Science Fiction in China -- 2008

With well over a billion people, a fifth of the global population, and a fast developing economy,
China is placed to be a World-leading economic powerhouse for the middle third of the 21st century.
Following a 2007 International SF conference, Jenny Bai and Cecilia Qin provide a current profile of China's SF scene.

 

In August 2007, a dozen of internationally-famous SF/Fantasy writers, such as Neil Gaiman and Robert J. Sawyer, along with more than 60 Chinese SF & fantasy writers and artists gathered in Chengdu China, to attend the SF/Fantasy conference hosted by Science Fiction World Publishing House. In addition, over 10,000 attended from various countries, including Great Britain and the Northern America; there was even a cosmonaut from Russia!

At the conference, SF/Fantasy writers discussed the status and further development of science fiction, the influence of social problems on science fiction, as well as the similarities and differences between foreign SF/Fantasy and those in China. They also talked about how to find ways to develop China's SF/Fantasy industries.

Those overseas guests, got to get close contact with Chinese SF/Fantasy writers and fans, and as well as to learn about the current status of Chinese SF/Fantasy. Conversely the event helped with Chinese SF's access to the rest of the SF world.

The conference was hosted by Science Fiction World (Publishing House). It mainly publishes SF/Fantasy and dominates China's science fiction & fantasy publishing market. It produces three magazines, including Science Fiction World, Fantasy World, Science Fiction-The Translations, all of which are warmly welcomed by Chinese young adult readers, and regularly capture over 95% of China's science fiction & fantasy periodical market, especially in China's largest and more average-sized cities. The chief magazine Science Fiction World, which publishes excellent science fiction both from China and abroad, started publication in 1979, and so now it has a history of almost thirty years under its belt. As the acknowledged lead magazine of China's science fiction community, SFW attracts nearly all the attention of China's SF fans. And with a circulation of up to 300,000 copies per month, SFW is the most widely circulated science fiction magazine in China.

Since 2002, SFW Publishing House has made selections from a professional perspective, purchasing the copyright and publishing lots of SF bestsellers branded as the "Series of Science Fiction Masters": this initially created a great stir among others in China's SF publishing circles.

As the lead publisher of China's SF, SFW has been endeavouring to publicise and cultivate China's science fiction culture. In 1991, on behalf of China's science fiction circle, SFW successfully hosted the annual meeting of World SF (the international association of science fiction professionals) which was viewed by Mr. Edwards, the chairman of World SF at that time, as "the most ceremonious and successful annual meeting since the foundation of World SF 15 years ago". In addition, in 1997, SFW invited science fiction writers, scientists and astronauts all over the world to attend the 1997 Beijing International Science Fiction Convention.

However nowadays Chinese SF & fantasy is still in the process of development. SF/fantasy readers in China are mostly teenagers with a low purchasing power: this is quite different to western countries that have a greater share of older readers. To balance the market, SFW put massive effort in the introduction of foreign SF works to Chinese readers. A new magazine from the SFW Publishing Group, SFW Translation, carries Chinese translations of prominent foreign SF works and has attracted a group of post-college readers, albeit a relatively small one. Furthermore, in China there are seldom people who are making a living writing science fiction. Along with other SF magazines and even college SF associations, SFW periodically organizes writing contests to attract public attention and promising young writers.

The situation is more encouraging for fantasy, where the rapidly growing market cultivated a larger number of professional writers. It should be noted that the concept of fantasy differs from the western counterpart. The Chinese fantasy is a blend of various elements and diverse styles. Some authors, such as Cang Yue, Jiang Nan, Ming Ling, and Jing Jiangxiao, inherited the traditional Chinese Wuxia stories, legends, folklores, and usually incorporated certain genre factors like history, military and romance. Others, like Wen Zhou, Feng Huang and Dushu Ren, absorbed the essence of the western fantasy to form a localized style of magic fiction, although this style is still in its infancy. Among all elements employed in Chinese fantasy, Wuxia is the best known to western readers, thanks to the Hollywood movies like the Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon. Equipped with the traditional Chinese Kung Fu theory and the knight-errant spirit, and usually set in a disturbed historical background, Wuxia literature focuses on individual development and the collision of different personalities. This genre grew steadily during the early 1900s, and reached the climax in the 1950s and '60s with the emergence of masters like Jin Yong and Gu Long.

