Alec Ash of the Los Angeles Review of Books has an interview with science-fiction author Fei Dao of China, arguably the most sci-fi place on Earth right now, a nation careering wildly into its future, though oddly mostly utilizing pieces of the Western industrial past to get there. So far, at least. An excerpt:
What is unique or particular about Chinese science fiction?
Chinese sci fi has about a hundred years of history. When it started, in the late Qing dynasty around 1902, it was chiefly concerned with the problem of bringing ancient China into modernity. At that time, Liang Qichao [translated sci fi] because he thought it would be beneficial for China’s future … as something that could popularize scientific knowledge. And Lu Xun thought that if you gave ordinary people scientific literature to read, they would fall asleep. But if you blended scientific knowledge into stories with a plot, it would be more interesting. [He thought that] in this way, the people could become more modern.
So at that time science fiction was a very serious thing to do in China that could allow ordinary people to get closer to modern scientific knowledge, and serve as a tool for transforming traditional culture into modern culture. It played a very important role, and had a serious mission to accomplish.
Today, there is a commercial publishing market for sci fi, and people don’t have such weighty expectations of literature, yet authors are still discussing serious topics. Three Body by Liu Cixin or Subway (地铁) by Han Song both have many reflections about the direction of this country and of humanity. So this kind of writing can convey concerns about the future, or discuss the current situation in China.
For example, Han Song’s Subway is about a subway station. In China, subway systems are an emblem of modernization. Many cities in China are building huge subway systems, because to have one or not is the standard of a city’s modernity and development. So in discussing this symbol, Han Song seized on a sensitive point. After publishing Subway, he wrote another book called Highspeed Rail (高铁), another emblem of technological innovation. So Han Song is consistently concerned with the potential catastrophes of the process of modernization.
Liu Cixin, on the other hand, is expressing a more grand feeling of the universe in the tradition of Western sci fi. In doing so, he wants Chinese people to look up at the sky, and not just be concerned with earthly matters. The mainstream of Chinese literature is about real-world subject matter, such as the countryside or urban life. Very few people are concerned with the fate of humankind, the future of the universe, or even aliens. These things are themselves alien to Chinese readers, but can be introduced through this kind of writing.
I think that the key theme of Chinese science fiction, no matter how it develops, is how this ancient country and its people are moving in the direction of the future.”