Chinese Science Fiction in the Global Context

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

Chinese Science Fiction in the Global Context

Yan Wu, Jianbin Yao and Jinyi Chu

According to the 2020 China Science Fiction Industry Report, the gross annual output value of China’s science fiction industry in 2019 was 45.635 billion yuan. This cultural industry consists of hardcopy books, film and TV series, video games, and peripheral products. Since 2016, the Chinese Association for Science and Technology (CAST) has begun organizing the annual conventions. The Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, Li Yuanchao, participated in the first convention. He called himself a science fiction fanatic. His brief appearance brought lots of media attention to the cultural industry of Chinese science fiction.

Chinese science fiction has been developing exponentially since the completion of Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem in 2010. In 2015, Liu Cixin won the Hugo Award for best full-length novel at the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention. Now Chinese science fiction is being translated into Arabic, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and many languages all over the world. Since then, more Chinese writers have become globally renowned, including: Han Song, Wang Jinkang, Chen Qiufan, Hao Jingfang, and Xia Jia, among many others.

The international fame of Chinese science fiction has also created a new wave of the fascination with global science fiction in China. The names of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov, and Strugatsky brothers have never been obscure to Chinese readers. Now their splendid works continue to receive significant attention in the 21st century, far beyond their birthplace. 

It is timely and necessary to reflect on how science fiction connects the world. The goal of this special issue is to investigate the latest developments of this two-way reception of science fiction and to reflect on relevant methodological issues. The contributors of this special issue ask: can we study science fiction as world literature? Can science fiction teach us, human beings, how to better interact with the environment? Thanks to all contributors and editors who made this timely special issue possible!

The History and Reality of Chinese Science Fiction Studies

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

The History and Reality of Chinese
Science Fiction Studies

Zhenyu Jiang

Science fiction research is becoming a multidisciplinary field with significant impacts on both the academic and social-cultural fields in China. In recent years, many researchers from disciplines like philosophy, literature, film and television, science culture, and cultural industries have participated in science fiction research and produced valuable results in their respective fields.

The history of science fiction research in China is closely related to the history of the development of Chinese science fiction literature and culture overall. During the late Qing dynasty, when Chinese science fiction was being created indiscriminately, science fiction theory was also at the earliest stage of gestation and genesis. At that time, authors Liang Qichao and Lu Xun enthusiastically advocated for science fiction literature and established many influential theories about the field, in addition to their deep involvement in its creation and translation. In particular, the young Lu Xun’s theory of genre “by science, by human feelings”(经以科学,纬以人情) and his practical theory of “guiding the Chinese people to carry out”(导中国人群以进行)laid the foundation for the development of Chinese science fiction and the exploration of science fiction theory in the following half century. Since then, within the genre, Chinese science fiction has formed a confrontation between science and human society, everyday reality, future fantasy and other human “non-scientific” elements; in terms of external genre positioning, it has always been in the midst of political grand narratives such as the “Four Modernizations”. It was only after the great discussions of the early 1980s that this situation was gradually relaxed.

From the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic of China to the end of the 1970s, China’s approach to science fiction could be regarded as being in a Period of Learning and Exploration. Under the influence of Soviet science popularization, as well as a system of science literature and art(科学文艺), Chinese science fiction was sheltered under the three-tier mechanism of “science popularization (科学普及)–science literature and art (科学文艺)–science fantasy(科幻小说),” [1] but at the same time, it gradually accumulated the momentum to find its own path. In the essays and writers’ notes of editors and authors such as Zheng Wenguang (郑文光), Tong Enzheng (童恩正), and Ye Yonglie (叶永烈), Chinese science fiction theory gradually took the first steps toward establishing a local pulse. On the one hand, science fiction authors enthusiastically supported the creation of science fiction as an integral part of the “task of transforming society” (Editors 1) through the popularization of science; on the other hand, they also realized that science fiction is “different from science literature and art.” (Wen Guang 161)  Science fiction should not be simply instrumentalized as subsidiary material for popular science, but also could not simply use a scientistic manner to confront already-known knowledge.

Developing alongside a strong national anxiety about the legitimacy of the science fiction genre, Chinese science fiction theory underwent a Period of Growth in the late 1970s. When Tong Enzheng proposed that science fiction should break away from the stereotypical popularization of knowledge and spread a “scientific view of life,” (Tong Enzheng 110) the autonomy of the science fiction genre became fully developed. In the midst of debates and criticism, Chinese science fiction writers, editors, and enthusiasts sought discursive resources from overseas science fiction, literary theory, and science communities. In the midst of eager study and debate, writers established far-reaching ties with the global science fiction community and contributed to the convergence of Chinese science fiction with the world’s science fiction literature and culture.

During this brief period of theoretical explosion, the core of the relevant discussions consisted of two primary aspects. One of these was the attempt to give a richer connotation to “science,” especially the demand to understand it in the context of universal social practice as scientific culture, scientific spirit, and scientific method. Secondly, science fiction as a genre required an all-round redefinition of it in relation to the concept  of “fantasy,” trying to solve the closely related issues of “fantasy and reality,” “fantasy and science,” “fantasy and plot,” and other important relationships that had defined it up until this point.

These discussions not only go directly to the core of the science fiction genre, but also use related creations to pry open a series of ideas and logical inferences that have been considered a default part of the modernization process since the Enlightenment. Important references include “expressing a scientific view of life” (Tong Enzheng 110); “arousing readers’ attention in, interest in, and love of science” (Xiao Jianheng 113); “science fiction realism” (Zheng Wenguang 6); “thrilling science fiction” and “towards popular literature” (Ye Yonglie 21); “the continuation of realistic scientific research” (Liu Xingshi 2), and so on, all of which still play a role in the creation of science fiction today in all its various forms. Many of these ideas are widely known, such as “bat theory,” [2] “two kinds of conception,” [3] “hard science fiction and soft science fiction,” and “social science fiction.” They should not only be regarded as an important supplement to the system of science fiction theories currently dominated by the English-speaking world, but also have the theoretical potential to engage in dialogue with, and even innovation of, the main wave of world science fiction theories, from Darko Suvin on down.

During this period, the most important theoretical achievements are mainly focused on combining the history of Chinese science fiction with the theoretical concerns of overseas scholars. The organization and tracing of the history of Chinese science fiction is attributed to the interaction and efforts of Ye Yonglie with overseas scholars such as Masaya Takeda. [4] By discovering historical materials, they set the starting point of Chinese science fiction in 1904 (Ye Yonglie 2).

Unfortunately, although these discussions and explorations had once enjoyed widespread social attention, they did not result in a systematic and complete Chinese science fiction theory system that could be developed in a healthy manner. In the mid-to-late 1980s, the development of Chinese science fiction theory did not break off, but it did enter a Period of Accumulation.[5] At this time, the theoretical discourse dominated by the popular science discourse and identified as “science literature and art” regained its dominant position in a short time, but soon declined in many aspects, including in terms of literary creation, conception, and publication. In the midst of this intense confrontation, opposition, and transformation, the theory and practice of “science popularization” went deeper and a new concept of “science communication” [6] began to be conceived.

At the same time, a number of theoretical articles with more rigorous forms and clear academic specifications were gradually being published in various university journals and academic periodicals. The researchers behind such works, who have turned their attention to science fiction, are generally not the front-line science fiction and science writers that were more common in the earliest days of science fiction theorization, but often have a clearer theoretical and academic background. They have grown up during the period of latent accumulation, and have intervened in the complex theory and historical context of global science fiction literature and culture in a more independent and relaxed manner than their predecessors. Among these, the most representative ones are researchers like Wu Yan, who are both familiar with various science fiction texts and create them as well, who are extensively involved in science fiction activities, and who have a clear identity as “science fiction fans.”   

Since the beginning of the 21st century, Chinese science fiction theory has embarked on a journey characterized by a sudden jump from gradual recovery to overexertion. Wu Yan has written, composed, and edited a series of papers, text books, and translated works, all of which accounted for the majority of influential theoretical results and practice for a long time. In 2013, he co-edited a special issue on Chinese science fiction for the journal Science Fiction Studies (SFS), which became the most important collective appearance of Chinese science fiction research in the world up until that point. Around that time, Chongqing University’s “Chinese Science Fiction Literature Re-start Workshop” (2013.05), Fudan University’s “Science Fiction Literature” workshop (2015.06), Beijing Normal University’s “Utopia and Science Fiction Literature Research” international conference (2016.12), Hainan University’s “Liu Cixin’s Science Fiction and the Cultural Condition of Contemporary China” (2016.03) conference, among others, were also concentrated manifestations of the increasingly important influence of Chinese science fiction research on the academic stage at home and abroad.

At present, Chinese science fiction theory is becoming more and more fruitful, and the forms of academic activities are becoming more diverse, bringing an unusual vitality to the traditional academic world. On the one hand, science fiction often appears as a separate topic or activity section in various academic conferences on literature, culture, industry, and science and technology studies; on the other hand, science fiction research is often deeply involved in various cultural activities and industrial operations that are not purely academic, thus forming a very rich and rare interaction between theory and practice.

The ranks of science fiction researchers are also growing larger by the day. In addition to the long-standing “science fiction fan” researchers at different levels, famous scholars from traditional academia, such as Dai Jinhua, Wu Fei, and Ye Shuxian are also actively involved in the field of science fiction research; more young scholars, such as Yang Qingxiang and Xu Gang, are often able to transcend various academic stereotypes and theoretical molds and to explore and enrich Chinese science fiction theory in greater depth; important science fiction writers, such as Liu Cixin, Han Song, and Chen Qiufan have been able to directly intervene in the field of science fiction research with explicitly theoretical approaches. In addition, there are many scholars and critics from different academic backgrounds and with theoretical approaches who have reported great interest in science fiction research and have produced many results within the field.

Of course, as the science fiction research boom continues to surge, a series of problems have emerged, such as the issue of overwhelmingly borrowed theories, the relative waste of research resources, and the lack of a general research consensus. Sometimes, even though different academic discourses are discussing the same work, the same event, and the same issue, they often find it difficult to communicate effectively. There are three prominent dilemmas central to this difficulty: first, the historical development of science fiction in China has not been effectively sorted out, and the important theoretical resources and profound thoughts of our predecessors have not been fully explored; second, issues such as the “Chineseness” of science fiction, what is meant by “Chinese science fiction aesthetics,” and “the Chinese context of science fiction theory” have not been effectively developed and discussed, making Chinese science fiction theory unable to function as a powerful discourse within a global field; third, Chinese science fiction culture itself is undergoing rapid development and change, its textual forms are rapidly evolving under the influence of the Internet and new media, and its industrial practices of film, television, and games have also not received sufficient theoretical attention, all of which makes the science fiction theory that is gradually taking shape run the risk of being confined to the shackles of a narrow discourse.

