Chi­nese writ­ers of science fic­tion de­serve greater praise

That’s the fu­ture Chi­nese science fic­tion writ­ers should look at — re­flect­ing real life in imag­i­nary worlds — to at­tract­more read­ers.

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS - The au­thor is a writer with China Daily. zhangzhoux­i­ang@chi­nadaily.

On Aug 20, Chi­nese writerHao Jing­fang was de­clared the win­ner of this year’sHugo Award for BestNovelette for her short science fic­tion, Fold­ing Bei­jing. Last year, the Los An­ge­les­basedWorld Science Fic­tion So­ci­ety had be­stowed theHugo Award for BestNovel to an­other Chi­nese writer, Liu Cixin, for The Three Body Prob­lem.

TwoHugo awards in two years is by any means a great achieve­ment be­cause science fic­tion is not a genre in which Chi­nese writ­ers ex­cel. In fact, science fic­tion writ­ing has al­most come to a halt in China.

Only four ma­jor science fic­tion mag­a­zines are pub­lished in the coun­try, with Science Fic­tion World be­ing the most pop­u­lar with a cir­cu­la­tion of 300,000. That num­ber may seem im­pres­sive, but ac­tu­ally is small given China’s pop­u­la­tion of 1.4 bil­lion. Be­sides, the com­bined cir­cu­la­tion of the other three mag­a­zines is so small that only a few­peo­ple have heard of them.

In com­par­i­son, even though the Amer­i­can mag­a­zine Ana­log Science Fic­tion and Fact has a cir­cu­la­tion of just over 100,000, it is only one of the many such mag­a­zines with sim­i­lar cir­cu­la­tion fig­ures. Of course, the mar­ket for science fic­tion is much big­ger in theWest than in China.

More­over, Chi­nese science fic­tion writ­ers and their works both are small in numbers. On the amazon.cn list of 10 best­selling science fic­tion nov­els in the Chi­nese lan­guage, The Three Body Prob­lem and Fold­ing Bei­jing are the only two by Chi­nese authors, with the rest be­ing trans­la­tions of for­eign writ­ers’ works.

The awk­ward sit­u­a­tion science fic­tion writ­ers face in China has much to do with the past. For long, science fic­tion was mixed with pop­u­lar science read­ing ma­te­ri­als and its tar­get read­ers were chil­dren. In fact, Ye Yonglie, one of the best science fic­tion writ­ers in the late 1980s and early 1990s, is pop­u­larly known as a “writer of chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture” be­cause his science fic­tion works are mostly for chil­dren. And many book­stores keep science fic­tion works in the chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture sec­tion in the be­lief they are meant for chil­dren.

An­other fac­tor hin­der­ing the de­vel­op­ment of science fic­tion writ­ing in China is lack of sup- port from re­lated sec­tors. Af­ter TheMar­tian was re­leased last Novem­ber, the novel on which the movie is based be­came a best­seller and its au­thor AndyWeir fa­mous. But sel­dom has any Chi­nese science fic­tion work been made into a movie.

That’s the rea­son why Liu and Hao de­serve greater praise for their ef­forts. By com­bin­ing the real life with the imag­i­nary, the two have in­fused a breath of fresh air into the science fic­tion genre and widened its read­er­ship to in­clude adults.

Hao’s Fold­ing Bei­jing de­picts a city di­vided into three parts where res­i­dents take turns to en­joy life, re­mind­ing read­ers of the widen­ing so­cial divide across the world. In Liu’s The Three Body Prob­lem, lack of trust be­tween dif­fer­ent races in the uni­verse is sim­i­lar to the one that af­flicts peo­ple on Earth. Their works are science fic­tions, no doubt, but raise many per­ti­nent ques­tions about hu­man so­ci­ety and in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.

That’s the fu­ture Chi­nese science fic­tion writ­ers should look at— re­flect­ing real life in imag­i­nary worlds— to at­tract more read­ers.

An­other pos­i­tive trend in Chi­nese science fic­tion works is the de­vel­op­ment of mul­ti­ple prod­ucts. A Chi­nese movie com­pany bought the copy­right of The Three Body Prob­lem from Liu last year and the movie is ex­pected to hit the screens in 2017. Plus a play based on the novel has been a huge suc­cess in Shanghai. Such ven­tures should give a fil­lip to science fic­tion writ­ers in China, and we hope the movie and play based on Liu’s novel are just the right start.

CAI MENG / CHINA DAILY

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