China's Science Fiction World

On the 30th anniversary (2009) of SFW magazine
Sherry Yao reflects on its history to date.


Quick links to below: Beginnings
A Period of Expansion, A Period of Consolidation, Into the Future.


Founded in 1979 magazine Science Fiction World (SFW) is China's leading monthly science fiction magazine. It dominates the Chinese science fiction magazine market with a circulation of 300,000 copies per issue. So assuming 3-5 readers per copy it has an estimated total readership of at least 1 million and as such is the World's most-read SF periodical.

Science Fiction World is published by the SFW group. Today the SFW group runs four magazines serving different age groups.: SFW (Science Fiction World) and FW (Fantasy World) is aimed mainly at teenagers; SFWT (Science Fiction World Translations) is read mostly by adults; Little Newton serves school pupils. All told the SFW group has a large amount of readers.

Founded in 1979, SFW was at first called Science Literature and had its editorial offices in Chengdu, Si Chuang. After the Culture Revolution Movement (1966-1976) many science fiction magazines were produced following the Spring of Science (1978): Chinese people welcome the imaginative, and were interested in science fiction which very much held the hope for a wonderful future. However, around 1983 science fiction stories were charged with causing 'spiritual pollution', and so most of these magazines gradually ceased publication. SFW struggled to go through this difficult period to become China's only SF magazine.

In 1985, to encourage more people to write science fiction and develop good authors, SFW along with the Tree of Knowledge Magazine co-founded the Galaxy Award. However as The Tree of Knowledge Magazine ceased publication the same year, since then SFW has continued to run the Galaxy Awards by itself. Now, the Galaxy Awards have become the highest, and the only, SF/F award in China.

When the SFW group was founded, it was a subdivision of the state run Science and Technology Organization. All of the expenses were covered by the government. However, in 1984, the policy changed, the SFW group was told to either cease publication or operate independently, which means to manage and be responsible for its own profits and losses. After fierce discussion, Yang Xiao was elected as the first director. So, SFW started operating independently. In early days, SFW was crucially low on funds. So Yang Xiao and other SFW staff decided to edit books to provide a supplemental income stream.. The book non-science fiction/fantasy 365 Nights for children they edited was one of the top-sellers for years. Though this title was not SF it enabled the publishing house's income to become more secure and so SFW started to develop with ancillary SF activities. In 1987, several editors participated in an SF conference in Japan. In May, 1989, Mrs. Yang went to Italy to attend the WSF Conference representing China by herself, yet won the right to host 1991 WSF Conference in China. According to Malcolm Edwards, the 1991 WSF Conference in China was the best WSF Conference ever with over three hundred SF authors and editors domestically and abroad contributing to the programme and socialising. Furthermore SFW representatives began attending some Worldcons.

In 1989 Science Literature changed its name to Amazing Tales. It conducted quite a lot of market research, especially among students in high school and college. In 1991 Science Literature eventually changed its name to Science Fiction World and it was decided that the new SFW would be a platform to present science fiction in a variety of forms, and to stimulate young people’s imaginations and for them to think innovatively.

A Period of Expansion
Entering into 1990s SFW began to grow quickly and smoothly. Young authors emerged from everywhere. Among them were Xing He, Liu Wenyang, Wang Jinkang, and He Xi. Of these Wang Jinkang won the Galaxy Award six times running from 1993 to 1998!

Then on 28th of July 1997 there was the Beijing International SF Conference. Dozens of SF authors and five astronauts attended. Leonov from Russia and Shannon Lucid from NASA were the most popular guests for the many Chinese youngsters attending.

But it was in 1999 that a big event propelled SFW and science fiction to its climax of 20th century. In July, right after college entrance examination, a piece of news appeared in China's media that astonished most people: the subject of Composition for the University Entrance Examination was leaked. The news said that this year’s subject was 'memory transfer'’, and as it happened SFW magazine had recently been publishing just this kind of story. Of course it later transpired that these two matters were quite coincidental. However the Chinese people realized that the Education Department was hoping to develop students’ innovative thinking. Since then, the circulation of SFW kept increasing so that over the next few years it reached some 400,000 copies per issue, its all-time record to date.

A Period of Consolidation
After SFW's 20th anniversary the Chinese SF market began to become more mature in its tastes. Excellent authors and works appeared one after another. The most extraordinary writer was arguably Liu Cixin, China's most important and influential and also best-selling SF author.

In 2004, the SFW Group began to publish original Chinese SF novels in what was called the ‘Nebula Series’ for an older readership than is typical for SFW. The first book of this series ‘Destiny’ (written by Qian Lifang was very popular among readers and it sparked an interest in Alternate History novels. The second of this series ‘Global Lightning’ (2005) was written by Liu Cixin. Its plot begins on a strange, rainy night when ball lighting was seen by a boy and which, in a split second, incinerated his parents into ashes: yet the chairs they sat on remained miraculously cold. It was the night that changed the boy’s destiny: he would devote his whole life to unveil the nature secret that had made him an orphan. Many years later, his research on nature science was absorbed into a governmental project for a 'New Concept Weapon'. The ball lighting he had chased was to become the ultimate weapon. When the grand power of nature confined in the weapon was released, a disc of icy blue sun rose over the desert, bathing the entire desert in its bluish light. It then transpired a never-envisioned future for all humankind, under the contemplation of universe observer, was around the corner.   It was arguably China's top SF novel of the year.

