“Great Wall Planet”: Introducing Chinese Science Fiction
Translated by Wang Pengfei, with Ryan Nichols
Why Chinese science fiction? In the past few years, the science fiction of other lands has begun to attract the attention of Anglo-American scholars from a variety of critical perspectives, including “imagined communities,” “third-world literature,” Orientalism, and post-colonialism. On the whole, however, this attention has amounted to little more than a vague glance at a distant world. It is difficult to cross the divide between different cultures. Sometimes it can take longer to bridge the gap between cultures than to explore outer space. It is no wonder that, in the 1980s, when Brian Aldiss came to China he found himself on an alien “Great Wall Planet,” amazed by everything he experienced there (Aldiss 3-5).
Why publish a special issue on Chinese science fiction at this time? If a special issue on China appears in The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, or Business Week, no one doubts its significance because the Chinese economy is one of the most robust in the world. China’s GDP has surpassed Japan’s and is catching up with that of the US. China has become the largest manufacturer in the world and a major influence in setting market prices for both natural resources and commodities. History suggests that economic growth should be followed by cultural development. When Japan’s economy grew rapidly, for instance, Japanese culture flourished in the global market. Will China become the next Japan, and should its sf industry be prepared for the prospect?
In 2007, I hosted a Sino-US Science Fiction Summit at Beijing Normal University whose guests included David Brin and Elizabeth Anne Hull from the Science Fiction Writers of America, in conversation with famous Chinese authors and scriptwriters including Xing He, Yang Peng, Zhang Zhilu, and Liao Ye. Our American guests observed striking similarities between contemporary China and the United States of the 1930s and 1940s, the period of American sf’s “Golden Age.” Economic growth and technological development encourage individuals to pursue their ambitions. Is this the beginning of China’s Golden Age and is it possible that sf’s center of gravity will shift from west to east? Should the Western sf community be looking to the “other world” of China and preparing for a new future?
Let’s return to Brian Aldiss and his first visit to China, that “alien” world whose social systems, cultural traditions, and interactions with modernity are so unlike those of other nations. Like all good alien planets, Aldiss’s China has a direct bearing on his own Anglo-American planet, as a stimulus to the creative imagination. Members of the western sf community, including Aldiss, Frederik Pohl, Betty Hull, and the late Charles Brown and Forrest J. Ackerman, have come to China to explore its science fiction through encounters with Chinese authors and fans, their writing, their communities, and their markets. This is significant. What Voltaire wrote 200 years ago is still relevant: China offers space for the imagination.1
What’s in the China House? In my view, Chinese sf has much to offer the Western imagination. In the first place, there is a particular richness to it, involved as it is with the pursuit of emancipation, the resistance to oppressive systems, and the influence of foreign cultures. The development of sf in China demonstrates how a literary idea—rather than a genre—from foreign nations can take root in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. As several of the essays in this special issue discuss, the first sf stories and novels by Chinese authors were published in the very early years of the twentieth century, when China’s last feudal dynasty was on the verge of collapse. During this period, many leading intellectuals supported the introduction of new technologies and foreign culture, including Western sf, as a way to transform the nation. Critical studies of late Qing sf works have contributed to our understanding of sf’s development in China and have also given rise to ongoing debates about origins and influences. One of the generally accepted hypotheses is that the development of Chinese sf in the late Qing era was a cultural response to social change. Chinese sf works of that period, deeply influenced by Western and Japanese science fiction, were nevertheless distinctively Chinese.2 While some borrowed technology and plots from foreign works, the writing style and the psychology of characters were Chinese. These sf works of the late Qing era mirrored the dreams of the Chinese people after their encounters with modern technology, and these stories and novels represent Chinese culture’s first impressions not only of the West but also of the world as a whole. As some of the essays here discuss in detail, technology in late Qing sf aided in everything from constructing a Confucian republic, defeating enemies with soaring aircraft, and literally separating the body from the soul.
The increasing openness to non-Chinese ideas and technologies and the growing antagonism toward the feudal system eventually led to the collapse of that system in the late Qing period. From 1912 to 1949, the new Republic of China attempted to establish a capitalist mode of production and a democratic politics, but the result was ongoing warfare, including chaotic conflicts among warlords, combat against Japanese invasions, and, finally, the civil war between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang. Typical of this period, many philosophies both joined together and competed against each another, debating the differing values of ancient Chinese civilization and Western science and democracy and arguing about classic capitalist theory and about Marxism and Leninism. Until recently, it was generally assumed that very little science fiction was written during the years of the Republic. Recent research has established, however, that a great many sf works were published during this period on a variety of themes, and significant discoveries continue to be made.3 Well-known sf works such as Lao She’s Maocheng ji [Cat Country, 1932] and Gu Junzheng’s Zai Bei Ji Di Xia [Underneath the Arctic Pole, 1940] suggest the range of these works, from socio-dystopia to techno-utopia.4
The People’s Republic was founded in 1949, after the Chinese Communist Party’s victory in mainland China. Marxism and Maoism were its guiding principles, and a Sino-Soviet strategic partnership was soon formed. Chinese sf became guided by Marxism. According to Soviet theory, science fiction should follow at least two rules: 1) it should describe the imaginative processes of the scientific mind through which technoscientific development can be achieved, and 2) it should describe the future of the communist society, free from class struggle and committed to the reconciliation of humanity and nature.5 As might be expected, it was difficult for Chinese writers to meet these two requirements: they had no idea what real scientists were thinking, nor did they know how to portray narrative drama without complex interpersonal relationships.
