In a time of great social change, the author's work remains grounded in tradition The tide of pirated DVDs of overseas TV hits such as Friends and Sex and the City means few mainlanders have to go far in search of a 21st century view on relationships. It would be difficult to find a DVD shop in the country that did not offer boxed sets of the neurotic New Yorkers, or anybody under the age of 30 who did not know about Friends characters Rachel and Ross. Yet one novelist has found that to really tap into the mainland market and psyche, traditional values still make for best-selling material. During the past decade, Wang Hailing has established a reputation for using her incisive mind to dissect the anatomy of love and marriage on the mainland. Her three novels - Holding Hands, Chinese-style Divorce, and New Marriage Era - have each sold tens of thousands of copies within months of release, a big achievement in the mainland's sluggish book market. TV programmes based on the works are consistent top-raters, generating heated discussion. In Wang's books, couples struggle with monogamy and maintaining a good relationship under the pressures of a rapidly changing society. The reforms of the past two decades have widened the gap between urban and rural residents, the well-educated and the poorly educated, rich and poor. Wang's work reflects these social realities, from the stress of staff cuts in government and state-owned enterprises, to the difficult choices doctors face between obeying professional ethics and pursuing wealth. She has also looked at the aspirations of technology entrepreneurs, the problems university students have finding a job, and the emptiness of accumulation. In these situations, she says, traditional values still apply. 'Social changes weigh on Chinese families. Couples feel helpless in their marriages,' Wang says. 'To safeguard a happy relationship, traditional values like having matching social and economic status are still important. Though time goes by and people, particularly women, become more economically independent, the idea that an 'appropriate door fits the frame of the correct house' remains unchanged.' Wang's latest hit, New Marriage Era, was published last year and has already been adapted for a TV series, which is being broadcast across the mainland. In the series, the main character, Xiao Xi , is a publishing house editor from a family of Beijing intellectuals who is married to He Jianguo , an IT company manager from a village in Shandong . The urban-rural divide is a source of daily spats for the couple and gradually erodes their relationship. Xiao Xi finds it hard to understand the rural emphasis on decency, face and favours, and is angered by Jianguo's submission to those traditions. She also cannot believe her ears when her father-in-law insists that she, as a Beijinger, can influence a village dispute. 'A guy in my village is forcing us to move the tomb of Jianguo's uncle. You must stop it,' the father-in-law tells Xiao Xi. 'At least you should come back with me so they'll know we have some support in Beijing!' If chat-room postings are any indication, the lines have struck a chord with readers and viewers. But some disagree. 'Readers have protested about my depiction of rural people. They call it discrimination,' Wang says. 'But I don't mean to show any disrespect to farmers. I just told a true story that happened to a friend.' However, the writer still shows respect for the idea of true love, sometimes in the shape of an extramarital affair. Mistresses are traditionally portrayed as cunning, bad women, but in Holding Hands, Wang created a sympathetic figure in a university graduate who fell in love with a married IT entrepreneur. Several TV producers baulked at the concept in the mid-1990s and it failed to pass the moral scrutiny of the national TV network and a Beijing TV station. 'Investors asked me to change the role so she would become a completely bad woman who only liked the man for his money. Then it would be in line with the propaganda line on extramarital affairs,' Wang said. She refused to do so, calling the simple labelling of 'good guy' and 'bad guy' ridiculous. As a result, the book, published in 1994, was not adapted for the small screen until 1999, when views on such issues became more relaxed. Censorship can be a minefield and Wang says there are still forbidden areas in writing, such as corruption and economic and criminal cases. But she is used to 'dancing with shackles on', and says she will continue writing about love, marriage and social changes that interest her - and her legions of fans.