing, told the China Daily. “But he faces his mission bravely, instead of escaping from it. Although sometimes he is scared, he never gives up.”

As it turns out, Potter-mania may have sparked a corresponding affection for UK boarding school life. Quite how life at Hogwarts is ever going to be representative of an English education seems beside the point; the latest data from the Independent Schools Council (ISC) in the UK reveals that one third of the 10,030 new non-British pupils this year are from China. Yes, its a function of China’s new wealthy class wanting to educate their children overseas. But some students have said that they were also inspired by the Harry Potter franchise and wanted a chance to experience Hogwarts-style study.

Presumably that inspired Elite School Tours – an umbrella group representing Britain’s top boarding schools – to pack their wands and quidditch sticks for a trip to Shanghai to interview mainland applicants. Participating schools include Eton College in Windsor, Charterhouse College, Brighton College and Roedean. “For the last 10 years there has been a large demand from Chinese students,” Petra Kondrova, marketing coordinator at d’Overbroeck’s College in Oxford, told the Global Times. She said d’Overbroeck’s has been receiving more applications from younger students aged 14 and 15 for its GCSE (General Certificate of Secondary Education) programme.

Most of the Chinese students are so called fuerdai or “second generation” of wealthy families. They can afford the fees (tuition alone at an average of $37,000 a year), plus buy the occasional property nearby, to help with parental visits.

Not a benefit, of course, that Harry himself ever enjoyed.

© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sponsored by HSBC.

The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.