In this context, although the “Campaign of Marching towards Science and Technology” espoused in the middle of the 1950s promoted both science fiction and popular science, between 1949 and 1966 Chinese sf tended to be limited to short stories aimed at young readers. Only a few sf works for adults were published in this period. During the Cultural Revolution itself, access to fiction was heavily restricted.6 To appreciate how writers overcame this suppression of the imagination, we can look to the Chinese sf published during this period. Does the idealism reflected in Chinese sf originate in a Marxist conception of history? According to Marxism, human society evolves from a lower to higher order, from slave to feudal society, from capitalist to socialist society and, finally, to communist society. But for the Chinese people, the idea of social development is closely linked to Confucian ethics, Taoist mysticism, and Buddhist reincarnation. Traditional Chinese values cannot easily be wrapped in Marxism and Leninism and so the only sf published under Mao’s PRC tended to be written for children.7
Deng Xiaoping came to power after Mao’s death in 1978 and a new and more open era began. With the resurrection of the government’s interest in science and technology, science fiction also enjoyed a revival. It was hoped that it could aid in breaking through outdated scientific, cultural, and political traditions. During this period, sf invited reflection on the decisions of the Communist Party and the consequences of its unscientific policies. As Chinese science fiction was gaining momentum, a large number of Western sf novels in translation were also becoming available, including works by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury. Chinese readers, however, have exhibited only selective interest in Western sf. When I attended the premiere of George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977) during China’s first “American Movie Week” in 1985—which included showings of Robert Benton’s Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), Michael Apted’s Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), and Mark Rydell’s On Golden Pond (1981)—Lucas’s film was heavily criticized by audience members as no more than a “children’s game.” For Chinese audiences accustomed to sophisticated historical adventures such as Shui Hu Zhuan [Outlaws of the Marsh] and San Guo Yan Yi [The Romance of Three Kingdoms], Star Wars was simplistic and unappealing.8
But just as Chinese sf was marching toward prosperity, sf writing began to be criticized for being pseudoscientific and anti-communist. A case in point is Qi Yi De Hua Shi Dan [A Strange Fossil Egg, 1978], an illustrated picture book based on Ye Yonglie’s short story “Shi Jie Zui Gao Feng Shang De Qi Ji” [Miracle on the Peak of the World’s Highest Mountain], depicting dinosaurs returning to life. A paleontologist accused this story of deviating from scientific fact, of being anti-science in its espousal of pseudoscience. Pseudoscience is a term with very specific political connotations in China. Because Marxism is believed to be the only correct science, pseudoscience is considered to be both anti-Marxist and anti-communist.9 During the period after 1978, sf came in for increasing criticism, which caused sharp declines in publishing. Once again Chinese sf was stopped in its tracks.
Since the student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989, radical changes have taken place in China’s political and ideological landscape. Initially the demonstrations only strengthened the position of government hardliners, but within two years the government began to shift its focus from ideological control to economic growth, promoting China’s place in the global economic system in accordance with the policies of Deng Xiaoping.10 This also contributed to the revival of Chinese sf, which has developed steadily in the past two decades, although it has not been without its challenges. In 2000, for instance, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1997-2007) sparked a reading craze in China that stimulated the growth of fantasy but reduced sf sales.
It is worth asking why fantasy and science fiction are evaluated so differently in China. When one recalls the rich fantasy elements in Chinese classical fiction, it is clear that fantasy and science fiction each have a very different relationship to traditional Chinese culture. It is more accurate to say that the Harry Potter novels reawakened China’s deeply-rooted taste for fantasy than that it brought something new to Chinese readers.11 Does the relationship between fantasy and science fiction mirror the competition between Chinese and Western culture?
Recently, however, Chinese sf has increased in popularity. Science-fiction writers and texts have begun to enjoy an unprecedented level of recognition by Chinese readers, including bestsellers such as Liu Cixin’s complex apocalyptic space opera, San Ti [The Three Body Trilogy, 2007-2011] and Han Song’s Huo Xing Zhao Yao Mei Guo [Red Star Over America, 2012] and Hong Se Hai Yang [Red Ocean, 2004], both of which are filled with satirical political critique. Other leading sf writers include Wang Jinkang and He Xi. Several mainstream writers have also published sf novels.12 In addition, more and more new writers are contributing to the ongoing vitality of the field. When I attended the recent (2012) WorldCon in Chicago, I was accompanied by three young writers all born after 1980. They are the generation that will take Chinese sf into what promises to be a prosperous future.
What makes Chinese sf unique? In the wake of these historical frustrations and reforms, it is becoming possible to identify some of the features that are unique to Chinese science fiction. In my judgment, its most significant characteristic is the frequent exploration of themes of liberation and release from old cultural, political, and institutional systems. Another significant element is to be found in the reactions of Chinese writers to Western science and culture in their pursuit of themes of liberation. This raises a series of key questions: what is science? is science specifically Western or is it a universal human pursuit? how can writers integrate scientific and local cultural traditions into new and vital forms? These are compelling questions for Chinese authors—and for Chinese readers as well. A third key element in Chinese sf is its concern for the future of China and of Chinese culture, which is among the oldest surviving human cultures. Can it be revived in the postmodern scientific age? Finally, we might argue that, whereas Western sf is focused on the opportunities and losses of technoscientific development, Chinese sf, although it examines similar ideas, is more focused on anxieties about cultural decline and the potential for revitalization.