The following year, 2006, saw another big seller, ‘Three-body' (named after the mathematical ‘Three Body Problem’). It is a story whose beginnings were set in the deep fanaticism of the Culture Revolution, then the secret project 'Red Shore' [Editorial note: 'Red Coast' in the 2014 English edition titled The Three-Body Problem, published 2015 by Head of Zeus] – a military venture to search for extra terrestrial intelligence. When Ye Wenhao pressed down the ‘transmit’ button, she did not realize that, in that very moment, the destiny of human race would be completely changed. The first voice from our civilization on Earth radiated away from the Solar System, punching through the universe at the speed of light... Four light-years away, the civilization of the Three Suns was struggling for survival. The three stars moved in tangled, unpredictable orbits, causing hundreds of cycles of destruction and rebuild that was forcing the inhabitants to search for a new home so as to leave their tortured planet. The messages they received from Earth was just what they were waiting for. Using their hyper-technology, the aliens imposed a lockdown on the progress of fundamental sciences on Earth. The aliens of the Three Suns system then sent a vast star fleet against Earth. Human civilization was threatened..! This book and its sequel ‘Three-Body: The Dark Forest’ (2008), was also successful [Editorial note: Published in Great Britain as Dark Forest by Head of Zeus in 2015]. In effect was the second part of the same story. After locking down the progress of science on Earth with magic-like technology, the Three Suns system's vast star fleet was bent on eliminating Earth's civilization. The human race was facing unprecedented danger. With difficulty, mankind built a star fleet of equal strength as the aliens’. Meanwhile to exploit the aliens’ fatal weakness, namely that their thoughts were open for scrutiny, a project was launched under the code name 'Meditation Wall'. Four carefully chosen candidates were appointed as Meditators, covertly carrying out counter assaults against the aliens from the Three Suns. Although the aliens could not see through this shrewd plan by themselves, they hired the traitors among the humans, known as Wall Breakers, to engage in a game of intelligence.... [Editorial note: The Three-Body problem won the 2015 Hugo Award for 'Best Novel'.]

Meanwhile other established and famous authors like Han Song, Zhao Haihong, Lingchen were also writing at this time. In addition, there were quite a number of new SF authors appearing, including: La La, Chang Jia, Xia Jia and Chen Qiufan

While the SF market in China has been growing, western fantasy works such as 'Lord of the Rings', ‘Harry Potter’ series were introduced to China and which appealed to a young readership. This inspired SFW to explore China's nascent fantasy market. And so in 2003 the SFW Group started China’s first fantasy magazine ‘Fantasy World’. It quickly became a stalwart of China’s original fantasy writing. Since Chinese SF&F is still a young genre, both authors and readers need to expand their vision and learn from other countries, and so the SFW Group introduced many western genre novels. These appeared once or twice a year as supplements to the SFW magazine. It was not long after in 2004 that the SFW Group decided to found a new magazine to publish long western SF and F novellas with ‘Science Fiction World Translation’ magazine. It publishes science fiction and alternatively fantasy novels in turn. If a novel is very popular among readers, the SFW Group will add it to the ‘World Sci-fi Master’ or ‘World Fantasy Master’ book series. So far, the SFW Group has published one hundred and fifty-seven books. Here western writers' works include those by: Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, James Blish, Brian W. Aldiss, Frank Herbert, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. Le Guin, Robert Silverberg, Vernor Vinge, David Brin, Nancy Kress, Lois M. Bujold, Neil Gaiman, and Robert J. Sawyer. And so today, SFW publications cater to all age groups of readers.

On 25st August, 2007 the Chengdu International SF/F Conference opened. Over two days, tens of authors from America, Canada, Britain, Russia, Japan, and China, and over twenty thousands of SF fans came to Chengdu for the event which in turn increased the influence of SF domestically and let the international SF community know how enthusiastic Chinese SF fans are and how big the Chinese SF and F market is. SFW learned more about how to hold an international SF/F conference and aspires at some stage to host the Worldcon in China.

Into the future
This year (2009) is the 30th birthday of SFW. Confucius said: "At fifteen my heart was set on learning; at thirty I stood firm; at forty I had no more doubts." I wish that SFW will stand firm in China and continue to be the bridge between China and International SF community in the future.

Quick links to above: Beginnings
A Period of Expansion, A Period of Consolidation, Into the Future.

Sherry Yao

Sherry Yao is on the editorial staff of SFW. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from SISU (Shanghai International Studies University), one of China's foremost modern language universities where she majored in teaching Chinese as a foreign language. She has been enchanted by SF since a very young age. Outside of SFW she has also been a volunteer works for many events including A1 and the Special Olympics. Besides reading science fiction, she is also a fantastic film fan, and enjoys the original (English) sound tracks.

Other articles on SF in China on this site include:-
Science Fiction in China (2008)
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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