Chinese Whispers

Science fiction is not as easy to find in China as one might think. I never saw a massive “SCI-FI” section in Chinese bookshops, although there were often entire bays dedicated to internet novels and how-to-draw manga books; SF is more often than not still lumped in with children’s fiction. It’s a long story.

I pestered numerous newsstand vendors in four or five Chinese cities for the latest issue of Kehuan Shijie (“SF World”, pictured), but only struck gold outside the gates of the Beijing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics, where the passing traffic might be reasonably expected to be interested in all that Buck Rogers stuff. Otherwise, science fiction in China, with a readership in the tens of thousands, is still something of a minority interest in the People’s Republic.

Which makes it all the more ironic that I should get back to my office and find in my in-tray two publications that massively increase the footprint of Chinese science fiction abroad. A double-issue of Renditions, published by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is packed with translations of Chinese SF, including stories by Liu Cixin, Han Song, La La, Zhao Haihong, Chi Hui and Xia Jia. There’s also some intriguing proto-sf such as a piece from 1912 by Xu Zhuodai, as well as an incredible exercise in academic recursion: a translation into English of Lu Xun’s translation into Chinese of a Japanese translation of a story by Anna Louise Strong, showing to what degree Chinese whispers might be reasonably said to have set in.

Fei Dao, another author in Renditions, also shows up in the latest issue of Science Fiction Studies under his real name of Jia Liyuan, with a different hat on as a doctoral candidate in Chinese literature. The new SFS is a China special issue, and includes articles about utopias in Chinese fiction, Chinese SF movies, alien contact and the role played by translation in the spread of the medium, as well as non-fiction essays by Liu Cixin, Han Song and Wu Yan. In my role as a contributing editor to the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, I was asked to be a peer reviewer on several of the papers in this issue, and I was very impressed with the level of achievement. It’s certainly very salutary, albeit rather odd, to see the amount of work on Chinese SF in English increasingly so exponentially, almost overnight.

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8 thoughts on “Chinese Whispers

  1. Very good news.

    Also, the theme of the upcoming issue of Pathlight (http://paper-republic.org/pathlight ), in print and digital editions, is “The Future”, and the ToC is largely populated by SF writers — Chen Qiufan, Hao Jingfang, He Xi, Ling Chen, Liu Cixin, Wang Jinkang, Xing He, and Yang Ping — plus A Ding, Can Xue, and Han Shaogong from (closer to) the literary mainstream. The magazine’s had a science fiction story in practically every issue to date (Qi Ge, another one by Liu Cixin, and Han Song). Here’s hoping it’s an actual upward trend and not just a bubble that will crash by the end of the year.

  2. Pingback: Bumper Issue of Chinese SF | Cheryl's Mewsings

  3. “I’ve got a great idea for a story. Imagine a civilization similar to ours, but with — get this – no government monitoring of the Internet! I know, real ‘sense of wonder’ stuff, huh?”

  4. Hi Jonathan, sorry to bother and to post off-topic here, just wondering if you have a section on this page where I can send you a message re: an animé you might be able to help me with? I can’t seem to see a contact option on the site. I’ve already been in contact with Helen McCarthy but maybe you can help?

  5. DocWatson, yes I do — have added your data to the main blog. Renditions lists her name in English as Louise Jackson Strong, but credits her on the title as plain Louise Strong, and in Chinese as Luyi Situolun, although Chinese Wikipedia calls her Anna Luyisi Situolun.

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