As for China's greatest SF author of all time, Ye Yonglie could well rank first. Ye was born in 1940 and wrote Little Smart Travelling in the Future when just 21 years old. This was the first SF novel after Culture Revolution, and it has been reprinted a dozen times. Its theme is, these days, a common one focusing on an editor named Little Smart who travels into the future. However, such a concept was rare for the Chinese at the time of writing. Before China's Reform, the Chinese mainstream value system preferred philosophy and literature over science and technology. Consequently issues involving technological advance were usually overlooked: scientific thinking was under-developed, and scientific speculation was often considered unnecessary. This novel affected the generation of the 1980s. Up to now Ye has written some 2,000,000 words of published SF.

Currently China's greatest living SF author is Liu Cixin. Liu was born in 1960s. His first SF story was published in 1999, and since then, almost every story he has written has been well received. His famous short stories include 'Bring Along Her Eyes', The Homeless Earth', 'All-band Block Interference', and 'The Rural Teacher' Among his most recognised novels are: The Three-Bodies, Supernova Era, and Lighting Ball. Liu has so far won China's Galaxy Award eight times, including last year (2007)! His works are grandiose and full of great imagination: a perfect combination of the beauty of science with literature.

As for Chinese SF film: China produced a lot of Wuxia & Kung Fu films, which were called fantasy by westerners, like Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon. But so far there are only several science fiction films in Mainland China, say, Beibei [Beibei], Mo Biao [Magic Watch], Da Qi Ceng Xiao Shi [Disappearance of the Atmosphere], Yin Shen Bo Shi [Invisible Doctor], Zai Sheng Yong Shi [Reborn], Zhen Jiu Ai Qing [Rescue Love], etc. Most of them are considered juvenile films and some were not even given general release. But films like Matrix, Back to Future and Harry Potter are quite popular in China.

Hong Kong District produces a few science fiction films. For example: Lan Xue Ren [Wesley's Mysterious File], Mo Fei Cui [Magic Jade], Yuan Zhen Xia He Wei Si Li [Yuan Zhenxia and Wesley], Hei Xia [The Dark Swordsman], Hei Mao [Black Cat], Zi Yu Feng Bao [Storm of Purple Rain], Gong Yuan 2000 [A.D. 2000], Zheng Jiu Wei Cheng [City in Danger] and Xun Qin Ji [Back to Qin Dynasty]. Hong Kong has its own advantages in making SF films, such has having local SF material available that has great market potential. A good example here is the Wesley series of books. In each of the 145 books (so far), the adventurous hero Wesley finds himself in a mysterious situation, and sets off to unravel the mystery and pursue the truth. The stories cover a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, alien contacts, time travels, ghost encounters, 'Tomb Raider'-style explorations and CSI-type investigations.

Hong Kong also has a developed system for filmmaking. The Wesley series were adapted to many popular SF films in Hong Kong, e.g., Lan Xue Ren [Wesley's Mysterious File]. In this film Wesley met his wife to be, Bai Su, a doctor with a scientific mindset. But first he had several adventures with her, had misunderstandings and finally won her love (with the help from aliens). Another popular film, Xun Qin Ji [Back to the Qin Dynasty], was adapted from a best-selling novel. Here the protagonist, a well-trained soldier of the special force, travels back in time to the Qin Dynasty, and assists Qin Shi Huang (the first emperor of China) in the unification of the nation.

As for the area where SFW is published, Chengdu is known as the 'Land of Abundance', and is the capital city of China's Sichuan Province with a total area of 12,600 square kilometres, and a population of more than 10 million, beautiful scenery, pleasant climate and more than 2,000 years of history. Chengdu has always been famous for its unique natural landscape, culture, history, folk style. It is an ancient city, it is a young city; it is peaceful, it is prosperous. It has a noted cultural and historical background, as well as grand business prospects. With China's developing, it is now undergoing profound changes. This in itself is almost science fictional.

Jenny Bai

Jenny Bai is an editor of SFW with special responsibility for copyright matters.   Cecilia Qin is a Master's postgraduate student of Linguistics in Sichuan University as well as a part-time translator for SFW. She worked for 2007 SF& Fantasy Conference in Chengdu as Michael Swanwick's personal interpreter.

Other articles on SF in China on this site include:-
China's Science Fiction World (2010)
Science Fiction, Globalization, and the People's Republic of China (2004).

Other articles on non-Anglophone SF on this site include:-
Danish Science Fiction Between 2004 and 2007
Koi Mil Gaya, India's first Science Fiction Film
Science Fiction in Bulgaria 2006
A brief history of Science Fiction in Romania up to 1990

Also there are articles on on European fanac and convention reviews.

 

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