Today, Chinese science fiction research and Chinese science fiction itself cannot be ignored by the academic and cultural communities. Perhaps what we need is exactly what generations of science fiction scholars have long been insisting on, which is a return to the text, to return to the historical scene, to care about technology, modernity, and wisdom, to discover the grand universe and real life that generations of science fiction authors have touched upon, and to discover those important issues that are often neglected, in order to truly let the potential and prospects of science fiction research be fully developed.


[1] Since the 1950s, the Chinese science popularization community has focused on introducing the Soviet Union’s management experience and theoretical references, including the term “science fiction”(科学幻想小说). After local adaptation, the broadest sector of management was called “science popularisation”, and the category of knowledge dissemination in the form of literature and art was called “science literature and art”. The “science fantasy fiction” is a type of “science literature and art”, along with “science poetry”, “science reportage” and “science prose”. 

[2] Zheng lamented, “…the scientific community considers it (science fiction) a work of literature; those who engage in literature and art consider it science, and as a result, it has become a bat in a fairy tale: birds say it resembles a rat and is a beast; beasts say it has wings and is a bird”. This formulation was later simplified as the “bat theory”, which gradually became a trigger for the debate on science fiction “surname ‘science’ or ‘literature'”.

[3] The “two conceptions” means the existence of both “scientific ideas” and “literary ideas” in a science fiction novel. This formulation was intended to reconcile the positioning of science fiction in the regulatory system, but later developed into a widely accepted criterion for evaluating the genre, with a preference for one idea over another becoming the hallmarks of “hard science fiction” and “soft science fiction”.

[4] With the help of Ye Yonglie, the “China Science Fiction Study Group” was established in Japan in 1980.

[5] Starting from the end of 1982, various debates within science fiction and science popularization gradually rose to political criticism. From the end of 1983, Chinese newspapers, magazines and publishers gradually stopped publishing science fiction works. Theoretical thinking was also interrupted.

[6] Science communication is an emerging concept from the philosophy and history of science, and scholars believe that “science popularization” overemphasizes the authority of science and the sense of superiority of scientific and technological intellectuals. In the modern media environment, the emphasis should be on the means of communication of scientific knowledge.


Editors. “Treating science popularization as a great strategy”, Popular science creation, 1980, (03), pp. 1-2.

Liu, Xingsi. “Opening the way to contact reality” . Guangming Daily, Feb. 16, 1981.

Tong, Enzheng, “Talking about my understanding of scientific literature and art,” People’s Literature, 1979. No. 6, pp. 109-110.

Xiao, Jianheng, The Strange Mechanical Dog, Nanjing: Jiangsu People’s Publishing House, 1979.

Ye, Yonglie, “Xu Nianci, the Pioneer of Chinese Science Fiction”, The Shanghai Mercury, Dec. 21, 1921.

Zheng, Wenguan. “Often ahead of scientific inventions–Talking about science fiction” Science Popularization Press, ed. How to write popular works of natural science. Beijing: Science popularization publishing house, 1958, pp. 159-161.

Zheng, Wenguang, “Speech on science fiction at the symposium on literary creation”, the Science Literature and Arts Committee of the Chinese Association for Popular Science Creation ed. Reference materials for science fiction creation, no. 4, 1982, pp. 5-6.

Zhenyu Jiang is Assistant Professor at the Academy of Chinese Science Fiction, School of Literature and Journalism, Sichuan University, focusing on science fiction and culture, internet literature, and cultural industry.

The Development of Science Fiction Studies in 21st-Century China

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

The Development of Science Fiction Studies
in 21st-Century China

Yiping Wang

Since the 21st Century, Chinese science fiction has increased notably in terms of its popularity. As a science fiction fan and academic researcher, I can still recall the excitement I felt when I first read Han Song’s 2000 novelette “The Abyss” in Science Fiction World. And now, over 20 years later, what is the current status of academic study of science fiction in China, which plays such an important role in boosting Chinese science fiction? This article explores and analyzes the research situation within contemporary Chinese academia by investigating specific data.

In February 2021, if we use the term “Science Fiction” to search in “Subject” (subject = “science fiction” or title = “science fiction”) in CNKI (, a comprehensive Chinese academic database, we obtain about 24,000 articles (the result slightly varies on different dates). If we search “Science Fiction” in “TKA” (Title, Keyword, Abstract) in CNKI (title = “science fiction” or keyword = “science fiction” or abstract = “science fiction”), the total number of articles obtained is around 36,000. Meanwhile, the number of articles about science fiction over the last ten years has increased very rapidly. For example, using the term “Science Fiction” to search in the “Abstract” field, we can see that in 1996 there were fewer than 100 related papers published, over 500 papers published in 2007, and in 2019, the number of published articles totalled more than 2000. It is safe to say that before Liu Cixin won the Hugo Award in 2015 and the subsequent popularizing effect that award had on the area of study within China, Chinese research aimed at science fiction had already begun to accelerate. In general, the rapid growth of the number of science fiction research articles allows us to understand the way Chinese science fiction research has developed.

If we further examine the main focuses of these articles by searching the frequency of their keywords, we can find that “Science Fiction” and “Science Fiction Film” are the two major keywords. In terms of the specific perspectives of research, “Utopia(n)”/“Dystopia(n),” “Science and Technology,” “Humanity,” and “Feminism” are the dominant perspectives of the studies. As for the popularity of individual writers and works, Liu Cixin (and his Three-Body trilogy), Doris Lessing, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein have received much attention in Chinese academic circles. Liu is the most influential native science fiction writer, Lessing is the Nobel Prize laureate in literature (although academics usually treat her as a writer of high literature rather than a sci-fi writer), and the high degree of attention Frankenstein gets may suggest that Chinese study of Western science fiction is mainly at the stage of studying traditional classics. Regarding these research trends, the developmental curve of traditional topics such as “Utopia(n)” is very flat, while the popularity of Liu Cixin and The Three-Body Problem keeps growing. 

It is very interesting that in the area of “Science Fiction Film,” the top keywords are “The Wandering Earth” ( a film adapted from Liu Cixin’s novelette) , “Avatar”and “Artificial Intelligence.” The topics being studied in SF films are different from what literature research focuses on – the main focus of the film study is on contemporary works and their narrative mode, and the specific techniques of science fiction films.

If we search “Science Fiction” in “Subject” in the master’s dissertations and doctoral theses of CNKI, which demonstrates the potential direction of future studies, about 990 dissertations are found. The top-publishing institutions are Shandong Normal University, Central China Normal University, East China Normal University, Shanghai Normal University, and Southwest University. The top keywords characterizing all the sci-fi study dissertations in the database are “Science Fiction,” “Liu Cixin,” “The Three-Body,” “Science Fiction Film,” and “Translation,” reflecting the fact that the young researchers, especially those who major in foreign language and literature studies, have a particular interest in the translation and dissemination of science fiction.

The central figures of science fiction studies in contemporary China mostly appear as leaders/members of important research teams. There are several core teams, including Professor Wu Yan’s team. Wu is one of the earliest researchers of science fiction in contemporary China. His teams from Southern University of Science and Technology and Beijing Normal University are the backbone of the current academic community. The team at the China Research Institute for Science Popularization is also important, represented by Wang Weiying and her longtime collaborators, Gao Yabin and Zhang Yihong, among others. The teams of Jiang Xiaoyuan from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Huang Mingfen from Xiamen University, respectively, have published many papers on the history of science and technology and science fiction films and televisions. Scholars like Li Guangyi from Chongqing University, Jia Liyuan from Tsinghua University, and myself and Jiang Zhenyu from Sichuan University are also very active in the field. In addition, overseas scholars such as David Der-Wei Wang and Song Mingwei also pay attention to Chinese science fiction. Although they have relatively few publications in Chinese, they have played an important role in promoting Chinese science fiction in international academic circles. The members of those key teams are also responsible for various projects related to science fiction studies and have published related monographs, anthologies, and translations. In short, the number of science fiction researchers is relatively small, however, these scholars have formed a tightly connected academic community. These few scholars and their teams, in conjunction with a small number of others, are basically leading the current trend of studies in science fiction in China. 

It is also noteworthy that some academic articles have been published in the most well-known journals of mainstream literature studies over the last ten years. By searching “Science Fiction” in the “Abstract” field of the following leading periodicals, we can see that there have been six papers published on the topic in Literary Review. The authors–including  Jia Liyuan, Wang Yao, and Zhan Ling–are among the most prolific and influential young scholars working in China today. Literature and Art Studies has published seven articles and Modern Chinese Literature Studies has published 18 articles. In addition, some papers have been published in other influential mainstream journals, such as Southern Cultural Forum (27 articles) and Exploration and Free Views (twelve articles), etc. Many of those papers were published in the last decade by influential academics, discussing history and theories of Chinese science fiction, as well as writers like Liu Cixin and Han Song. By and large, the authors are the scholars of the key teams mentioned above. Regarding publication within international academic circles, flagship journals like Science Fiction Studies have published special issues focused on Chinese science fiction, and many of the authors of the issue are also from the aforementioned core teams.

The problem is, the study of Western science fiction is the expected model of science fiction research because of science fiction’s Western origins. However, this does not seem to be the case in China. The essential periodicals for the study of foreign literature in China, including Foreign Literature Review, Foreign Literature, Foreign Literatures, Contemporary Foreign Literature and Foreign Literature Studies, etc., represent high-level Chinese foreign literature studies. By searching “Science Fiction” in “Abstracts” in those journals, we can see that only three sci-fi research papers have been published in Foreign Literature Review, including one newsletter; Foreign Literature, Foreign Literatures, Contemporary Foreign Literature have each published ten related articles. The major subjects of the articles in question are the works of Doris Lessing, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ursula Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, etc. About 20 articles have been published in Foreign Literature Studies focusing on such diverse topics as the research of robot ethics in sci-fi, Liu Cixin’s reception of Arthur Clarke, etc. It is not difficult to see that although the total number of science fiction research articles in Chinese foreign study community is not insignificant, there have been very few related papers published in high-level journals.