One outcome of the increasing popularity of sf in China has been the development of the field of sf studies. While Chinese scholarship on Chinese sf sometimes contradicts that of the West, there are many instances where it also borrows from Western scholarship. Chinese sf studies have been written from a wide variety of perspectives, many of which give serious consideration to the role of sf in society. Some of the most influential include Liang Qichao’s dictum about “Saving the Country by Fiction”13; the “Function of Science Popularization” espoused by Lu Xun in the 1900s14; Zheng Wenguang’s proposal in the 1950s about “Getting Ahead of Science”15; Ye Yonglie’s “Restriction of Three Elements” in the 1970s16; the “Scientific Attitude to Life” propounded by Tong Enzheng17; Wei Yahua and Jin Tao’s theories about “Science Fiction’s Critical Function in Society” in the 1980s18; and the values of “Entertainment and Self-Expression” espoused by a new generation of sf writers represented by Xing He and other “new age” and “post-new-age” authors.19 In my own work, I have proposed that sf be considered a literature that is “Shouting on the Edge.”20 More work in comparative studies is needed in order to ascertain the extent to which these critical models have parallels in Western academic sf theory and criticism. Perhaps, after all, the most valuable outcome of this special issue is the realization of the many interrelationships between Chinese and Western sf studies.
While preparing this special issue, I reviewed many studies of Chinese sf in both Chinese and English publications. Although comparatively little has been published in this area, certain studies deserve special attention. One very valuable essay from the 1980s is Rudolf G. Wagner’s “Lobbying Literature: The Archaeology and Present Functions of Science Fiction in China” (1985). Wagner provides a detailed account of the development of Chinese sf (mainly of the PRC period), analyzing the structure of sf works in the context of Chinese society. In my view, the most important Chinese sf study of the 1980s is Ye Yonglie’s Lun Ke Xue Wen Yi [On Science Literature], which approaches science fiction as literature about science. Although his study was influenced by the Soviet theory of science popularization, it played an important role in exploring Chinese science fiction.21Tobe! Daishinteikouku-Kindai Chugoku No Gensou Kagaku [Soaring: The Qing Empire: Imaginary Science in Modern China, 1988] by Japanese scholar Takeda Masaya is a significant study of the intersections among science fiction, science popularization, and modern painting; it discusses the modernity of Chinese sf in the context of photographs and illustrations in late Qing magazines. David Der-wei Wang’s Fin-de-Siècle Splendor: Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1849-1911 (1997) is one of the most valuable studies published in the 1990s. Focusing on Chinese sf of the late Qing era, it offers a detailed account of the relationship between science fiction and modern Chinese literature, arguing that science fiction was one of the many forms of cultural expression that perished with China’s “suppression of modernity” after the May Fourth Movement. The result was the establishment of realism as the only acceptable mode of writing. While Wang’s study does not include analysis of the many sf works of this period discovered only after its publication, it remains a valuable resource for sf studies in China.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, we are seeing the publication of more studies in both Chinese and English, although it is difficult to tell which of them will prove to be of lasting worth. My own recent study, Ke Huan Wen Xue Lun Gang [Essentials of Science Fiction, 2011], is a study of Chinese science fiction in a global context and an attempt to demonstrate what Chinese sf and world sf have in common.
About this issue. I hope that this special issue will attract the attention of the global sf community to Chinese sf and promote the study of Chinese sf by English-speaking scholars. We have aimed here to provide a thorough overview of science fiction in China today, including its history and its future potential. Han Song and Liu Cixin, two of China’s most acclaimed sf writers—worthy successors to such famous literary figures as Liang Qichao and Lu Xun—discuss not only their own careers but also the growing Chinese sf community. In spite of significant differences in their writing, both are equally representative of today’s Chinese sf writers and the diverse work that they are producing. I am very pleased to include their unique insights here.
Next Nathaniel Isaacson and Shaoling Ma provide detailed studies of China’s two earliest sf works, Yue Qiu Zhi Min Di Xiao Shuo [Tales of the Moon Colony,1904-05] and “Xin Fa Luo Xian Sheng Tan” [A Tale of New Mr. Braggadocio,1905]. While Isaacson adopts a theoretical perspective consistent with Western criticism, Ma has placed more emphasis on the origins and development of Chinese classical fiction. Lisa Raphals also focuses on an early work, Lao She’s Maocheng ji [Cat Country, 1932], published during the period of the Republic of China. Lao She was one of the few mainstream figures in China writing sf at this time, although he never admitted it and even criticized it in writing. Whether an sf work will be remembered does not depend, however, on the author’s attitude. After years of neglect and negative critique by both author and reading public, Maocheng ji was republished in Japan in the 1970s as one of the world’s classics of science fiction.
Following these essays on early Chinese sf, Mingwei Song and Jia Liyuan offer in-depth studies of New China science fiction. Although their essays cover the period between the early 1990s and the present, they also look back to the late Qing era and to the period of the Republic of China (ROC). Song Mingwei, a literary theorist based in the US and very familiar with the development of sf in China, introduces and analyzes in detail the work of China’s most influential contemporary sf writers. Jia Liyuan is a writer and literary critic, and potentially a very influential author in his own right (publishing sf under the pen name Fei Dao). He offers a close reading of the science fiction of Han Song, interpreting it in the context of the difficulties and opportunities facing Chinese sf writers at the present moment.
