China has been a breeding ground for fantastic stories for thousands of years. Even today, there are hundreds of fantasy films every year, thousands of novels, and untold comics, both in print and on the net. But when you think about these, you picture warring kingdoms, Ming dynasty monks using mixtures of kungfu and magic. The fantasies of China seem very much to be set in the past, either through history or legend. But where’s the work that looks to the future?
When I talk about “China” and “sci-fi”, what do you think of? One of the ruling nations in Firefly, where all the characters swear in very bad Mandarin? The oriental aesthetics that define scenes in “Bladerunner” and “Trancers”? Or 2014’s Robocop bursting out of the lab to find himself in the middle of a paddy field?
China has been “borrowed” significantly by the Western science fiction tradition to create distinct, other-worldly futures. Its peculiar difference from the West, not only in language, but in culture, was actually one of the points we found ourselves repeatedly making when we took over manning the abandoned China Worldcon Bid booth. “If you want to experience an alien culture without stepping on to a rocket, visit China.”
In the West though, we hear very little about the science fiction actually created by the Chinese. Liu Ci Xin’s hugo award winning “Three Body Problem” has started to change that, but that itself follows a tradition that has not been internationally popularized.
Chinese science fiction has been in development since the beginning of the 20th century, with huge interest during its first third. A great writer of that era, Lu Xun, had urged his countrymen to “save the country with science” and translated many of Jules Verne’s works into Chinese. However, the upheaval in China forced a halt to much creative work, and drew the mindset of the nation into the dangerous “here and now”. It was only with the return of relative stability and comfort in the 1980s, that forethinking rapid development could occur. The social impact of this growth has provided ample content for today’s vibrant Chinese science fiction scene, and again, writers have the luxury of imagining the future.
This talk will premier at Nine Worlds 2016 before touring 2016-2017.
Posted in Culture and tagged china, Chinese, culture, history, science fiction