Chinese New Year SF Gala by Derek Künsken

Gala contributors Yang Ping, Su Wanwen, Liang Ling, Wang Teng, Derek Künsken, Tian Jia (translator), and Kim Bo-young at APSFCon in Beijing (by Wang Zhitao)

The Chinese publishing company Future Af­fairs Administration (FAA) which, among other things, publishes the online Manda­rin-language SF magazine Non-Exist, recently celebrated the Lunar New Year with its Chinese New Year SF Gala. Lunar New Year is a couple of weeks of celebration in China, very focused on family and roots. For the last five years, FAA has been commissioning SF writers to create stories based on different themes. International authors who have participated include Ken Liu (2018), Ian Watson (2019), and Taiyo Fujii (2020).

For 2020, FAA commissioned and published online 13 stories by 13 authors – 11 Chinese, one author each from Japan and Canada – with the theme of “rule of joyful rendezvous.” This theme is a compound of a concept from the traditional Chinese poetry of the Tang Dynasty (the “joyful rendezvous”) with the rationality of the modern and the future (rule or law).

The Gala seeks to localize the science fictional creations in China, and this year’s theme hints at the cyclic nature of Chinese New Year and the periodic reunion of family and friends. It also speaks to a balancing of technology and the future with traditions of the past, something that is evident in China as it juggles a long historical past and a very recent agrarian society with its highly technological present and future. FAA’s annual gala helps establish some of the language for China to talk about the future.

I was one of the invited authors in 2019 and 2020. We are generally given the theme at the end of December and asked to write a story between 3,000-6,000 words in a week or so. Each day a new story is spotlighted throughout the New Year celebration. For a Western writer, the number of page views and reads can be a bit startling. My 2019 story was read 68,000 times in the first 48 hours, and by the time 10 months had passed, it had gotten to one million views. How do they get this much attention?

There is a demonstrable thirst for science fic­tion in China, and FAA’s online platforms and the ubiquity of smart phones make accessing stories easy for readers. FAA also gathered 38 corporate partners to help boost the readership, from traditional publishing to state-owned energy companies, large-scale tech companies, movie studios, toy designers, and college SF associa­tions. The gala also attracted mainstream news attention (for example, at <>). Those 13 stories garnered 25 million page hits across the various platforms, which might make it the biggest online event in the science fiction community.

One of FAA’s company goals is to foster the growth of the Chinese science fiction community, not just writers and readers, but artists and gam­ers and TV fans, building the market for science fiction. The annual online New Year Gala, with free stories for the millions of Chinese who have smart phones, is part of FAA’s strategy of build­ing the science fiction audience. To further fan participation, they enabled extensive commenting sections in each of the platforms so that readers could discuss the stories.

The Chinese New Year SF Gala is a fascinating effort to expand and inspire Chinese science fic­tion, in part because science fiction IP will feed not only the Chinese TV and movie studios, but also their games and theme parks. It’s also part of an effort to give quality science fiction to the readers of today who will try their hands at writ­ing it tomorrow.

Derek Künsken

This story and more like it in the May 2020 issue of Locus.

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