We've been covering the rise and rise of Chinese science fiction here since the early part of the decade, as Chinese authors have been successfully exported to the English-speaking world (a rare feat, as there are enough books written in English to satisfy demand, leading to a real poverty of literature translated into English), which broke through in 2016, when authors like Hao Jingfang took home Hugo awards, along with the incredible Cixin Liu.
Chinese science fiction fandom is also on the rise, with massive conventions and prominent reading clubs, along with massively popular short fiction sites. 2018 saw the launch of a new Asian Science Fiction Writers' Association, too.
At this year's Worldcon, I participated in a panel on "The Working Class in Science Fiction" where the panelists grappled with the lack of working class characters and working class solidarity in SF. SF writer and union organizer Eric Flint suggested that maybe this was down to the post-war boom-years for science fiction, in which the pulp-reading working-class reader found themselves enjoying new prosperity, entering a new technical elite of engineers and technical workers, and where class and solidarity no longer seemed relevant to working peoples' lives.
China is certainly entering a similar boom at the moment, as a new manufacturing and technical middle-class emerges, though "with Chinese characteristics" (for example, the manufacturing sector is dominated by the 80,000,000 women who migrated from the provinces to the factory cities of the Pearl River Delta).
It's interesting to see sf emerge in tandem with China's high-tech revolution, especially given how tightly tied the story of Chinese human rights abuses are to the story of Chinese technological growth.
Wang Yao's day job is teaching Chinese writing at Xian Jiaotong University. Growing up in a family of engineers spurred her interest in the sci-fi genre, and she dreamed of becoming an eminent scientist, like Nobel laureate Marie Curie. She earned a place at Peking University's School of Physics and majored in atmospheric science. However, after feeling out of place for a few years, she changed course and eventually pursued a doctoral degree in comparative literature.
She believes science fiction has a value beyond profit. "You can earn a lot of money by producing a sci-fi film. But more importantly, science fiction can raise relevant questions, help us understand the age we live in, and confront real-life dilemmas," says Wang. These questions include how humans should respond to technology such as artificial intelligence, and more existential questions about the role of the human race and our traditions. Wang believes it is vital that Chinese society contemplates these questions.
"Science fiction looks at the process of modernisation and how our values, identity, lifestyle, traditions and even emotions change amid that," says Wang. In Western countries, modernisation and the emergence of science fiction occurred at the same time. But in contemporary China, where development is happening at such a rapid pace, society has yet to comprehend the process of modernisation, giving rise to many problems – some of which people refuse to acknowledge, and others that are censored by the authorities.
"Sci-fi writers are very perceptive and they're conscious of the influence of globalisation and modernisation. They ponder where Chinese people stand in this process and what our responsibilities are," Wang says. "We are not copying how other countries develop. We are finding our own way and considering alternatives to modernisation."
Science fiction's new golden age in China, what it says about social evolution and the future, and the stories writers want world to see [Rachel Cheung/South China Morning Post]
(via Beyond the Beyond)