Generally speaking, led by outstanding scholars and their teams as it is, the research of science fiction in contemporary China has begun to take shape. Although the field of study has great potential, its diversity and quality still needs to be improved. For example, the current direction of research interests is mainly limited to the history and development of Chinese science fiction over the last hundred-odd years, and is further limited to the works of a small number of essential Chinese and foreign writers. The introduction of mainstream literary theories and foreign academic studies is far from adequate. The popularity of the basic study of science fiction has increased significantly. However, compared with the long-term and in-depth research of science fiction by renowned Western scholars (such as the studies by Fredric Jameson, Raymond Williams, etc.), Chinese academia has not seen similar iconic achievements. The proportion of original articles that are published in highly influential journals is very low. Therefore, there remains much to do to improve the field of science fiction research in China – primarily the diversification and promotion of academic studies, the attraction of more resources and scholars, and the construction of key teams across related disciplines. Achieving these goals will elevate Chinese science fiction research to the next stage of development.

Yiping Wang (, ORCID: is Professor of Literature at the College of Literature and Journalism, Sichuan University, China. She was a joint-training Ph.D. Student at the University of Essex, UK and received her Ph.D. from Sichuan University in 2012. Her research mainly focuses on contemporary English and Chinese science fiction. She is the author of Dark Worlds: Anti-Utopian Fiction in the Twentieth-Century Western Literature (2019). Her articles, including “The Nation-Building of the Isle of Wight: An Alternative Theme of England, England” (2014), “Anti-Utopian Thoughts in The Clockwork Orange and The Wanting Seed” (2017), “Intermediate Text and the Canonicity of World Literature” (2018), “Ethnic War and the Collective Memory in Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant” (2021) and others have appeared in Foreign Literature Review, Foreign Literature Studies, Orbis Litterarum, English Studies, and many other journals.

Chinese Science Fiction of the Republican Era, 1912-1949: A Treasure Trove Cries for Excavation

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

Chinese Science Fiction of the Republican Era, 1912-1949: A Treasure Trove Cries for Excavation

Dongmei Ren
Translated by Micky Liu

I started my science fiction research as an undergraduate in the Chinese Department of East China Normal University, with my thesis providing an in-depth analysis of the first Chinese science fiction story, Lunar Colony Novels(《月球殖民地小说》Yue Qiu Zhi Min Di Xiao Shuo), with a view towards time and space alongside the history of science and technology (A Science Fiction Utopia: Realistic and Imaginary, Lunar Colony Novels and the Transformation of Modern View of Time and Space(《科幻乌托邦:现实的与想象的——<月球殖民地小说>和现代时空观的转变》), Undergraduate Thesis 2007). At that time, David Der-wei Wang had just published his groundbreaking Fin-de-Siècle Splendor: Repressed Modernities of Late Qing Fiction, 1848-1911 (2005), which attracted a great deal of academic interest in late Qing Dynasty science fiction on the  Chinese mainland. Being a sophisticated sci-fi enthusiast and undergraduate in the Chinese Department, I naturally joined the trend and continued to rigorously study late Qing science fiction. My post-graduate project explored the entire literary genre from the conceptualization and generation of science fiction in the late Qing Dynasty (1902-1912: The Naming of Science Fiction and the Meaning Behind It, 2010). In my doctoral phase, I extended my academic horizon to the study of science fiction from the Republic of China (ROC , 1912-1949), under the guidance of my supervisor and with a view toward my academic development.

Due to the lack of historical data, even senior sci-fi researchers devoted to the history of literary production in China would assert that science fiction had hit rock bottom in the ROC period, as only a few books from this period were recognized as belonging to the genre: China after the Next Decade (《十年后的中国》Shi Nian Hou de Zhong Guo)by Jingfeng (1923), Cat Country: a Satirical Novel of China in the 1930’s (《猫城纪》Mao Cheng Ji)by Lao She (1932), Iron Fish Gills (《铁鱼的鳃》Tie Yu de Sai) by Xu Dishan (1936) and four other novels created and translated by Gu Junzheng during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). However, I assert that despite scant evidence to the contrary,  there should be more under the surface. After digging into the historical data for a long time, I discovered many previously lost examples of science fiction published during this time period.  These included texts in the magazine, The School of Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies (Saturday School, or yuanyang hudie pai) and other popular science journals during the ROC period, followed by a few novellas and novels. My doctoral dissertation, The Dream of China–The Changes of the “China Image” in Social Fantasy Novels from the Late Qing Dynasty to ROC (2013)  concluded with these findings. After graduation, I continued my research, publishing The Comparison between the “Future Chinas” of the Late Qing and ROC (《晚清与民国科幻小说中“未来中国”形象之比较》,2015), A Primary Exploration of “Science Fiction”(Ke Xue Xiao Shuo) in the Period of the ROC(《民国“科学小说”初探》,2019), participating in the academic project managed by Prof. Wu Yan (Science Fiction Major Prof. in Beijing Normal University)and covering the actual writing of the chapter A History of ROC Science Fiction(“民国科幻小说史”).

Based on my archival discoveries, there were roughly 100 pieces of science fiction published during the ROC period, including prominent long literary pieces such as Lunar Travel Notes (《月球旅行记》, 1941) and After a Millennium (《千年后》, 1943). However, it is a huge pity that historical records and preservation  remain extremely insufficient for systematic data collection, such that the current contents of my work need further verification, selection, and reorganization. On the other hand, a lack of research successors has led to a lack of specialized academic works on this topic, with the rare exception of a single research paper on ROC science fiction films by scholar Jia Liyuan, as well as some papers mainly focusing on ROC period journals and the School of Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies.

This state of the field does not correspond with the actual productivity of ROC science fiction authors at all. Perhaps the biggest reason for this gap in the research is the lack of abundant data-digging and the fact that most researchers are still ignorant of the existence of ROC science fiction at all. In the future, I hope more researchers will devote themselves to this field, improving their data-digging and conducting an intensive study of major works in order to fill the gaps in Chinese science fiction studies. Only then can we place Chinese science fiction into the field of literature as a whole, comprehend science fiction from the perspective of cultural change over time, and establish its literary value and status.

Ren Dongmei, Litt.D. of Beijing Normal University, is an associate research fellow of Taiwan Institute CASS, member of World Chinese Science Fiction Association, and judge of the 1st and 2nd Global Chinese Nebula Awards. Her research focus includes science fiction and modern and contemporary Chinese literature. She has published more than 20 papers in journals such as  Contemporary Literary Criticism, Comparative Literature in China, and Southern Cultural Forum, as well as the book, Fantasy Culture and Literary Images of Modern China.

Interactions Between Science Fiction and Mainstream Literary Criticism

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

Interactions Between Science Fiction and
Mainstream Literary Criticism

Ling Zhan

Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, science fiction in China has been flourishing. In terms of quantity or quality, the entire situation has far exceeded expectations for Chinese science fiction in the last century. On the one hand, the brilliant achievements of Chinese science fiction over the last few decades are something to be celebrated. On the other hand, we must also see that there are still many problems behind this newfound prosperity. As a science fiction researcher, I would like to talk about the linkage between writing and Chinese science fiction studies from the perspective of science fiction research. There are three primary reasons why contemporary Chinese science fiction has been marginalized in the literary world for so long: first of all are the historical reasons. Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 to the beginning of the period of “reform and opening up” (1978), science fiction had always been classified as children’s popular science literature, and was incorporated into the category of scientific literature and art. Except for a few critics who have talked about the topic from a macro level, until recently science fiction rarely entered the realm of contemporary literary criticism and research. The second reason for its historical marginalization is the question of literature type. Science fiction has a unique core of science and technology–both the concept of science and technology and the aesthetics of technology. This makes many critics, who are used to excluding science and technology from literature, feel very strange and alienated. The third is for reasons of the writer. Most Chinese science fiction writers are non-professional writers who focus on science fiction as a hobby. They do not need to rely on literary writing to earn a living and gain the recognition of the society or the mainstream literary circle, but rather focus on the evaluation of their colleagues within their circle. Therefore, they do not care whether they can maintain a good working relationship with mainstream literary critics.

At present, science and technology has penetrated all aspects of daily human life. As the only literary genre with the relationship between science, technology, and the human at the core of its thinking, science fiction shall play an increasingly more important role in the literary world. Although the rise of science fiction has received the attention of mainstream literary criticism, many science fiction writers have only now begun to realize the importance of literary criticism and actively work to establish contact with critics, based on the current level of interaction and research situation, it is far from adequate. Specifically, there are three reasons for this: first of all, few science fiction writers receive much attention from the critics, and thus the acceptance of new literary trends lags behind. Liu Cixin is still the focus of most researchers’ attention. Although some early famous writers (such as Han Song, Wang Jinkang, and He Xi) have also begun to receive attention, there is still a lack of rigorous scholarship. Such new writers as Xie Yunning, Shuangchimu, Suo Hefu, Liu Yang and so on have only been on the literary scene for a short time receiving little attention from the critics. Secondly, there is a serious lack of critical theory, and the vision of that which exists is not broad enough. Existing science fiction criticism mostly conducts textual interpretations using Darko Suvin’s science fiction cognitive defamiliarization aesthetics and Fredric Jameson’s utopian politics based on the capitalist postmodern culture, and many of them remain at the level of traditional humanism. Of course, these theories are of great value to science fiction research, but they can’t fully meet the needs of a science fiction genre that follows the development of science and technology and whose thinking continues to move forward. Thirdly, the interaction between mainstream literary criticism and science fiction needs to be further strengthened. In recent years, mainstream literary critics have paid greater attention to the creation of science fiction, but most of them focus on research conferences and paper publishing, and their interaction with the writers, themselves, is insignificant. The question of how mainstream literary criticism can change its existing approach in order to look at science fiction from a new perspective utilizing the integration of science and humanity, and how science fiction writers can strengthen their own narrative skills and the depth and breadth of their thinking in order to tell good science fiction stories, are both issues that  require more positive interactions (such as holding works seminars, dialogue lectures, etc.) between writers and critics.

