A case study of Sherry Thomas’s Qing-era My Beautiful Enemy (and its prequel, The Hidden Blade) allows for a fruitful discussion of changing representations of diversity in romance fiction and its appeal to readers. MBE’s heroine is Anglo-Chinese, and the novel’s plot draws on wuxia, a literary and cinematic genre that has a long history in China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. It is also associated with immigration and exile, perhaps resonating with Thomas’s own move from China to the U.S. Readers might find its infusion in romance appealing for two reasons: one, it features a warrior heroine (a type popular in paranormal and urban fantasy romance, which questions gender roles), and second, it taps into the worldwide appreciation for wuxia, inspired by hits like Crouching Tiger. MBE enacts the genre’s features closely: the heroine is a righteous knight errant and a racial and gendered Other, intervening in nineteenth-century English and Chinese politics through uncanny martial means. Her struggle to determine her ethnic and political identities alongside filial piety and romantic love makes for a more transcultural romance novel.
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