The penultimate essay here is a historical study of translation as an important influence on the development of Chinese sf. Qian Jiang’s essay is based on her doctoral research and provides detailed information about the significance of foreign sf in translation in China. The issue concludes with Wei Yang’s analysis of the unique cross-genre character of contemporary Chinese sf film, and how it both parallels and differs from classic Hollywood sf blockbusters.
It is a great pity that we were not able to include a study of sf during Mao’s period. Without such an essay, our original intention to provide a panoramic view of Chinese sf’s history and current state has not quite been realized. It is also important to note that science fiction written during the years of the Republic of China is still being rediscovered and some of the research findings in current studies might well be outdated soon. I think that the study of Chinese science fiction, both in China and internationally, is just beginning and is poised to take off.
As guest co-editor of this special issue, I sincerely thank the authors and translators without whose interest and support this project would not have been possible. I am also grateful to those who submitted proposals but whose work we were unable to include. I would like to express my gratitude to my co-editor, Veronica Hollinger, for her insights and careful work. We have been acquainted for many years, but this is the first time we have had the opportunity to work together. Thanks also to SFS’s co-editors for their enthusiastic support of this project, to expert scholars including Guangyi Li and Mingwei Song for their helpful suggestions, to Wang Pengfei for translating my work and Ryan Nichols for polishing it, and to Andy Sawyer for his help in finding research materials.
I may not agree with all of the arguments made here, but this is only to the good. All I have done as editor is to correct occasional factual errors. I know that it is only by listening to these differences of opinion that we can make steady progress in the study of science fiction. There are inevitable gaps in a project such as this one. Perhaps we have placed too much emphasis on subjects that are less interesting to Western readers, while not providing enough information about topics of more concern. I think, however, that readers will find the story of science fiction in China both unexpected and gripping, and I look forward to feedback and critical responses.
Every nation with a distinctive culture and history is like an alien planet, and visitors can stand on this planet and look up at its sky. What will visitors from the West discover in the unfamiliar sky of Planet China?
The co-editors of this special issue would also like to thank Janice Bogstad, Amy Kit-Sze Chan, Jonathan Clements, Jiayan Mi, and Carlos Rojas for their help and advice as outside readers. Their expertise made an invaluable contribution to this project. Jonathan Clements was especially generous with his time, and interested readers will want to consult his substantial entry on “China,” co-authored with Wu Dingbo, in the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
1. Many of Voltaire’s works praise China, especially his Essay on the Manners of Nations (1756), in which he considers not only political governance, legal systems, economic controls, and population development, but also morality, philosophy, and scientific development.
2. See the studies by Chien Chun, Chen Hongguang, and Wu, Ke Huan Wen Xue Lun Gang [Essentials of Science Fiction], especially 4-11.
3. The study of late Qing-era sf commenced only in the 1980s. Studies of the sf of the ROC period are still at a preliminary stage and many texts still await detailed analysis. For more information, see Chen Hongguang, especially 32-117.
4. See Wu, Ke Huan Wen Xue Lun Gang,13-14.
5. For an analysis of Soviet science-fiction theory, see Lue Pu Luo Fu (B. Liupulov).
6. I remember how, as a child during the Cultural Revolution, I would break the paper strips that sealed the windows and sneak into the locked public library. The piles of old books were covered in dust. According to the Red Guards, these books were mere propaganda espousing feudalism, capitalism, and revisionism, and they deserved to be burned. Among that so-called “poisonous grass,” however, I discovered Jules Verne’s amazing novel, Vingte mille lieues sous les mers [Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1870], and many sf works by Soviet and Chinese writers. The fabulous futures in these books took me to worlds very different from the insane and cruel reality of the Cultural Revolution’s “Class Struggle.”
7. For a related study of these issues, see Zhang Zi et al.
8. These are ancient classical stories of the early Ming dynasty (14th century CE) that deal with themes of war and political power struggles, and with Chinese-oriented treatments of both interpersonal and national relationships. They remain very popular among Chinese readers.
9. The Chinese continue to be apprehensive about accusations of pseudoscience, which are regularly made by the media against what they see as misleading the people.
10. The Chinese Communist Party underwent significant changes, but they did not occur immediately after the 1989 student demonstrations. These changes began only in 1992, the year that Deng Xiaoping, then leader of China, gave a series of talks in South China advocating economic reforms. Deng emphasized in these talks that all political disputes should be put aside and priority given to economic development.
11. The Chinese fantasy tradition is well represented by Xi You Ji [Journey to the West], written during the middle period of the Ming Dynasty (16th century CE) and Liao Zai Zhi Yi [Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio] written during the Qing Dynasty (17th century CE). Journey to the West tells the story of a group of Buddhists, including a monkey, a pig, a horse, and a monk, who go on a pilgrimage to find Buddhist scriptures. During their journey, they encounter monsters of various kinds. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, a collection of thrilling and fantastic short stories, describes loves between humans and non-humans and explores the workings of karma in Chinese culture. See the translations by Wu Cheng’en and and by Pu Songling.
12. Mainstream writers who have written science fiction include Hong Ying, Bi Shu Min, and Zhu Su Jin. Although their work differs in many ways from conventional sf and has not always been welcomed by fans, it has its own popular appeal and demonstrates increasing awareness of the genre among mainstream writers. See the titles by Hong Ying, Bi Shu Min, and Zhu Su Jin in my Works Cited.