Ling Zhan has been a member of Hangzhou Normal University’s Art faculty since 2008. She received her PhD in Chinese from Zhejiang University. While teaching at Hangzhou Normal University, she went to Fudan University to do postdoctoral research from 2011-2013 and was a visiting scholar at Harvard University from 2014-2015. Now she is a professor of Modern and Contemporary Chinese Literature in the department of Chinese Language and Literature. Her topics of research include Chinese historical fictions in the 20th century, aesthetics of fiction, comparative studies of Chinese and Western SF writing, and Chinese SF history.

Cultural Exceptionalism in the New Generation of Chinese Science Fiction

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

Cultural Exceptionalism in the New Generation of Chinese Science Fiction

Yuan Liu

Science fiction is a kind of literary work that is rooted in reality and combined with the most advanced technology and cultural frontiers in order to carry forward the spirit of science and rationalism. The core of contemporary Chinese science fiction is the transmission of cultural exceptionalism with close relation to real life, including mutual benefits with the development of science and technology and direct connections with the future world. The following passage will give an analysis of the cultural exceptionalism depicted in science fiction written by the new generation of Chinese writers from the aspects of content, strategy, and significance.

The development of new technology plays a certain role in promoting the development of cultural exceptionalism, and sometimes it can even become the carrier of culture. However, they are not the same thing. Focusing on the development of high technology, science fiction may contain some surreal descriptions of the science and technology frontier. However, this kind of surrealism coming from a reasonable deduction of uncertainty must be based on the current facts. Even if the background is fictional, the “future science and technology” described in the science fiction should not be inconsistent with the known ones. Liu Yang’s short stories can be good examples of writings thematically predicated on the frontier of science and technology. For instance, The Pythagorean theorem(《勾股》,2010) discusses the constants of nature; Pathlight (《单孔衍射》,2010) discusses the wave-particle duality of time; Troglodyte (《穴居者》,2017) shows the entropy conservation and the picture of the universe. In his novel The Orphans of Red Planet(《火星孤儿》,2019), Liu focuses on what would happen to the world when existing laws of physics had changed. The novel manifests the spirit of science and rationalism as it set out from the contemporary scientific frontier, though Liu discussed some vague future topics or replaced some concepts with new ones. The Waste Tide(《荒潮》,2013), written by Chen Qiufan, shows the material life condition of human beings in the near future, and is a novel of alienation and weird senses. Along with the rapid development of industrialization and informational processes, the deeper questions of technological ethics is stimulated by this cyberpunk fantasy about “garbage men,” and the novel’s cyberpunk culture itself is simultaneously depicted as inclusive and universal. The unity of the spirit of science and rationalism and the spirit of humanism have been achieved in these works.

The content transmitted by the new generation of Chinese science fiction authors is full of distinctive contemporaneity and perceptiveness. The advanced culture is the integration of ancient and modern Chinese and foreign cultures coupled with creative power to face the future, rather than the simple repetition of ancient and foreign cultures. When commenting on Mobius Continuum(《莫比乌斯》, 2020)written by Gu Shi, Ken Liu said In the preface of the book, “Perhaps the greatest characteristic of science fiction is that it gives readers a perspective to understand our world that they have never thought of before, bringing a “sense of wonder” often existing in classical science fiction.” All internal requirements or external manifestations of this “sense of wonder” reflect advanced economics, politics, culture, or understandings of the world from different perspectives. Wang Yanzhong’s short stories, “Selling Life” and “Stratosphere Canteens” show the alienation caused by developed capital and the absurdity of human social behaviour. His Sphere and Metamorphosis show the alienation of human beings and a sense of oppression and powerlessness caused by uncontrollable technology. The absurd depiction of the imagined world of the future is based on the anxiety and manic depression caused by our times. The writing of culture oriented to the world, the future, and these modern times is internalized, and following this writing, the emotional problems existing in our times can be relieved.

What the new generation of science fiction in China shows in their writing is tightly linked to the general public, reflecting their desires and aesthetic requirements. In Seafood Restaurant(《海鲜饭店》, 2019)written by Regina Kanyu Wang , the setup of seafood-aversion is so successful and the atmosphere description is so real that the readers even have the feeling of smelling seafood. In Cloud and Mist 2.2 (《云雾2.2》, 2018), Wang tries to bridge the gap between genre literature and mainstream literature, and she thoroughly observes the crossroad of technology and life from her unique and delicate perspective. The work combines a rational insight into the future of technology with a warm glow of feminism. Childhood Harvest (《收割童年》, 2013) written by Li Wei(Ah-Que) reflect the reality of human emotions, life, and social relations, which allude to the problems we encounter today, inspire the emotions we ignore, and arouses the our concern for human beings as a whole rather than as individuals. These stories also affect our ways of thinking about life’s ultimate problems, our yearning for the universe, and our imagining the infinite possibilities of the future. Therefore, a shared future for mankind is no longer a meaningless idea.

The new generation of Chinese SF writers endow their commercial literature with more feeling, which satisfies the pleasure of consumption for readers of science fiction, making them naturally integrate aspects of cultural exceptionalism into their writing. They have not only promoted the development of domestic science fiction, but will also have an ever-increasing influence on the creation of science fiction worldwide.

Yuan Liu, PhD, is a Lecturer in the School of Literature, Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology, and a Secretary of the Science Fiction Committee of the Jiangsu Provincial Association of Science Fiction Writers. She has long been devoted to the research of Chinese science fiction. Her recent publications include The History of Chinese Science Fiction. Email:

The Possibilities and “Impossibilities” of Studying Chinese and Latin American Science Fiction

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

The Possibilities and “Impossibilities” of Studying Chinese and Latin American Science Fiction

Yilun Fan

In 2013, Chinese president Xi Jinping proposed the “Belt and Road” initiative (BRI). While seeking economic and strategic opportunities for domestic development, this initiative also aims to connect China to the development of other countries. As of 2020, the BRI has been extended to 19 Latin American countries, accounting for 56% of the 34 total Latin American countries. Besides trade and issues of strategic cooperation, cultural exchange between China and Latin America is also an important component that cannot be ignored in this “largest infrastructure and investment project in history” (Campbell).

As China’s most successful cultural export in recent years, science fiction might have the potential to bridge the mental distance between the two areas. Historically, the literary exchange between these two regions has been asymmetrical. China has gone through three waves of “Latin American literature mania,” while in Latin America, the number and variety of introduced Chinese literature has been much more limited. The first large-scale translation of Latin American literature in China began in the 1950s, followed by  two successive waves in the 80s and the 90s. In terms of Latin American science fiction, the most well-known novel among Chinese readers is Adolfo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel. A few translated short stories can also be found in collections such as The Road to Science Fiction (2009), The Big Book of Science Fiction (2018), and Science Fiction World magazine. In 2016, The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction was introduced to China with the book name changed to “History of Latin American Science Fiction.” While the original book is regarded as the foundation work of Latin American science fiction studies, the misleading Chinese title failed to meet readers’ expectations and therefore has not attracted much attention in Chinese science fiction scholarship.

On the other hand, the translation of Chinese science fiction in Latin America is a brand-new business. In 2016, the Spanish version of Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem was released, which later won the Premio Ignotus for Foreign Novel, the Spanish counterpart of Hugo Award. The market of Latin America reacted to it positively. Recently, Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide, Bao Shu’s The Redemption of Time, and two anthologies of Chinese short science fiction stories edited by Ken Liu (Invisible Planets and Broken Stars) reached the far coast of Latin America. One thing worth paying attention to is that all of these Spanish versions have been preceded by the English version, a common process for Chinese literature to enter the Spanish-speaking market. 

When reading The Emergence of Latin American Science Fiction, I am surprised by the parallels between early Chinese and Latin American science fiction. The genre appeared in China and Latin America under similar socio-political situations of anti-colonialism and was appropriated as a pedagogic tool of science popularization to enlighten the public through active participation in the process of modernization. Not surprisingly, both Chinese and Latin American science fiction are deeply influenced by mainstream science fiction from Europe and North America. People used to believe that science fiction literature is a genre that originated from the West but was widely distributed in various cultural systems around the world. Yet with more and more evidence being discovered, science fiction turns out to be an intrinsic global genre that embraces multiple origins. What can we learn from this phenomenon? Is there a universal template for the prosperity of local science fiction literature? Or rather, how do we balance universal standards and local aesthetics when evaluating these works? Such problems still haunt scholars from both the West and the East. Though their modern metamorphoses are vastly different, the commonalities Chinese and Latin American science fiction shared upon their birth still anchor their genes. The solutions to these questions will shed new light on our understanding of literature and nationality, of globality and locality. 

Therefore, the comparative study of Chinese and Latin American science fiction is a promising research field that deserves further investigation. Based on my preliminary research, there are several issues or topics that I would highly suggest for further inquiry: first, the shared mechanism that leads to the emergence of science fiction; second, the relationship between science fiction and local genres such as fantasy and popular science; and third, the mutual imagination of China and Latin America through the mirror of science fiction. Latin America has always been the exotic “other” in the eyes of many Chinese writers and readers. No matter whether they are older or younger generations of science fiction writers, they all tend to conjure Latin America as a beautiful, mysterious, and traumatic land with the power of rebellion and the great potential of thriving, as seen in examples such as Liu Xingshin’s “Columbus from America” (1979), Han Song’s In the Days of the Future World (1998) and Bao Shu’s “The Celestial Priestess” (2018). But how do people in Latin America imagine China and Chinese people in science fiction? Scattered pictures can be found in the work of masters such as Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Garden of Forking Paths” (1941), which features a Chinese spy’s search for the mysterious garden of his great grandfather when performs his mission in World War I. But the overall image seems to be lacking profundity and diversity, and is much more fragmentary, which in turn proves the lagging reception of Chinese culture in Latin America.

Nevertheless, the comparative study of Chinese and Latin American science fiction is a relatively tough task. The first problem is language. It is nearly impossible to find an early Spanish science fiction text in a Chinese library and vice versa. Besides, the number of works translated from Chinese to Spanish and from Spanish to Chinese are equally small, so small that it is difficult to come up with a sufficient pool of samples. For Chinese researchers without Spanish reading proficiency, they would have to resort to English as an intermediary language, but in that case, the scope of what they can reach will shrink even further. Second, researchers should not ignore the internal structural, historical, and institutional differences among different Latin American countries, even when they speak the same language. In dealing with diversity and differences, they must gain a thorough understanding of their political, historical, and cultural contexts. This is also a big challenge for Chinese researchers if they are not well-versed in Latin American regional studies. 

