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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