13. After the failure of constitutional reform driven by the government, leading intellectual Liang Qichao advocated reform from the bottom up. In 1902, he founded the magazine Xin Xiao Shuo [New Fiction] to promote new theories of literature and communication. Science fiction was one of the magazine’s key interests. Liang not only translated French sf by Verne and Camille Flammarion, but he also wrote the novel Xin Zhong Guo Wei Lai Ji [The Future of New China, 1902], which is set in a future society.
14. Lu Xun is the founder of modern Chinese literature. In his youth, he was active in translating and introducing science fiction to the nation. In 1903, for example, he translated Verne’s De la Terre à la Lune [From the Earth to the Moon, 1865] and included a well-known preface in which he espoused sf for its potential to spread Western science and to guide the Chinese people forward.
15. Zheng Wenguang, an important sf writer of the PRC from the 1950s to the 1980s, published Cong Di Qiu Dao Huo Xing [From Earth to Mars] in 1954. In 1956, he published the essay “Always Leading Science,” his proposal for a science-fiction theory heavily influenced by Soviet theory. See Zheng Wenguang 158-62.
16. Ye Yonglie was China’s most famous sf writer in the 1970s and 1980s; his works sold well nationwide. In Lun Ke Xue Wen Yi [On Science Literature], he theorized sf as a literary genre that combined science, fantasy, and fiction, three elements closely related to each other. See his Lun Ke Xue Wen Yi [On Scientific Literary Works], 81-109.
17. See Tong Enzheng 110.
18. Commencing in the mid-1980s, Chinese sf writers began to be more openly critical of their society. Writers such as Wei Yahua, Jin Tao, Zheng Wenguang, and Ye Yonglie argued that sf should not only be about science but should focus equally on society and politics. It was time to throw off the influence of the leftist state. See Ye Yonglie (2000), Chen Jie, and Wu Yan, Ke Huan Wen Xue Lun Gang [Essentials of Science Fiction] in my Works Cited.
19. The new generation that emerged in the 1990s, represented by Xing He, Yang Peng, Su Xuejun, Ling Chen, Pan Haitian, and Liu Wenyang, believed that sf’s role was neither to popularize science nor to convey truth. It should remain completely independent, focusing on entertainment and individual self-expression.
20. In my Ke Huan Wen Xue Lun Gang [Essentials of Science Fiction], I approach sf from the perspective of power and authority. I emphasize that the study of Chinese sf—and this is probably true of all “third-world” sf studies—must face the reality that sf writers and readers are marginal figures in a post-industrial and technological era. I argue that sf’s legitimacy is a result of its very marginality.
21. See Ye Yonglie, Lun Ke Xue Wen Yi, especially 81-109.
Aldiss, Brian. “The Flight to the Great Wall Planet.” World SF Newsletter 2 (April 1984): 3-5.
Bi Shu Min. Hua Guan Bing Du [Corolla Virus]. Changsha: Hunan Literature and Art Press. 2012.
Chen Hongguang. The Pattern of Imagined Science: The Embodiment of Science Categorization in the Science Fiction of the Late Qing Dynasty. MA Dissertation, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, 2012.
Chen Jie. Qin Li Zhong Guo Ke Huan-Zheng Wenguang Ping Zhuan [Experiencing Chinese Science Fiction: A Critical Biography of Zheng Wenguang]. Fuzhou: Fujian Junior and Children’s Press, 2006.
Chien Chun Lin. A Study of Late Qing Science Fiction (1904-1911). MA Dissertation, National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan, 2003.
Hong Ying. Nui Zi You Xing [Far Goes the Girl]. Beijing: Culture and Art Press, 2006.
Liang Qichao. Xin Zhong Guo Wei Lai Ji [The Future of New China]. 1902. Nanning: Guangxi Normal UP, 2008.
Lu Xun. Yue Jie Lv Xing Bian Yan [Preface to From the Earth to the Moon]. 1903. Xian Dai Zhong Guo Ke Huan Wen Xue Zhu Chao [The Mainstream of Modern Chinese Science Fiction]. Ed. Wang Quangen. Chongqing: Chongqing Publishing House, 2011. 3-5.
Lue Pu Luo Fu (B. Liupulov). Ji Shu De Zui Xin Cheng Jiu Yu Su Lian Ke Xue Huan Xiang Du Wu [The Latest Technological Achievements and Soviet Science Fiction]. Beijing: Science and Technology Press, 1959.
Luo Guanzhong. San Guo Yan Yi [Romance of the Three Kingdoms]. Trans. C.H. Brewitt-Taylor. Boston: Tuttle, 2002.
Masaya Takeda. Tobe! Daishinteikouku-Kindai Chugoku No Gensou Kagaku [Soaring: The Qing Empire: Imaginary Science in Modern China]. 1988. Chinese trans. Ren Jun Hua. Taiwan: Yuanliu, 2008.
Pu Songling. Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio [Liao Zai Zhi Yi]. Ed. and trans. John Minford. London: Penguin, 2006.
Shi Nai'an and Luo Guanzhong. Shui Hu Zhuan [Outlaws of the Marsh]. Trans. Sidney Shapiro. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1980.
Tong Enzheng.“A Discussion about My View of Science Literature.” Ren Min Wen Xue [People’s Literature Journal] 6 (June 1979): 110.