Studies in global science fiction have been on the rise over the last decade, and dialogues between different regions will lead us to a better understanding of science fiction as a genre of multiple origins. With the increasing cultural exchanges between China and Latin America, I believe those “impossibilities” will eventually be transferred into, and open up possibilities.


Campbell, Charlie. “China Says It’s Building the New Silk Road. Here Are Five Things to Know Ahead of a Key Summit.” Time, 14 May 2017, Accessed 18 April 2021.

Yilun Fan is a Ph.D. student in comparative literature at the University of California, Riverside. Her research interests include Chinese and Latin American speculative fiction, history and philosophy of science, cultural industry, and creative writing. She is also an award-winning science fiction writer and editor. Her articles and creative works can be found in Frontiers of Literary Studies in China, Science Fiction World, Locus, and Galaxy’s Edge Chinese edition, among others. She used to serve as the Brand PR Director for Chengdu Eight Light Minutes Culture, and as a jury committee member for the Xingyun Awards for Global Chinese Science Fiction.

Science Fiction Education in China: Then and Now

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

Science Fiction Education in China: Then and Now

Wei Guo

Even before the coinage of the term “Scientifiction” (1915) or “Science Fiction” (1927) by Hugo Gernsback (Langford and Nicholls; Westfahl), there had already been radical promoters of this genre for the education of people towards modernity in China. Liang Qichao (梁启超) proposed the reforming of the culture through sf as a profound philosophical genre (1902) whereas, Zhou Shuren (周树人 i.e. Lu Xun 鲁迅) urged the transformation of the people through sf as the interweaving of both science and sensibility (1903). These might be the first declarations of sf as a possible means of education, on this traditional though modernizing land. However, the advocacy at the beginning of a new century from both the two great minds was not fruitful. Sf as a literary genre did not soon develop into a robust existence, let alone sf as education or education of sf.

The establishment of new China witnessed the prosperity, during the following seventeen years or so, of a distinctive sf style that emphasized the function of science education. Practical or not, this science-education-oriented sf stopped its prosperity at the year 1966, due to the Cultural Revolution. 

Ten years later, sf embraced a short rejuvenation from 1976 to 1983, during which some attempts of “sf teaching” appeared in China. In the year 1979, Philip Smith from University of Pittsburgh taught sf by using English when visiting Shanghai Foreign Language Institute (Shanghai International Studies University, currently). Brief though it was, it did arouse theoretical and pedagogical interest.

Since the 1990s, sf began to thrive, as a self-sustained literary genre, in a more amicable age for sf writers and writings. Under such encouraging circumstances, sf education finally found its way in China. The actual starting point of sf education was the year 1991, when Wu Yan (吴岩) began to provide an undergraduate course named “Science Fiction Review and Research” at Beijing Normal University. Twelve years later (2003), he became the supervisor of sf-study Master students; and another twelve years later (2015), the supervisor of sf-study doctoral students. 

In the new millennium, along with Wu Yan’s continuous educational endeavour (who is now the initiator and director of Research Center for Science and Human Imagination at the Southern University of Science and Technology), and the booming of sf as an enterprise, sf education in China gradually attained maturity and keeps developing towards diversification.

At the present stage, scores of sf courses are being provided in different universities to students of various majors, at both the undergraduate level and postgraduate level. 

Most of these courses are on the general curriculum, for broader majors, such as Wu Yan’s “Sf Movies Appreciation and Criticism,” Zhang Feng’s (张峰 i.e. San Feng 三丰) “Sf Appreciation,” and Liu Yang’s (刘洋) “Sf Writing” (all three courses available for postgraduate as well as undergraduate students) at the Southern University of Science and Technology; Li Guangyi’s (李广益) “Sf Novels and Movies” at Chongqing University; Xiao Han’s (肖汉) “Sf Movies Appreciation” at Beijing Normal University; Fu Changyi’s (付昌义) “Sf Appreciation: Philosophy of Science” at Nanjing Tech University; Su Zhan’s (苏湛) “Sf and Science” and “Theories and Practices of Sf Writing and Popular Science Writing” (both for postgraduate students) at the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences; Guo Qi’s (郭琦) “Sf Appreciation and Creative Writing” at Huaqiao University; Wang Yao’s (王瑶 i.e. Xia Jia 夏笳) “History of Chinese Science Fiction” (as a section of “Classics and Topical Issues of Literature”) in Xi’an Jiaotong University; Mu Yunqiu’s (穆蕴秋) “Sf and Contemporary Scientific Controversy” at Shanghai Jiao Tong University; Wang Yiping’s (王一平) “Western Sf Appreciation”, Li Chan (黎婵) and Tang Li’s (汤黎) sf section of “Fantasy, Literature and Movie” (MOOC), Li Yi (李怡), Hu Yirong (胡易容) and Jiang Zhenyu’s (姜振宇) “Research of Chinese Science Fiction” (for postgraduate students), at Sichuan University; Liu Yuan’s (刘媛) “Sf Appreciation” at Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology; Liu Wen’s (刘雯) “Ethics in Sf” at Harbin Engineering University.

Together with the above, some sf courses are on the professional curriculum aiming at literature majoring students, such as Zhan Ling’s (詹玲) “Contemporary Sf Studies” at Hangzhou Normal University; Jia Liyuan’s (贾立元 i.e. Fei Dao 飞氘) “Sf Writing” at Tsinghua University; Jiang Zhenyu’s “Literary Creation and Sf Writing” at Sichuan University; Ding Zhuo’s (丁卓) “From Mythology to Sf” at Changchun University; Liu Yuan’s “Popular Science and Sf Reading and Writing” in Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology; Song Hongmei’s (宋红梅) “Science Fiction” at Shandong Normal University; Dai Congrong’s (戴从容) “History of Sf in Foreign Countries” (for postgraduate students) at Fudan University; Guo Wei’s (郭伟) “Sf Appreciation”, “Sf Movies Appreciation” and “Sf Studies” (the former two for undergraduate and the latter one for postgraduate students) at Beihua University. 

Taiwan area and Hong Kong area also achieve prosperity along the traditions initiated by Lv Yingzhong (吕应钟), Jiang Shuzhen (蒋淑贞), Ye Lihua (叶李华), Huang Binghuang (黃炳煌 i.e. Huang Hai 黄海), Zheng Yunhong (郑运鸿) in Taiwan area, and Li Weicai (李伟才), Wang Jianyuan (王建元), Chen Jieshi (陈洁诗) in Hong Kong area.

The entrance of sf courses into universities signifies an academic attention to this genre not only as an inseparable constituent of literature but also as an influencing cultural propellant deserving pedagogical practices and theoretical scholarship. These sf courses cover a broad range of diverse topics and aspects, such as the basic theories and controversies of sf, the schools and subgenres of sf, the history of sf either concerning genre or nationality-related, the creation careers and features of representative sf writers, the appreciation and analysis of sf works as well as sf movies, the research methodology and academic writings of sf studies, and even the creative writings of sf works and popular-science works. Meanwhile, the interweaving of sf and other issues also presents a stereoscopic and kaleidoscopic picture, for example, sf and science, sf and philosophy, sf and ethics, sf and society, sf and ideology, sf and mythology, sf and literature, sf and fantasy. All of the characteristic sf courses together compose a starry constellation. 

Besides various sf courses in many universities, another sign for the maturity of sf education is the emergence of specialized textbooks. An early attempt was References Collection for Science Fiction Pedagogy and Research (unpublished, printed in 1991), compiled by Wu Yan, as a product of his course at Beijing Normal University. Other products of this course were Lv Yingzhong and Wu Yan’s A Survey of Science Fiction (published by Wu-Nan Book Inc. in 2001) and its later extended edition, Wu Yan and Lv Yingzhong’s An Introduction to Science Fiction (published by Fujian Children’s Press in 2006). In 2012, Nankai University Press published A Survey of British and American Science Fiction, written in English by Wang Yan (王艳), Liu Xiaojuan (刘晓娟) and Xu Yang (许洋), which gave a rather detailed account of the title subject, and thus quite suitable as an sf textbook for English majors. In 2021, A Chinese Science Fiction Studies Reader was just published by Peking University Press. The compilers Wu Yan and Jiang Zhenyu invited several sf scholars to write introductory essays for each piece of work selected in the book, and thus made this Reader an indispensable reference book for sf courses in universities.

A recent series of sf textbooks “Science Fiction,” launched by the Research Center for Science and Human Imagination at Southern University of Science and Technology, is prominent and promising. This ambitious series (published by Jiangsu Phoenix Literature and Art Publishing House since 2019) aims at an integral pedagogical system for students of primary and high schools. Science Fiction: Imagination and Scientific Innovation Training Course for Kids, Science Fiction: Imagination and Scientific Innovation Training Course for Teenagers and the forthcoming Science Fiction: Imagination and Scientific Innovation Training Course for Young Adults are the first three textbooks for students of primary schools, junior high schools and senior high schools respectively. Science Fiction: How to Teach is a considerate reference book for teachers, providing instructions and instances. Also included are textbooks for technique training of creative writing via inspirations from sf works. This series keeps going on with more planned and forthcoming textbooks in the well-designed framework, and will doubtlessly give fresh impetus to sf education in primary and high schools.

Speaking of sf in primary and high school pedagogy, a complex picture and potential prosperity deserve description. As early as 1991, Tong Huachi (童华池) introduced sf into his composition class in Sichuan Jintang High School and successfully cultivated the sf writing capability of high school students. The following decade, however, did not witness a boom in this field until the new millennium. A remarkable example early in the new millennium was “Sf Physics” developed by Mi Qi (宓奇), Li Zhigang (李志刚) and Wang Qi (王琦) in The High School Affiliated to Renmin University of China since 2008. This elective course employed clips of sf movies as teaching materials, to impart knowledge of physics in a more relaxed and intriguing way, as well as to foster students’ critical thinking, creative thinking, and practical-problem-solving ability.

In recent years especially, more and more practices have been carried out in primary and high schools trying to combine sf elements with classes of various subjects such as Chinese, Physics, Chemistry, and Art. These trials are diversified in forms and rich in innovations; but meanwhile, how to make sf elements merge well into classes and shape organic courses, still requires further exploration.

