It’s a common notion that “science fiction” is a western theme or idea and that it is incongruent to mainland China. But, that is really a misnomer, just like when it was reported a few years ago that the Chinese government had banned time travel in local movies.
China itself, is ripe for numerous science fiction stories. The cityscapes of Shanghai and Beijing are BLADE RUNNER in reality. The advance interlinking of services and lifestyle by using WeChat, a one app, fits all, is cyberpunk come to life (or Skynet for that matter).
With the success of THE THREE BODY PROBLEM trilogy by Liu Cixin, which has become an international literary bestseller and an upcoming major film adaptation to be released next year, Chinese science fiction gained the highest recognition in this field by being awarded the Hugo for Best Science Fiction novel last year.
The trend continues with the novella FOLDING BEIJING, which won the Best Novelette at the Hugos this past Sunday. This would be the second year in a row that a Chinese author won. The author was pitted against other high profile nominees like Stephen King, for his work OBIT.
In Hao’s story, China’s capital has been divided into three different living spaces that spin and rotate so each can take turns on the surface every day. According to Hao, she based the story on her time living in villages near the city.
Ken Liu, who did the English translation for FOLDING BEIJING, received the award together with Hao. Hao called Liu – who also translated THE THREE-BODY PROBLEM “a great contributor helping promote Chinese science fiction.”
Here’s more from her acceptance speech:
“Science fiction writers like to take all possibilities into account, good or bad, fortunate or unfortunate,” said Hao at the award ceremony.
“I also put out one possibility in FOLDING BEIJING that tried to tackle problems brought by automation, technological progress, unemployment and economic stagnation.
“I also bring up solutions to these problems, not necessarily the best, but they are by no means the worst: People in the story don’t die from hunger and many young people don’t have to join the military, just like what actually happens in our real life,” she added.
“But I hope my story doesn’t end up becoming true in reality. I hope we will have a brighter future.”
The 32-year-old writer, who has a PhD in Economics from Tsinghua University, currently works as a macroeconomic analyst. Hao also spent three years studying at the Tsinghua Center for Astrophysics after earning a BA in physics in 2006. She demonstrated her writing talent at the age of 18, when she won China’s 4th New Concept Writing Competition. In other words, her education and profession are the perfect background for a science fiction writer.
FOLDING BEIJING is also being currently adapted into a feature film, by director Josh Kim and produced by former Tri-Star Pictures chief Chris Lee (also a producer of such major Hollywood films like SUPERMAN RETURNS, VALKYRIE and S.W.A.T.). Both are Asian American and have collaborated before on the Thai-set coming-of-age drama HOW TO WIN AT CHECKERS (EVERY TIME), which had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival.
In the meantime, you can read FOLDING BEIJING over at Uncanny Magazine, where it is posted in its entirety.
In addition, you can also read this great interview with Hao that was published last month during the release of her first non-science fiction novel, which looks at the anxieties of her generation, facing an uncertain future in a rapidly changing world saturated with social media.