Wagner,Rudolf G. “Lobbying Literature: The Archaeology and Present Functions of Science Fiction in China.” After Mao: Chinese Literature and Society, 1978-1981. Ed.Jeffrey C. Kinkley. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U Asia Center, 1985. 17-62.
Wang, David Der-wei. Fin-de-Siècle Splendor:Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1849-1911. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1997.
Wu Cheng’en. Journey to the West [Xi You Ji]. Trans. W.J.F. Jenner. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1982-1990.
Wu Yan. Ke Huan Wen Xue Lun Gang [Essentials of Science Fiction] Chongqing: Chongqing Publishing, 2011.
─────. Ke Huan Ying Gai Zhe Yang Du [How to Read Science Fiction]. Nanning: Jie Li Publishing, 2012.
Ye Yonglie. Lun Ke Xue Wen Yi [On Science Literature]. Beijing: Science Popularization Press, 1980.
─────. Qi Yi De Hua Shi Dan [A Strange Fossil Egg]. Adapted by Gu Kehai. Illustrated by Zheng You Xuan. Tian Jin: Tian Jin People’s Art Publishing House, 1978 .
─────. Shi Shi Fei Fei Hui Gu Niang [The Rights and Wrongs of Cinderella]. Fuzhou: Fujian People’s Publishing House, 2000.
Zhang Zi, Hu Jun, and Feng Zhen. “Xin Zhong Guo Shi Qi Nian Ke Huan Xiao Shuo Zhong De Xian Dai Xing”[The Modernity of Science Fiction in the First Seventeen Years of the People’s Republic of China]. Xian Dai Xing Yu Zhong Guo Ke Huan Wen Xue [Modernity and Chinese Science Fiction]. Fuzhou: Fujian Children’s Publishing, 2006. 75-118.
Zheng Wenguang. Wang Wang Zou Zai Ke Xue Fa Ming De Qian Mian [Always Leading Science: How to Write and Edit Popular Science Works]. Beijing: Science Popularization Press, 1958.
Zhu Su Jin. Ji Dian Xing Zuo [Sacrifice Constellation]. Nanjing: Jiangsu Literature and Art Press,1996.
APPENDIX: Milestones of Chinese Science Fiction
This appendix lists milestones in the history of science fiction in mainland China, including the major historical events that influenced its development.
Jules Verne’s Deux ans de vacances [A Two Years’ Vacation], translated and annotated with critical commentary by Liang Qichao, is published in Chun Jiang Feng Yue Bao [Spring River Wind Monthly].
Liang Qichao launches Xin Xiao Shuo [New Fiction], a magazine promoting many types of new writing including “philosophical science fiction.” He publishes the first chapter of his futuristic novel Xin Zhong Guo Wei Lai Ji [The Future of New China] in its first issue.
Lu Xun translates and publishes Jules Verne’s Yue Jie Lv Xing [From the Earth to the Moon], which includes his preface, Yue Jie Lv Xing Bian Yan [Preface to Yue Jie Lv Xing]. This is the most significant critical work to appear in the early years of Chinese science fiction.
Huang Jiang Diao Suo publishes Yue Qiu Zhi Min Di [Tales of the Moon Colony] in the magazine Xiu Xiang Xiao Shuo [Illustrated Fiction].
Dong Hai Jue Wo (pseudonym of Xu Nianci)’s Xin Fa Luo Xian Sheng Tan [A Tale of New Mr. Braggadocio] is published by Xiao Shuo Lin [Forest of Fiction] Press.
Wu Jianren publishes the first eleven chapters of Xin Shi Tou Ji [New Story of the Stone] in the newspaper Nan Fang [South]. The completed novel is published in 1908 by Gai Liang Xiao Shuo [Reform Fiction] Press.
Bi He Guan Zhu Ren’s Xin Ji Yuan [New Era] is published by Xiao Shuo Lin Press.
Lu Shi’e’s Xin Zhong Guo [New China] is published by Gai Liang Xiao Shuo Press.
This year sees the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the founding of the Republic of China. During the late Qing Dynasty, more than 20 genre works are published, each exhibiting a different literary style.
Lao She publishes the first chapters of Mao Cheng Ji [Cat Country] in Xian Dai [Modern] Magazine. It is the first “soft” sf dystopia in Chinese science fiction.
The Sino-Japanese War begins.
Gu Junzheng’s edited anthology Zai Bei Ji Di Xia [Underneath the North Pole] is published by Wen Hua Sheng Huo [Culture Life] Press. It includes three “hard” sf stories.
The Sino-Japanese War ends.
The People’s Republic of China is founded on 1 October.
The term “science fiction” begins to be replaced by the term “science fantasy fiction” in accordance with Soviet usage.
Zhang Ran’s Meng You Tai Yang Xi [Travel the Solar System in a Dream] is published by Tian Jin Zhi Shi Shu Dian [Knowledge Press of Tianjin].
Zheng Wenguang publishes Cong Di Qiu Dao Huo Xing [From the Earth to Mars] in Zhong Guo Shao Nian Bao [China Junior Newspaper].
The Chinese Communist Party calls for a “March to Science.”
Chi Shuchang’s anthology, San Hao You Yong Xuan Shou De Mi Mi [The Secret of Swimmer No. 3], is published by Zhong Guo Shao Nian Er Tong [China Children and Junior] Publishing House.
Zheng Wenguang publishes the first two chapters of Gong Chan Zhu Yi Chang Xiang Qu [Fantasia of Communism] in Zhong Guo Qing Nian [China Youth] Monthly. This is China’s first Communist-influenced utopian science fiction.