The following are two positive examples exhibiting inspirational curriculum design. At the  Beijing Jingshan School, Zhou Qun (周群) leads an sf pedagogical team composed of teachers specialized in Chinese, Biology, Geography, Chemistry, CG Art, and Maker Education. This interdisciplinary team provides, for Grade-Seven sudents, an elective course of sf that is project-based and STEAM-oriented. The one-semester course covers two projects “Designing Future Robots” and “Constructing Future Cities.” Based on students’ massive reading of sf-related texts at the initial stage and their creative brainstorming with inspiration from the pedagogical team at the following stage, each project finally produces, under both peer cooperation and teacher instruction, integrated works in diverse forms, like fiction writing, webpage designing, CG drawing, or 3D printing. With equal inspiration but different orientation, Wei Ran (魏然) at The Affiliated High School of Peking University, provides a series of sf courses for senior high school students of all grades. This series of sf courses are on the regular curriculum, and thus able to assume an sf-for-sf’s-sake position. Taking “Survey of Science Fiction” for example, the course covers an overall knowledge system of sf as a literary genre, including sf history, sf theory, sf writers and works, sf creative writing, and sf critical writing, noticeably modeling itself on sf courses of higher education in universities. Via different approaches, both Zhou Qun’s and Wei Ran’s practices avoid utilitarian attitude in this field, and achieve high-quality sf education.

Also worth mentioning is Chongqing Fishing Castle Center for Science Fiction, initiated and directed by Zhang Fan (张凡) at the College of Mobile Telecommunications, Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications. One of the Center’s missions is sf education, focusing both on campus curriculum and on sf writers training. As for the campus part, the Center plans to develop a series of elective sf courses for general students in the university, and meanwhile to establish an sf major. As for the writer-training part, the Center is launching the ambitious Future Fiction Workshop, an international-cooperative program for the pedagogy of sf creative writing, with international student-writers talented for sf creation in Chinese language and international tutors renowned in the sf world.

At the beginning  of the 2020s, with wide utilization of online interactive meeting-room, classroom or real-time-telecast software, live lectures on sf are booming. These lectures are often flexible, topic-centered and can “conjure” different attendees according to their topic-related interest. Many of such episodic lectures may collectively reach a multitude of possibilities, nurturing both the sf fans and the sf researchers.

All these comprise the ecosystem of sf education in China today. The number of courses in diversified patterns, as well as the robustness of the polyphony, is increasing. Through ups and downs for over a hundred years, sf and sf education in China are marching forward, towards a fruitful future.


Langford, David, and Peter Nicholls. “Scientifiction.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 8 July 2015. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.

Westfahl, Gary. “Gernsback, Hugo.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 26 Mar. 2021. Web. Accessed 15 Apr. 2021.

Wei Guo (郭伟), Ph.D, is an associate professor at the College of Foreign Languages, Beihua University, Jilin, China. His research is focused on Science Fiction and Western literary theories. He recently published academic book Probing into Deconstructive Mystery (China Social Sciences Press, 2019), and also published a series of academic articles concerning sf Poetry, Extro-Science Fiction, various styles and sub-genres of sf, philosophy of language in sf, social problems in sf, and many other aspects of sf studies. He is now a supervisor of sf-study master students, and provides several sf courses for both postgraduate and undergraduate students.

World Literature as an Approach to the Study of Chinese Science Fiction

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

World Literature as an Approach to the Study of Chinese Science Fiction

Mengtian Sun

In this essay, I would like to talk about the approach that I have taken in studying Chinese science fiction, which is a world literature approach. Firstly, I should clarify what I mean by world literature, considering that it has become such a controversial term that the whole discipline of world literature seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse pending its definition. Since the early nineteenth century, various scholars and critics have held different views toward world literature: Goethe, Engels and Marx, Franco Moretti, David Damrosch, Pascale Casanova, Emily Apter; and countless others have written about it. The study of world literature is shrouded in an opaque mist of controversies: does world literature denote a canon of works, or is it composed of works that simply “circulate beyond their culture of origin” (Damrosch, 4), or does it include all the literature produced around the world? Or maybe none of the above? What methodology is suitable for the study of world literature (the conventional close textual reading or the bold “distant reading” proposed by Moretti)? What does the term “world literature” even mean? I propose that world literature should be considered as not a body of works, but as an approach that transcends national boundaries and looks at works in relation to each other and/or to the world in a global perspective. To give some concrete examples: a world literature approach might track the various transformations that King Lear underwent when it traveled around the world; it might analyze the defining features of Greek tragedy and compare it with modern Chinese plays; it might look at how rising environmental concerns in the twenty-first century influenced disaster novels in the pan-Pacific region, etc. 

Admittedly, not all works are suitable for a world literature approach; there are, however, works that especially benefit from this approach. I consider many Chinese science fiction texts to belong to the latter. There are at least three reasons. The most important reason lies in the generic features of science fiction. It is the genre that is most outward-looking and future-oriented, with a cosmopolitan mindset. Instead of focusing on the most individual and personal experiences, it often takes a step back and looks at the broader picture. It is also a genre whose success has been a result of the development of various industrial revolutions, modernizations, and globalization, all of which involves complex global networks of capital exchange. The reason why Chinese science fiction is especially suited for a world literature approach is also because of its unique genealogy. Science fiction has been a borrowed genre in China from the very beginning (late Qing China). Throughout the twentieth century, its development and transformation has gone hand-in-hand with the introduction and translation of science fiction from outside of China, such as science fiction from Japan, Russia, UK, and the US, among others. Lastly, and most importantly, Chinese science fiction, like science fiction in the West, is a response to modern interactions with the world, interactions that started with the country’s encounter with Western colonial powers and continued to include China’s deeper immersion into the world system and global capitalism. 

The world literature approach is especially potent when it comes to the study of contemporary Chinese science fiction. Since we are in an increasingly  interconnected and globalized world (at least before the COVID-19), contemporary literature overall tends to address this feature: texts have a closer relation to one another, they travel around the world at a faster-than-ever speed, and they deal with many issues that are common to countries around the world, such as the widening gap between poor and rich regions, environment pollution and global warming, migration (nationwide and internationally) and the various ensuing problems (such as discrimination against migrants), among others. Contemporary Chinese science fiction also addresses these issues and more. Since the 1990s, many Chinese science fiction texts are either direct or indirect reflections on the rise of China on the global stage and the blessings and curses of joining the global market; for the first time in its history, Chinese science fiction is travelling outside of its national boundaries and has been translated in a vast amount into various languages. Thus, a thorough study of contemporary Chinese science fiction calls for the world literature approach. 

Some examples of my own practice of using world literature as an approach in the study of contemporary Chinese science fiction include the essays “Alien Encounters in Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Trilogy and Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End” and “Imaginations of Globalization in Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide.” In the former, I compare Liu’s Three-Body trilogy against the generic features of golden-age alien-encounter science fiction represented by Childhood’s End, and argue that Liu’s alien encounter stories are best considered as a modern Chinese, postcolonial response to golden-age alien-encounter science fiction. In the latter essay, I look at how globalization is imagined in Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide and Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I argue that although the two novels have many similarities (for example, both present globalization from the perspective of the “receiving end”), they manifest one key differences when it comes to the critical theorization of globalization, especially in terms of the role of the nation state: whereas The Windup Girl reads like a novelization of the early theorization of globalization by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in Empire (2000), where they argue that the sovereignty of the nation state will be decomposed and replaced by transnational corporations as the new main players in world eco-politics, Waste Tide recognizes the important role the nation state continues to play in the global capitalist market, even as certain aspects of the state’s sovereign power have been relocated from nation states to global capital (just like how Hardt and Negri revised their own theorization of globalization in their later works, such as Multitude, Commonwealth, and Assembly). As can be seen, by using a world literature approach, some of the most important values of contemporary Chinese science fiction can be better parsed. 

Since this is a very short essay, it is a pity that I can not elaborate further on many of the statements I have made. My main purpose, however, is to give a brief introduction of the value of using a world literature approach to study Chinese science fiction. World literature as an approach is by no means a fully developed theory. It needs more scholars to participate in the discussions and to refine it by asking more questions; questions such as: what does world literature as an approach mean, then, for the relation between world literature and comparative literature? Is there a difference, should there be a difference, and if so, what might that be? In conclusion, this essay is an attempt to initiate scholarly interests and discussions of world literature as an approach, especially when it comes to the study of Chinese science fiction. If it manages to raise questions in readers’ mind, or it prompts them to look into world literature and what it might mean, then I would consider my mission accomplished.


Damrosch, David. What is World Literature? Princeton University Press, 2003.

Mengtian Sun completed her PhD degree from the University of Melbourne. She is currently an assistant professor of English at City University of Macau. Her research interests include comparative and world literature, modern and contemporary literature, genre fiction (science fiction in particular), and gender studies, among others. She has published in journals such as Science Fiction Studies and Frontiers of Literary Studies in China. She also works as a literary translator.

Chinese Science Fiction and Environmental Criticism: From the Anthropocentric to the Cosmocentric

SFRA Review, vol. 51, no. 2

Symposium: Chinese SF and the World

Chinese Science Fiction and Environmental Criticism: From the Anthropocentric to the Cosmocentric

Hua Li

Over the past two decades, the interactions and connections between environmentalism and science fiction (hereafter sf) have been widely discussed, recognized, and valued by environmentalists, literary critics, and political scientists alike. When discussing the relationship between the literary text and ecocriticism in his book The Future of Environmental Criticism, Lawrence Buell claims that “no genre potentially matches up with a planetary level of thinking ‘environment’ better than science fiction does” (57). He further argues: “For half a century, science fiction has taken a keen, if not consistent interest in ecology, in planetary endangerment, in environmental ethics, in humankind’s relation to the nonhuman world” (56). Patrick D. Murphy finds in sf narratives “several varieties of nature and environmental engagement” (41). Some sf narratives “provide factual information about nature and human-nature interactions as well as provide thematically environmentalist extrapolations of conflict and crisis based on such information;” they “provide analogous depictions of ecosystems and human interaction with such systems;” and they “demonstrate the disastrous consequences of exploitive relationships between humans and other humans, humans and other sentient beings, and humans and ecosystems in which they are an exotic” (Murphy 41). Though the above scholars’ emphasis on the close relation between environmentalism and science fiction has mostly been based on Western sf works, environmental criticism has also been an important perspective in research on Chinese science fiction.  

