The busi­ness of fantasy

En­trepreneurs and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists bet­ting the public will pay for imag­i­na­tion

China Daily European Weekly - - Cover Story - By DAVID BLAIR david­blair@chi­nadaily.com.cn

“We want to help our writ­ers, to pro­tect them. I want to help them to get more money. Then they can have time to write more sto­ries.” JI SHAOT­ING Founder and CEO of Fu­ture Af­fairs Ad­min­is­tra­tion

Sci­ence fic­tion is not just an art form or a genre of lit­er­a­ture. It’s a busi­ness, too. Chi­nese com­pa­nies and localities are mak­ing big in­vest­ments be­cause they be­lieve there is a huge and grow­ing de­mand for sto­ries that spark the imag­i­na­tion.

Growth of the mo­bile in­ter­net in China is seen as key. Peo­ple want to watch short sci­ence fic­tion videos on their phones. Plus, many games are based on sci­ence fic­tion sto­ries. The mar­ket for vir­tual re­al­ity alone is ex­pected to reach 55 bil­lion yuan ($8.3 bil­lion; 7.1 bil­lion eu­ros; £6.2 bil­lion) by 2020, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg. The Mo­tion Pic­ture As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica es­ti­mates that China will sur­pass the United States as the world’s largest movie mar­ket this year.

“China boasts abun­dant sci-fi in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty works to de­velop de­riv­a­tive prod­ucts like in­ter­net drama, TV se­ries, films and games,” Jiang Lin, in­ter­net di­rec­tor of Sci­ence Fic­tion World mag­a­zine, told Na­tional Busi­ness Daily. “I hope the China Sci­ence Fic­tion City can cul­ti­vate fer­tile soil for these prod­ucts to take root and grow.”

En­trepreneurs and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists see vast po­ten­tial.

For ex­am­ple, Fu­ture Af­fairs Ad­min­is­tra­tion, a startup com­pany in Bei­jing that was launched in 2016, has al­ready raised 10 mil­lion yuan of an­gel in­vest­ment. Dur­ing the A round of fi­nanc­ing, FAA raised dozens of mil­lions of yuan in to­tal, and it es­tab­lished Three Body Cos­mos, a sub­com­pany that fo­cuses on de­vel­op­ing sto­ries re­lated to Liu Cixin’s

Three Body tril­ogy. “At the be­gin­ning, we got a per­cent­age from sell­ing sto­ries,” says Ji Shaot­ing, founder and CEO of FAA, ex­plain­ing the com­pany’s busi­ness model. “But that is like crush­ing the as­pi­ra­tions of the poor writ­ers. They are not mak­ing a lot. Later on, I found out that it’s bet­ter if we get the good sto­ries and also par­tic­i­pate in the movie part. We can get per­cent­ages of the movie project or the TV se­ries, so we can be kin­der to our writ­ers. We want to help our writ­ers, to pro­tect them. I want to help them to get more money. Then they can have time to write more sto­ries.

“We also hire peo­ple who can help to make movies. We don’t make movies — just give them ad­vice and ideas. The other part of the team is ed­i­tors, be­cause we have to talk to writ­ers. Our com­pany is very new. Last year, we talked to writ­ers more than movie mak­ers be­cause we have to grow up the bank of our IP. We talked to for­eign writ­ers, Chi­nese writ­ers, new writ­ers, peo­ple who want to be writ­ers. So we build up an ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem of Chi­nese writ­ers.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Ji says, “We are kind of an agent in a way. It is a lit­tle bit com­pli­cated, but that’s how things work in China. Be­cause in the past decades, there was no Chi­nese sci­ence fic­tion in­dus­try, only words. If we want to make it an in­dus­try, we have to do many things in the whole in­dus­trial chain. In Amer­ica, you have thou­sands of sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers who have been pub­lished, but in China there are fewer than 100 Chi­nese sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers, and the fans only know the names of 20. So we re­ally need more sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers. I be­lieve there is a very big mar­ket. Many of the sci­ence fic­tion movies from Amer­ica made a lot of money in China.”

Feng Huawei, who is founder of Smal­lville Cap­i­tal, a lead­ing Chi­nese in­vest­ment com­pany, as well as a ma­jor in­vestor in FAA, says: “I would de­fine this project as part of the ‘Imag­i­na­tion In­dus­try’, which is be­com­ing more and more im­por­tant. The de­vel­op­ment of tech­nol­ogy that in­cludes mo­bile in­for­ma­tion pro­vides us with ac­cess to more de­vices that serve our needs, as well as spread­ing ideas. Imag­i­na­tion as the source of con­tent pro­duc­tion, di­ver­sity and in­no­va­tion, is of more value now.

“We are look­ing for the com­bi­na­tion of high-qual­ity sci­ence fic­tion works with other in­dus­tries, such as movies, an­i­ma­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, travel, real es­tate and other cul­tural busi­ness. We also wish to have more peo­ple in­volved in the pro­duc­tion and in­no­va­tion of high-qual­ity sci­ence fic­tion con­tent through sup­port­ing de­vel­op­ment.”

For 10 years, Ji was a re­porter for Xin­hua News Agency, where fa­mous sci­ence fic­tion writer and Xin­hua ex­ec­u­tive Han Song be­came a men­tor. She says she cried when she left Xin­hua, but sci­ence fic­tion is her pas­sion.

“I started read­ing sci­ence fic­tion when I was 9 years old. Through high school and col­lege, there were not a lot of peo­ple who were in­ter­ested in sci-fi, so I was re­ally lonely.” How­ever, in 2007, she at­tended a sci­ence fic­tion con­fer­ence in Chengdu. “I felt that I was not lonely any­more. I felt that I had found the fam­ily of sci­ence fic­tion.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Ji Shaot­ing, founder and CEO of Fu­ture Af­fairs Ad­min­is­tra­tion, says the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion of rapid change has cre­ated China’s new sci­ence fic­tion.

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