The first film with sf elements, Shi San Ling Shui Ku Chang Xiang Qu [Fantasia of Shi San Ling Reservoir] is completed by Beijing Qing Nian Dian Ying Zhi Pian Chang [Beijing Youth Movie Factory].
Tong Enzheng’s novellette “Gu Xia Mi Wu” [Mists of Old Gorges] is published by Shao Nian Er Tong [Children and Junior] Publishing House of Shanghai.
A selection of sf stories, Bu Ke De Qi Yu [The Adventure of Bu Ke], is published by Shao Nian Er Tong Publishing House of Shanghai.
Wang Guozhong’s anthology, Hei Long Hao Shi Zong [The Lost Ship Black Dragon], is published by Shao Nian Er Tong Publishing House of Shanghai.
The Cultural Revolution begins.
Shao Nian Ke Xue [Junior Science] publishes Ye Yong Lie’s Shi You Dan Bai [Petrolia Protein], labeling it “science fiction” rather than “science fantasy fiction” in order to avoid the negative “bourgeois” connotations of the term “fantasy.” This is the only sf published during the Cultural Revolution.
Mao dies in October and the Cultural Revolution comes to an end.
Ye Yong Lie’s Xiao Ling Tong Man You Wei Lai [Xiao Ling Tong’s Journey to the Future] is published by Shao Nian Er Tong [Children and Junior] Publishing House of Shanghai.
Tong Enzheng’s Shan Hu Dao Shang De Si Guang [Death Ray on a Coral Island] is published in the journal, Ren Min Wen Xue [People’s Literature].
Deng Xiaoping begins his term as PRC leader and announces China’s new “Open Door Policy.”
Tong Enzheng’s novelette Shan Hu Dao Shang De Si Guang [Death Ray on a Coral Island] wins the readers’ choice National Story Award. This is the first time an sf work wins a mainstream literature award.
Sichuan Science and Technology Association establishes Ke Xue Wen Yi [Science Literature] magazine, which publishes science fiction, science-oriented fairy tales, and short stories related to science.
Zheng Wenguang publishes his novel, Fei Xiang Ren Ma Zhuo [Flying to Saggitarius], with Ren Min Wen Xue [People’s Literature] Publishing House in May.
Zhong Guo Qing Nian Bao [China Youth Newspaper] begins a new column, “Ke Pu Xiao Yi” [Brief Notes on Popular Science Works], publishing critical articles about both popular science and science fiction.
The China Popular Science Writers’ Association is founded. Most sf authors join its Science Literature Branch. The Association later changes its name to the China Science Writers’ Association.
The first full-length sf film, Shan Hu Dao Shang De Si Guang [Death Ray on a Coral Island], based on the novelette by Tong Enzheng, is released but does not do well at the box office.
Jin Tao publishes the novelette “Yue Guang Dao” [Moonlight Island] in the first issue of Ke Xue Shi Dai [Science Times] journal. It evinces strong anxiety that the Cultural Revolution might be revived sometime in the future. Political science fiction begins.
Wei Yahua’s story “Wen Rou Zhi Xiang De Meng” [Conjugal Happiness in the Arms of Morpheus] is published in Beijing Wen Xue [Beijing Literature] monthly.
Government-run newspapers such as Ren Min Ri Bao [People’s Daily] accuse the genre of science fiction of “spiritual pollution” and further publication is discouraged. Most authors either move to other genres or cease writing altogether.
The magazines Ke Xue Wen Yi [Science Literature] and Zhi Hui Shu [Tree of Wisdom] jointly launch China’s first award for science fiction, the Yin He [Galaxy] award.
Pi Li Bei Bei [Electronic Boy Bei Bei], the first sf film for children, is well received.
On 4 June, the incident at Tiananmen Square takes place.
Science Literature Magazine changes its name to Ke Huan Shi Jie [Science Fiction World].
Beijing Normal University launches the first undergraduate course in science fiction.
The World Science Fiction Association’s annual conference is held in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
Mainland author Han Song’s short story “Yu Zhou Mu Bei” [Tombstone of the Universe] wins the Worldwide Chinese Science Fiction Award in Taiwan.
Wang Jinkang’s short story “Sheng Ming Zhi Ge” [Song of Life] is published in Science Fiction World.
Xing He’s “Jue Dou Zai Wang Luo” [Fight a Duel on the Internet], the first Chinese cyberpunk story, is published in Science Fiction World. A new generation of Chinese sf authors makes its appearance.
The Beijing International Science Fiction Conference is held in both Beijing and Chengdu, Sichuan Province.
The National College Entrance Examination uses a science column from Science Fiction World as its writing test. Science Fiction World’s circulation rises sharply.
Beijing Normal University launches a Master’s Program in Science Fiction Studies.
The National Social Science Foundation awards a grant to science-fiction studies for the first time. More than a dozen critical studies have resulted from this support.
Qian Lifang’s sf novel about Chinese history, Tian Yi [The Will of Heaven], is published by Sichuan Ke Ji [Sichuan Science and Technology] Publishing House.
San Ti [The Three Body Problem], the first book in Liu Cixin’s San Ti Trilogy [The Three Body Trilogy] is published by Chongqing Publishing House.
The World Chinese Science Fiction Writers’ Association is founded.
The World Chinese Science Fiction Writers’ Association launches the Xing Yun [Nebula] award.
