SF in China: Chengdu International Science Fiction Conference and China Report by Jaymee Goh & Rafaela Yilun Fan
The Fifth Chengdu International Science Fiction Conference, organized by China’s oldest science fiction magazine Science Fiction World, opened with fanfare at the Eastern Memory Suburb of Sichuan province’s capital, free and open to the public. Panelists came from across the world, with different roles in science fiction: classic writers such as American authors Pat Murphy and Eileen Gunn and Belgian author Frank Roger; newer writers such as Niger’s Rich Larson, America’s Suzanne Palmer, Canada’s Derek Kunsken, and Japan’s Taiyo Fuji; convention organisers William Lawhorn and Helen Montgomery from the US, Kelly Buehler and Norman Cates from New Zealand, Carolina Gomez Lagerlof from Sweden, and Liat Shahar Kashtan from Israel; publishers Francesco Verso from Italy, Nick Wells from the UK, and Naoki Shimizu from Japan.
The opening ceremony began with a speech from the vice mayor of Chengdu on the link between science and the future expressed in science fiction. The President of the Sichuan Association of Science and Technology also spoke, connecting the SF industry to municipal planning and economic development. An official from the China Association for Science and Technology acknowledged the contributions of all the associations in the science fiction sector, bowing to the them in gratitude. Preliminary special awards were announced: Crystal Huff for her consulting work with the WorldCon bid; Liu Cixin inducted into the Galaxy Hall of Fame; and a Special Award for Science Fiction Activity to Chinese writer and editor A Lai. After receiving his award from the Commission of Engineering, A Lai spoke of his time working on Science Fiction World, especially the difficulties of getting investors on board back in 1996. (Liu Cixin also gave a speech, despite trying to sneak off the stage to avoid attention.) The first prize winners of the “Chengdu After 100 Years” contest were announced for literary, art, and short film entries in both children and adult categories.
Chengdu also formally announced their bid to host the World Science Fiction Convention in 2023, an effort that will be shared with several organisations including Eight Light Minutes Culture, the Future Affairs Administration, and the Science and Fantasy Growth Fund in a coalition called the Galaxy Alliance. San Feng, Chief Researcher of the Chinese City Science Fiction Index, declared Chengdu the most science fictional city in the country, through a methodology that tracked cultural and technological developments. The dimensions of the study involved industry developments (such as the percentage of science fiction writers, institutions, and theme parks), policy support (as in the number of organizations receiving governmental and municipal funding), and public support (tracked through satisfaction surveys and the coverage of events on social media apps such as Baidou and WeChat).
The conference also hosted the launch ceremony of the new Science Fiction Review journal of Sichuan University. The opening ceremony finished with a panel, “Words to Films” featuring Gong Ge’er, the producer of the new Chinese blockbuster film The Wandering Earth based on the Liu Cixin novella of the same title, Liu Cixin himself, the professor of history of science at Shanghai Jiao Tong University Jiang Xiao Yuen, and Science Fiction World deputy editor-in-chief Latssep, as well as staff members of Huawei Headquarters phoning in using their new 5G technology.
At the end of the first day, the Galaxy Awards ceremony celebrated 40 years of Science Fiction World‘s publication history and the 30th year of the Galaxy Awards, rolling three awards into one evening: the “Chengdu After 100 Years” contest winners, the Shenzen Science and Fantasy Growth Fund Morningstar Awards, and the Science Fiction World Galaxy Awards. These awards were punctuated with performances, featuring traditional face-changing dancers, and the theme songs of current films.
Beyond these spectacular ceremonies, the conference had talks by Robert Sawyer and Francesco Verso, panels covering topics such as fandom activity, feminist science fiction, translation, cross-cultural perceptions of Chinese science fiction, and films. Many of the panels featuring international speakers had translators working hard in booths, and attendees used translation broadcasters to listen. The exhibit hall had displays featuring beloved fandoms like Star Trek, Doctor Who, and Star Wars; an art show featuring the “Chengdu After 100 Years” entries; a special book display of science fiction from all over the world and dating back several decades; and publisher booths. There was also a special section dedicated to The Wandering Earth, with costumes, props, and making-of videos.
The conference ended with a special session at Sichuan University, where the conversation on the importance of science fiction continued with the formal establishment of China’s Science Fiction Research Academy. The university’s Dean of Literature and Journalism Li Yi said, quite poetically, “science fiction is a secret garden in our hearts, the stars above our heads, the morality in our hearts.” The event finished with panels dedicated to fans and a special screening of the Ursula Le Guin tribute documentary, Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin.
Through this conference, Chengdu promises much to contribute to the world SF stage beyond pandas, though we should expect panda headbands at Worldcons to come.
–Jaymee Goh & Rafaela Yilun Fan, photos by Jaymee Goh
This report and more like it in the January 2020 issue of Locus.
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