In Fall 2018, Science Fiction Studies published a special issue on science fiction and the climate crisis. In Spring 2020, Professor Huang Mingfen edited a special section on the fiction and film of the Chinese Anthropocene in the Journal of Beihua University (Social Sciences). Numerous conferences and journal articles have also explored the ecological and environmental issues reflected in Chinese science fiction over the past few years. These efforts show that more and more scholars have been paying attention to Chinese sf texts with environmental themes. 

This essay will present my observations on Chinese science fiction produced in the People’s Republic of China (hereafter PRC) from the perspective of environmental criticism. Environmental and ecological issues, energy shortages, and climate change have been prominent thematic concerns in PRC science fiction since the 1950s. The subject matter of these texts includes creating artificial precipitation in order to increase agricultural yields, engaging in large-scale geoengineering projects on land reclamation, transforming the natural environment on an alien planet in order to make it humankind’s second planetary home, and exploring various dimensions of time and space in order to cope with societal problems of overpopulation and resource depletion. These narratives can be categorized under such subgenres as Anthropocene fiction, terraforming fiction, and climate fiction. These themes have tied in to such critical theories as “slow violence,” environmentalism of the poor, manufactured landscapes, and environmental injustice and ethics (Nixon 2). In this essay, I will review various PRC sf works with environmental themes and some critical theories that can help us analyze these works.

I would first like to clarify some of the terminology related to sub-genres often associated with environmental and ecological narratives; these are Anthropocene fiction, climate fiction, and terraforming fiction. Around the turn of the 21st century, the Nobel Prize winner Paul J. Crutzen formulated the concept of the Anthropocene—human life as a geological force (23).  This concept emphasizes that the earth’s climate has been increasingly affected by human activities ever since the Industrial Revolution due to the build-up of atmospheric greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. By the 1960s, the facts around human-induced climate change had been substantiated by various major scientific bodies and research organizations, and have been amplified by further confirmations since the 1990s. The literary critic Adam Trexler argues that “the concept of the Anthropocene helps explain the widespread phenomenon of climate change fiction” (9). He prefers to use the term ‘Anthropocene fiction’ instead of climate fiction when discussing novels dealing with the theme of climate change. In addition to the emission of greenhouse gases, there are other human actions that have also contributed to changes in global temperature and climate, including the rapid expansion of the human population, the unchecked conversion of wildlands to croplands and pastures, the increasing use of fossil fuels, and large industrial projects (9).  

Terraforming fiction is another sub-genre whose thematic concerns often overlap with Anthropocene fiction and climate fiction. In his study of terraforming texts, Martyn J. Fogg indicates that terraforming encompasses two subsets of planetary engineering: terraforming alien planets and terraforming the Earth (90). Another scholar, Chris Pak, points out that “scientists and environmental philosophers have used the concept of terraforming as a thought experiment to consider human relationships to environments undergoing change” (8). Terraforming “involves processes aimed at adapting the environmental parameters of alien planets for habitation by Earthbound life, and it includes methods for modifying a planet’s climate, atmosphere, topology, and ecology” (Pak 1). Terraforming fiction is a cousin of climate fiction, with which it sometimes overlaps. According to Trexler, “Human-altered climates were of grave concern to authors before greenhouse gas emissions attracted wide scientific interest. Terraforming—the purposeful transformation of a planet’s climate (usually) to make it more hospitable to humans—surfaced in science fiction at least as early as 1951” (Pak 8). Based on the above-mentioned studies, we can see that terraforming fiction includes narratives dealing with such themes as weather modification, land reclamation, genetic engineering, and alien planet colonization. 

Since the 1950s, many Chinese sf narratives have dealt with the themes of climate change and terraforming. Weather modification and land reclamation are two of the most dominant literary strategies connected with climate change and terraforming. In these narratives, artificial rainfall or snow is created mainly for the benefit of agricultural production and urban life. For example, in Tao Bennai’s short story “Stories of a Climate Company” (Qixiang gongsi de gushi, 1959), the business activities of a climate company in Beijing include the generation of artificial precipitation, the dispersal of fog, and the elimination of damaging meteorological phenomena such as typhoons and hailstorms. This company can also use technology to guide moisture-laden airflows from southern China to arid regions in northern China. In coastal areas, the company launches meteorological rockets over the sea in order to deprive tropical storm systems of the amount of heat energy they need to become bona fide hurricanes. Liu Xingshi’s “Northern Clouds” (Beifang de yun, 1962) provides the scenario of creating artificial precipitation as a solution to water shortages in northern China. In Wang Guozhong’s short story “Dragon in the Bohai Sea” (Bohai jülong, 1963), the author envisions using modern technology to drain submerged wetlands in the Bohai Gulf to reclaim land for agricultural uses such as growing legumes and herbs. 

These themes continued to surface in the PRC sf narratives of the late 1970s. For example, in Xie Shijun’s “Stratospheric Precipitation” (Hangtian boyu, 1979), scientists pack a special type of soil nitrogen into rocket-bound bombs. Uncrewed rockets carry these bombs into the stratosphere and release them over the targeted drought region. Soil nitrogen from the exploded bombs reacts with moisture in the air to form rainfall. In addition, the extra nitrogen in the rain droplets also functions as a fertilizer to promote plant growth. In Wang Yafa’s “An Interesting Incident Outside the Sports Field” (Qiuchangwai de quwen, 1979), clouds are seeded with dry ice and silver iodide to induce precipitation. Scientists then use ultrasound waves to break down the ice crystals and water drops in the clouds to create rainfall. 

In addition to this fiction about weather modification, some Chinese sf narratives expanded their thematic range to include terraforming alien planets or engaging in geoengineering projects on Earth in order to more fully exploit natural resources. For example, Wang Qi’s short story “Rose and Sword” (Meigui yu baojian, 1978) conjures forth the scenario of astronauts collecting specimens of rocks and ores while conducting a geographical survey of an alien planet called “N.” Liu Xingshi’s “Eye of the Sea” (Haiyan, 1979) is about building terrace dams in a subterranean stream in order to generate hydro power in the western part of Guizhou province; this underground water was thereupon diverted for use as agricultural irrigation.  

In the course of addressing such themes as weather modification, land reclamation, and energy exploitation, a new sort of environmental awareness started to emerge among readers of these works around 1980. In many narratives, the purposes of the geoengineering projects were not only to advance agricultural production, but also to cope with such problems as environmental pollution, water shortages, and the depletion of fossil fuels and other natural resources. Many PRC sf narratives have addressed the theme of environmental pollution, especially the tech-sf (jishu kehuan) written from the late 1970s to early 1980s. Numerous tech-sf narratives offer bold ideas about how to solve environmental problems. Some works even directly address the impact of industrial pollution on marine ecosystems, as highlighted in Huang Shengli’s “A Mysterious Incident” (Shenmi de shijian, 1981). More critical and skeptical views about terraforming and the ability of humans to manipulate the climate emerge in Zheng Wenguang’s Descendant of Mars (Zhanshen de houyi, 1983). This novel reflects the author’s heartfelt skepticism about human interference with nature and climate, specifically Mao Zedong’s radical assaults against nature during the 1950s and 1960s. This reflective and critical trend in Chinese Anthropocene fiction in the early 1980s was influenced by the liberal intellectual trends of “bidding adieu to the revolution” and “contemplative literature” during the Post-Mao cultural thaw (1976-1983) in China (Li, “Are We” 545-559). It also has a lot to do with China’s burgeoning new field of environmental studies. In the 1970s, severe environmental pollution from industrial wastes such as offshore from the northeastern port of Dalian garnered the attention of the central government. From that point on, the PRC government started to fund environmental research into the pollution of rivers, coastal waters, and farmland by industrial effluent.[1] 

Since the 1990s, there have been more sophisticated sf narratives written about weather modification, land reclamation, environmental degradation, and the depletion of energy sources.  Mindful of the Chinese sf legacy of artificial precipitation, Liu Cixin wrote two narratives about human-caused rainfall, “Round Soap Bubbles (Yuanyuan de feizaopao, 2004) and “The Butterfly Effect” (Hundun hudie, 2001). Round Soap Bubbles not only offers a method for solving the problem of water shortages, but also presents an analogue of the large hydro-engineering projects in contemporary China. In addition to Liu’s two weather modification stories, there were two more novellas dealing with the problem of water shortage. Xing He’s Mountains and Rivers (Shanshan shuishui, 2002) and Tianyi Jushi’s The Sky Tilts Toward Northwest (Tianqing xibei, 2003) are both about a fictional South-to-North Water Diversion Project, though the two authors have highly contrasting views about the advisability of this project. Chen Qiufan’s novel Waste Tide (2013) specifically reveals how the recycling industry has caused severe environmental and occupational impacts on nature and humans, exploring the complex connections between technology, the economy, and the environment. Liu Cixin’s The Micro Era (Wei jiyuan, 2001) and He Xi’s novellas Alien Zone (Yi yu, 1999) and Six Realms of Existence (Liudao zhongsheng, 2002) push terraforming methods to an extreme—by genetically engineering human body size and exploring more dimensions of both space and time in order to create more living space and food for the exponentially rising human population. Yang Dantao’s short story “Uranium Flowers” (You hua, 2004) focuses on the dystopian global consequences of a disastrous nuclear war, along with the politics of nuclear power plants.

The above-mentioned Chinese narratives about climate change and terraforming not only provide factual information about interactions between humans and the natural environment, but also demonstrate the disastrous consequences of an exploitative relationship between humans and other sentient beings within an ecosystem. Such narratives have spurred literary critics to examine these texts through a variety of theoretical frameworks related to environmental criticism. In the following paragraphs, I will discuss some theoretical frameworks that have proven useful in the analysis of Anthropocene fiction, climate fiction, and terraforming fiction.

With the emergence of terraforming fiction in the 1950s, the environmental ethics of planetary engineering or geo-engineering have been discussed by philosophers, environmentalists, and scientists. Various scholars have exchanged a range of contrasting views about whether human beings should transform a lifeless planet into a habitable planet. Scholars such as Erin Daly, Robert Frodeman, and Chris Pak have summarized various viewpoints in their studies of terraforming ethics. Arguments in favor of terraforming have normally been articulated from an anthropocentric perspective. They argue that terraforming a lifeless planet would benefit human beings by “significantly advancing our scientific knowledge of the nature of life” or expanding the living space for Earth’s increasing population (Daly and Frodeman, 145). Robert Zubin even regards the possible future terraforming of Mars as a demonstration that “the worlds of the heavens themselves are subject to human intelligent will” (179).  Don MacNiven explores the ethics of planetary engineering from three perspectives: the homocentric, the zoocentric, and the biocentric. On the basis of these viewpoints, MacNiven concludes that planetary engineering “would be morally permissible if either project helped protect and enhance the quality of terrestrial life” (442). 

