Rescuing China's sci-fi history: Keeping memories alive

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 1, 2023
Adjust font size:

Yang Feng, founder and CEO of Chinese sci-fi brand Eight Light Minutes Culture, has authored a three-volume book chronicling the evolution of China's science fiction since the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The book is a tribute to the genre and seeks to preserve its stories from slipping into obscurity. Moreover, it celebrates the upcoming 81st World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in Chengdu, the capital of southwest China's Sichuan province.

Yang Feng, founder and CEO of Chinese sci-fi brand Eight Light Minutes Culture and the chief editor of "Chinese Science Fiction: An Oral History." [Photo provided to]

"In 2016, I had an initial plan to do a book titled 'Dream Pursuer: An Oral History of Sichuan Science Fiction,' which was eventually published in 2017 with help from Xinhuanet's Sichuan branch," Yang told The book was her company's first publishing project.

Yang and her team compiled the book as a tribute to Chengdu city, which holds significant importance in China's sci-fi history. Chengdu was the birthplace of Science Fiction World (SFW) magazine in 1979, the most popular sci-fi periodical in China, with a circulation of 300,000 copies per issue. Numerous sci-fi writers, including Liu Cixin and Wang Jinkang, found a platform on SFW and achieved great fame. Today, Chengdu is regarded as the sci-fi capital of China and a mecca for Chinese sci-fi enthusiasts.

"Dream Pursuer" won sci-fi publishing prizes at the Chinese Nebula Awards and the Galaxy Awards in 2018, sparking significant public interest. The book's success motivated Yang and her team to do a sequel featuring interviews with other sci-fi figures outside Sichuan province. 

However, the project never materialized due to several factors and uncertainties over the next five years, despite the team conducting some interviews. Additionally, during that time, four prominent Chinese sci-fi moguls passed away. 

"In December 2021, Chengdu won the bid to host the world's top sci-fi event, Chengdu Worldcon 2023. As we were thinking about how to mark and pay homage to the event, Chengdu Times Press and its studio Another One reached out to support and collaborate with us to bring our vision to life and broaden its reach," Yang said. 

The "Chinese Science Fiction: An Oral History" project commenced in 2022, using previously collected materials and interviews conducted since 2019. The team worked tirelessly on it for over six months, overcoming various difficulties, including the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Nearly half of the interviewees were over 80 years old, and three were above 90. Some of them had died, leaving the treasure of their oral history to us. We always felt urgency and anxiety, like we were racing against time," said Yang.

"Some also resided overseas, so communication was challenging, and the pandemic worsened things. The most difficult thing was that the materials provided by interviewees were limited. We had to collect and select historical materials and documents ourselves and then check, cross-examine, verify, and correct them with the help of people who experienced those events," she added.

Yang Feng (L), and several publishers and guests, including Chinese sci-fi heavyweights, present the first volume of "Chinese Science Fiction: An Oral History" at a promotional event held in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Feb. 25, 2023. [Photo courtesy of Eight Light Minutes Culture]

The book's first volume was released in December 2022, consisting of over 400,000 words and 200 pictures.The book spotlights China's seven sci-fi pioneers, including prominent writers Liu Shahe, Wang Jinkang and Liu Cixin, writer and scholar Wu Yan, former top publishers and editors-in-chief of SFW magazines Yang Xiao and Tan Kai, as well as Yao Haijun, current deputy editor-in-chief of SFW and founder of many China's sci-fi events, such as the Chinese Nebula Awards.  

"Chinese Science Fiction: An Oral History" illuminates many previously unknown stories and details. For instance, it reveals how publisher Yang Xiao turned a magazine on the verge of bankruptcy into SFW, the world's largest-selling sci-fi periodical. The book also recounts how Wang Jinkang rescued Chinese sci-fi in its darkest days and how "The Three-Body Problem" was initially a completely different story. Also, readers can discover what Liu Cixin plans to write next.

Chen Ling, secretary general of the China Science Writers Association and executive deputy director of the China Science Fiction Research Center, praised the book at its launch ceremony in Chengdu on Saturday as a "vivid historical study that has important social significance and academic value."

The book cover of "Chinese Science Fiction: An Oral History." [Image courtesy of Chengdu Times Press]

Yang aims to publish the last two volumes before the opening of Chengdu Worldcon 2023 in October. The team has already conducted most of the necessary interviews, with the rest beginning in March. The upcoming sci-fi figures to appear include Wang Mailin, Dong Renwei, Wu Xiankui, He Xi, Han Song, Xiao Jianheng, and many more. 

Chinese science fiction has boomed in recent years, with successful adaptations like the "Three-Body" TV series, the epic film franchise "The Wandering Earth," and sci-fi books, games, and merchandise. According to a 2022 industry report released on Feb. 18, China's sci-fi industry generated 82.96 billion yuan ($12 billion) in revenue in 2021. However, the industry had to navigate a long and winding road to achieve its current success.

"This book showcases the difficult and brilliant development of Chinese sci-fi from different aspects … It lets us know where it came from, where it may go, and why it can go on from generation to generation," Yang said. 

Follow on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.
ChinaNews App Download
Print E-mail Bookmark and Share

Go to Forum >>0 Comment(s)

No comments.

Add your comments...

  • User Name Required
  • Your Comment
  • Enter the words you see:   
    Racist, abusive and off-topic comments may be removed by the moderator.
Send your storiesGet more from