He opened a way to China's utopia, but he could only leave it on paper.
Hundreds of fans of Zheng Wenguang rushed to the funeral hall in Beijing's west suburbs Thursday morning to say farewell to the "father of China's sci-fi".
Many were born in the 1980s, but still crazy about the dreamlike world depicted by Zheng half a century ago.
Although the US-based World Science Fiction Association published an obituary announcing Zheng's death on June 17 from heart disease, the Chinese media has so far kept silent.
The genre is unpopular, and sometimes seen as dangerous because it leaks too many secrets about society's future.
Most people heard the sad news on the Internet, though their beloved sci-fi master never predicted such a mode of communication.
Zheng's most famous short story was about man's landing on mars, published in 1954.
It was the first sci-fi story published in China, and established Zheng's fame as "father of sci-fi". It was the story that for the first time provided the Chinese a rare opportunity to look deeply into the universe, which was usually ignored by those who cared too much about worldly life.
Zheng spearheaded a sci-fi tradition that was clearly different from the genre in the west.
For a period of time, he was eager to construct a future communist society, just like Asimov created in his Base series. "My works are about the nation's happiness, love, sorrow and victory in the modernization drive," he once said.
The concept of sci-fi was introduced in 1904 by Lu Xun, China's literary forerunner. Lu believed that the genre was a result of the industrial revolution that could help transform China from a decaying country into a fresh and modern one.
Like a writing machine, Zheng wrote a lot of stories about the Chinese exploration of the moon, mars and the galaxy, on which they built utopias one by one.
His works have inspired a lot of young people. Some have chosen space exploration as their profession, working on the launch ground for China's new generation of space travel.
Some have become successful sci-fi writers, hoping that a genre that usually focuses on adventure, uncertainty and diversity would bring more changes to the nation.
However, sci-fi's existence in China was sometimes threatened. Zheng had to keep silent during the chaotic cultural revolution from 1966-76.
"During that period of time, sci-fi writers could not find any evidence to support the belief that the great leader would live forever," said Wu Yan, a sci-fi writer and researcher.
Zheng resumed writing in the late 1970s when the reform and opening up began. But he was paralyzed after he suffered a sudden stroke.
Zheng and other elder sci-fi writers predicted that communism could be realized about the year 2000.
"The worlds depicted in his works have forever become something that exist only in a 'past future' that we can never touch," said one article published on the Internet.
Zheng liked to read Outlaws in the Marsh, an ancient novel about China's Robin Hood, and works of the Russian writer Tolstoy. He began to read Taoist classics in his later years.
(Xinhua News Agency June 27, 2003)