These views in favor of terraforming have two features in common. First, “they are all geocentric (Earth-bound) theories which automatically exclude from the moral universe Mars, the solar system, and indeed the universe as a whole” (MacNiven 442). Secondly, these viewpoints include within the moral universe nothing other than animate existence—human and other living organisms—and see them as intrinsically valuable because “life itself is the basis of value” (Ibid.). However, this Earth-bound perspective comes across as insufficient if we examine the moral issues of terraforming other inhabitable places in the universe such as extraterrestrial planets and moons. 

Many scholars instead call for a cosmocentric perspective. Mark Lupisella and John Logsdon recommend a “cosmocentric ethic” for scrutinizing ethical matters related to terraforming (1).  Daly and Frodeman capture the gist of a “cosmocentric ethic” as follows: “[It] places the universe at the center… , [and] appeals to something characteristic of the universe (physical and/or metaphysical) which might…provide a justification of value, presumably intrinsic value, and allow for reasonably objective measurement of value” (qtd. Daly and Frodeman, 140). If we extend our environmental perspectives from the anthropocentric and the geocentric to the cosmocentric, we may well develop a different approach to the ethics of planetary exploration. Similarly, MacNiven points out that cosmocentrism articulates a new ethical perspective that transcends the distinction between animate and inanimate entities: “Everything which exists has value” (442). This perspective requires us to attach an intrinsic value to the presumably inanimate planet of Mars, such as its uniqueness and its role in the wilderness of space (442-43).  

If we cast our gaze on Chinese sf, we find in He Xi’s Alien Zone and Six Realms of Existence exemplary texts to illustrate the cosmocentric ethics. Both narratives explore how humans might deal with shortages of both food and housing that have been triggered by major increases in population. This type of narrative first appeared in the PRC in the mid-1950s, became more widespread around 1980, and has especially surged in popularity since the dawn of the 21st century. However, He Xi’s narratives about shortages of food and housing mark a departure from assumptions about the supposedly unlimited scope for the expansion of housing and agricultural productivity—an idea widespread in PRC sf narratives from the mid-1950s to the 1980s. His novellas also mark a shift to ideas about self-restraint in economic development. The two narratives also reject the longstanding approach to nature as ripe for plundering, and instead view nature as in need of healing. Instead of viewing nature as somehow unrelated to ethical concerns, these narratives imply that humankind is indebted to nature and must behave more ethically toward it. In addition, the hypothetical terraforming projects in the two texts provide a venue to examine humankind’s relationship with the vast and complex realm of nonliving space, as well as humankind’s proper place on the Earth from a cosmocentric perspective.

In addition to a cosmocentric perspective, the concept of a “manufactured landscape” is another useful lens through which to probe terraforming fiction. The “manufactured landscapes” presented in the large-scale photographs by Edward Burtynsky and captured in a documentary film by Jennifer Baichwal provide us with a critical perspective to ponder industrial society and technology since the Industrial Revolution.[2] The term “manufactured landscapes” has negative, critical, and even ironic connotations. It refers to landscapes that have been deformed, destroyed, or devastated by human industrial endeavor, such as shipyards, dams, abandoned quarries and mines, and junkyards for recycling industrial waste. These human-made landscapes are closely related to energy consumption and environmental deterioration, and are symbols of troubled relations between humankind and nature. The image of mammoth industrial structures dotting an urbanized landscape was already a frequent motif in many Chinese sf narratives prior to the coining of the neologism “manufactured landscapes.” For example, coal mines on fire, an entire city festooned with soap bubbles, and a giant tunnel through the center of the Earth to Antarctica are among the images in Liu Cixin’s novellas, Underground Fire (Dihuo, 2000), Cannonry of Earth (Diqiu dapao, 2003), and “Round Soap Bubbles” (Yuanyuan de feizaopao, 2004).  These images reveal a paradoxical relationship between the tapping of new energy sources and the devastating ecological consequences likely to follow. Readers can also find similar manufactured landscapes, such as the South-to-North Water Diversion project in Xing He’s Mountains and Rivers and Tianyi Jushi’s The Sky Tilts Toward the Northwest, and the silicon island and patches of plastic floating in the ocean in Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide

In contrast with the perspectives of cosmocentric and manufactured landscape, which examine Anthropocene fiction or terraforming fiction at the planetary and cosmic level, Rob Nixon’s concepts of “slow violence” and “environmentalism of the poor” focus on terraforming’s impact on human beings. In 2011, Nixon coined the term “slow violence” to emphasize the “slowly unfolding environmental catastrophes” caused by the “incremental and accretive” human activities during a relatively long period of time (2). By slow violence, Nixon means “a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and place, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all” (2). These catastrophes include “climate change, the thawing cryosphere, toxic drift, biomagnification, deforestation, the radioactive aftermaths of wars, acidifying oceans, and a host of other slowly unfolding environmental” degradations (Nixon 2). According to Nixon, “it is those people lacking resources who are the principal casualties of slow violence. Their unseen poverty is compounded by the invisibility of the slow violence that permeates so many of their lives …  It is against such conjoined ecological and human disposability that we have witnessed a resurgent environmentalism of the poor” (4). Nixon argues that environmental catastrophes have yet to gain much traction in the mainstream media because of their delayed effects and less spectacular characteristics. He emphasizes that the significance of environmental narratives is that “imaginative writing can help make the unapparent appear, making it accessible and tangible by humanizing drawn-out threats inaccessible to the immediate senses” (15). He considers such environmental writers as Rachel Carson, Indra Sinha, and Nadine Gordimer to be “writer-activists” (5) because they “have deployed their imaginative agility and worldly ardor to help amplify the media-marginalized causes of the environmentally dispossessed” (5). If we cast our gaze on Chinese sf, we can find such environmental narratives as Waste Tide and “Uranium Flowers” exemplary texts to illustrate Nixon’s arguments of slow violence and environmentalism of the poor. Waste Tide specifically portrays a slow and attritional violence—namely, the ways in which the electronics recycling industry have had a severe environmental and occupational impact on nature and humans—through an exploration of the complex relationships between technology, the economy, and the environment. Similarly, in his short story “Uranium Flowers,” Yang Dantao utilizes a setting of the aftermath of a catastrophic nuclear war to provide a fresh perspective for critiquing environmental injustice for the poor in the contemporary globalized world. In “Uranium Flowers,” environmental degradation such as high levels of radiation after a nuclear war aggravate class divisions, leading essentially to the bifurcation of humankind.

 The remarks in this essay are based on my own analysis of Chinese sf from the perspective of environmental criticism. Chinese sf narratives have made contributions to contemporary debates about environmental degradation and its origins. However, many issues remain to be explored in this area, such as deep ecology, social ecology, land ethics, landscape restoration, and the environmental movement. 


[1] For a more detailed analysis of these Chinese texts with environmental themes from the 1950s to 1980s, see Li, Huai. “The Environment, Humankind, and Slow Violence in Chinese Science Fiction,” Communication and the Public vol. 3 no. 4, 2018, pp. 270-82.

[2] Jennifer Baichwal, Manufactured Landscapes, Zeitgeist Films, 2007. Baichwal was inspired by the photographic works of Edward Burtynsky and made this documentary film.  For more on Burtynsky’s works, see Burtynsky, Edward. China: the Photographs of Edward Burtynsky, Göttingen: Steidl, 2005.


Baichwal, Jennifer. Manufactured Landscapes. New York: Zeitgeist Films, 2007.    

Buell, Lawrence. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell Publisher, 2005.

Crutzen, Paul J. “Geology of Mankind.” Nature, vol, 415, 2002, p. 23.

Fogg, Martyn J. Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments. Warrendale: Society of Automotive Engineers, 1995.

Li, Hua. “‘Are We, People from the Earth, so Terrible?’: An Atmospheric Crisis in Zheng Wenguang’s Descendant of Mars.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 45, no. 3, 2018, pp. 545-59.

—. “The Environment, Humankind, and Slow Violence in Chinese Science Fiction.” Communication and the Public, vol. 3, no. 4, 2018, pp. 270-82.

Lupisella, Mark and John Logsdon. “Do We Need a Cosmocentric Ethic?” Presentation at the International Astronautical Congress (Turin, Italy, 4 November 1997), IAA-97-IAA.9.2.09, International Astronautical Federation, 3-5 Rue Mario-Nikis, 75015 Paris, France.

MacNiven, Don. “Environmental Ethics and Planetary Engineering.” Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, vol. 48, 1995, pp. 441-43.

Murphy, Patrick D. Farther Afield in the Study of Nature-oriented Literature. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 2000.

Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2011.

Pak, Chris. Terraforming: Ecopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2016.

Sparrow, Robert. “The Ethics of Terraforming.” Environmental Ethics, vol. 21, no. 3, 1999, pp. 227-45.

Trexler, Adam. Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2015.Zubin, Robert. “The Case for Terraforming Mars.” On to Mars: Colonizing a New World, edited by Robert Zubin and Frank Crossman, Collector’s Guide Publishing, 2002, pp. 179-80.

Hua Li is Professor of Chinese and coordinator of the China Studies Program in the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures at Montana State University. She received her doctoral degree in Asian Studies from the University of British Columbia in 2007. Her primary research field is modern and contemporary Chinese literature. She published her monograph Contemporary Chinese Fiction by Su Tong and Yu Hua: Coming of Age in Troubled Times (Brill) in 2011, and has authored numerous journal articles and book chapters on various topics in contemporary Chinese fiction and cinema. She has carried out research on Chinese science fiction since 2014, and has published journal articles and book chapters on Chinese science fiction in Science Fiction Studies, Frontier of Literary Studies in China, Cambridge History of Science Fiction, and other peer-reviewed journals. Her second book Chinese Science Fiction during the Post-Mao Cultural Thaw is coming out with University of Toronto Press in summer 2021.