Yan Wu’s Ke Huan Wen Xue Lun Gang [Essentials of Science Fiction] is published by Chongqing Publishing House.
The first Chinese-language “Panorama of Short Science Fiction Films” is launched at the Xing Yun [Nebula] Awards ceremony. It showcases seven and half hours of short films shot over the previous two years.
Science Fiction for the Nation: Tales of the Moon Colony and the Birth of Modern Chinese Fiction
Abstract. This article argues that Chinese sf emerged as a product of two converging factors during the turn of the twentieth century: first, the crisis of epistemology brought about by China’s semi-colonial subjugation to European powers and second, the imperialist imagination of global exchanges and conquest that led to the emergence of the genre in the West and its translation into Chinese via Japan. This paper draws upon critical analysis of the connections between sf, empire, and Orientalist discourse developed by Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Patricia Kerslake, and John Rieder in the context of Chinese sf as a means of exploring Chinese articulations of these concerns. Through a close reading of Huangjiang Diaosou’s Tales of the Moon Colony (1904-1905), this paper explores the anxieties associated with utopianism, nationalism, and Occidentalism that reveal themselves in early Chinese sf.
“A Tale of New Mr. Braggadocio”: Narrative Subjectivity and Brain Electricity in Late Qing Science Fiction
Abstract. This article examines the relation between self and society in Xu Nianci’s “Xin faluoxiansheng tan” [A Tale of New Mr. Braggadocio, 1905]. It argues that the short story’s experiment with first-person subjectivity and the narrator’s invention of brain electricity collapses the disjuncture between individual self and society, as well as the divide between labor and capital that lies at the heart of Marx’s insight into the social relations of production. Specifically, brain electricity reimagines the distinction between humans and machines and reevaluates the means and relations of production; in doing so, it provides a study of political economy rare in late Qing Chinese fiction.
Alterity and Alien Contact in Lao She’s Martian Dystopia, Cat Country
Abstract. This article considers several contexts for the treatment of the themes of alterity and alien contact in Lao She’s Maocheng ji [Cat Country], a work that straddles cultures and raises important questions for scholars of both science fiction and Chinese literature. It examines how Cat Country fits— or does not—into the history of science fiction and also into the development of twentieth-century Chinese literature. Finally, it compares the treatment of alien contact and alterity in Maocheng ji and Stanley G. Weinbaum’s “A Martian Odyssey.”
Variations on Utopia in Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction
Abstract. This essay focuses on the variations of utopian narrative in contemporary Chinese sf, with a view toward appreciating the genre’s historical development since the late Qing. Through analyzing the writings of three writers, Han Song, Wang Jinkang, and Liu Cixin, this essay examines three themes that characterize China’s current new wave of science fiction: China’s rise, the myth of development, and posthumanity. Deeply entangled with the politics of a changing China, science fiction today both strengthens and complicates the utopian vision of a new and powerful China: it mingles nationalism with utopianism/dystopianism, sharpens social criticism with an acute awareness of China’s potential for further reform, and wraps political consciousness in scientific discourse about the powers of technology and the technologies of power.
Gloomy China: China’s Image in Han Song’s Science Fiction
Abstract. This paper focuses on the work of Han Song, an important contemporary Chinese sf writer. His dark and difficult stories brim with violence and bloodshed and frequently leave readers puzzled as to his intentions, yet many critics have defended the value of his work. My analysis focuses on the reasons for the persistence of such dark images of China in his writing. Han Song’s work exceeds Lu Xun’s critique of national character and makes him an inheritor of the enlightenment spirit of the May 4th Movement (1915-1921). At the same time, the impact of Buddhism imbues his work with a nihilism that inevitably dilutes the power of his critique. Paradoxical feelings of detachment from and attachment to reality find voice in his sf writing, which ought to be viewed as the practice of dharma as well as a critique of reality. In other words, his “Gloomy China” should be seen not only as a national allegory in Fredric Jameson’s sense of the term, but also as a universal exploration of the meaning of existence.
Translation and the Development of Science Fiction in Twentieth-Century China
Abstract. This paper examines the role of translation in the evolution of science fiction as a literary genre in twentieth-century China. I focus my discussion on how translation became the impetus for the birth of sf in the late Qing period and on the impact of translations upon original fictions at different phases in the development of Chinese sf. I demonstrate the very significant position of sf translation in the history of Chinese sf literature in the twentieth century as a dynamic influence on the growth of the genre in China.
Voyage into an Unknown Future: A Genre Analysis of Chinese SF Film in the New Millennium
Abstract. This article studies sf film as a new genre in Chinese cinema. While borrowing widely from its Hollywood counterparts—costumes, sets, plot, characterization, visual effects, and so forth—Chinese sf films seldom demonstrate the kind of science-based vision or exploration that mark many ambitious sf films in the West. In part due to the genre’s Hollywood monopoly, Chinese sf films tend to hark back to pre-existing local cinematic conventions and are intermixed with other genres as diverse as fantasy, ghost and horror stories, romances, and martial-arts films. The development of sf cinema in China is further complicated by the current postmodern tendency toward hybridity and intertextuality, which disrupts the genre’s typical development by subjecting it to imitation and parody. Examining the thematic concerns and iconography of Chinese sf film, this article argues that the dominant intergeneric elements in Chinese sf cinema reveal its status as a subordinate genre in which sf semantics are coopted into syntactic relationships with other genres. In this sense, Chinese sf films are better understood as “sf-themed” films.