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Is imagination too expensive for Chinese

(Xinhua)    08:33, October 08, 2013
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A week-long national holiday does not always mean traffic jam, stranded tourists and misbehavior for Chinese.

At least this is true for some 200 science fiction writers, editors, publishers, critics, and more than 1,000 amateurs who flocked to a coal exchange hall in Taiyuan, capital city of north China's Shanxi Province for their annual carnival, Xingyun Awards.

The Fourth Xingyun (literally nebula) Awards were announced Friday.

Eight Chinese science fiction writers and editors won top prizes, with the post-80s generation consolidating its place as the main drivers of this niche literary genre in China.

The annual event, the only international awards for Chinese-language sci-fi writers, has been organized by the World Chinese Science Fiction Association based in Sichuan Province, southwest China, since 2010.

Only 30 years ago when today's prize winners were toddlers, a blow bruised China's science fiction as it was seen as "spiritual pollution" from the west and should be cleaned up.

Even though the so-called spiritual pollution was not rooted out eventually, Chinese science fiction writers and amateurs belong to, no doubt, a minority group in this most populous country on the earth.

While Chinese audience are fascinated by western sci-fi movies such as Avatar, Matrix, Star Wars, and Inception, they seldom imagine that one day science fiction novels by Chinese writers would be adapted for movies, too.

Liu Cixin is making this happen.

An engineer by trade, Liu wrote his path-breaking bestseller Three Body Trilogy in which the entire solar system gets flattened into a two-dimensional image in an apocalyptic battle between earthlings and aliens.

His masterpiece so far has been hailed for its astounding sweep and extraordinary artistic vision. The English version by three cherry-picked translators is scheduled to be published next year.

Though sci-fi writer Han Song believes it is only a matter of when, not if, the Trilogy will win Liu the Hugo Award, Liu hopes for the best but expects nothing.

"This will be the first Chinese sci-fi novel being translated for English-speaking readers. I wish to win but it's nothing easy," says Liu, adding that as the world's science fiction center, the United States publishes thousands of sci-fi novels each year. The competition is apparently intensive.

However, that is not the only challenge Liu has to face and tackle. Back at home, there are much fewer opportunities for Liu and his peers to ignite enthusiasm for science fiction among the general public.

A latest comparative study on top 100 U.S. high-grossing films and top 100 Chinese films with best box office ever recorded shows that American movie goers love sci-fi, action, and motion pictures the most while Chinese audience prefer action, romance, and comedy.

"Lack of sci-fi and fantasy films as well as motion pictures becomes the Archilles' heel of home-made movies," said associate professor Zhan Qingsheng from the People's Liberation Army Academy of Arts, at a seminar on Chinese films held last Friday in central China's Wuhan City.

To make things worse, among all government-backed literature awards in China, science fiction has no other category to join in but children's literature.

That's why Liu was not surprised when the Three Body Trilogy won his a national children's literature prize last month. Among the distinguished attendees were Tie Ning, chairwoman of Chinese Writers' Association, and Zhai Weihua, vice head of the CPC Central Committee's Publicity Department.

"Science fiction is not just fiction. It's more about mindset," says Chen Qiufan, a Beijing-based writer and a former Google employee who won the prize of best novel and best new sci-fi writer with "The Waste Tide" this year.

The 32-year old who works for Baidu, China's biggest search engine, recalls that his boss came up to him one day to discuss science fiction before China's top leadership held a group study Monday in Zhongguancun, a Beijing technology hub known as China's Silicon Valley, the first time such a study has been held outside the central authority's seat at Zhongnanhai.

"My boss has noticed that some experts got problems when talking about big data -- they can make themselves understood when talking about the present. But they could not make sense when it came to the future and tendency." says Chen, "that reminded my boss of meeting science fiction writers."

Chen believes that sci-fi mindset helps entrepreneurs clear their minds and solve problems.

"At the headquarters of Google, you can find many engineers who are sci-fi amateurs and have lots of sci-fi novels on shelves," says Chen, adding that this makes Google more competitive than Microsoft, which he thinks lacks of imagination about users and product interactions.

There is no need to prove that science fiction has been successfully predicted what the world would be like and what life could be in the future.

To Liu Bin, a professor from Tsinghua University, "science fiction enables people to imagine what science dares not to imagine".

But in the minds of a group of village school students in Laiyuan County, some 160 km away from Beijing, schools in the future are "high buildings", "clean", "with lush green trees and flowers", and "of no fighting" and "active class involvement".

This is the first time they ever heard about science fiction.

Yu Jian, a 27-year-old English teacher of the school, explains that the narrow-minded children do not know much about the outside world due to geographical limitation.

"Science fiction helps enlighten their imagination. One can not succeed unless he or she dares to think and try," says Yu.

What worries Han Song is that Chinese people are too busy making a living or building social network to care about science and the future.

"Many have difficulties in understanding some slightly complicated sci-fi movies such as Matrix. It's hard for them to become interested in stars afar or to ask ultimate questions," he says.

Zhang Shengli, the vice-principal of the village school, is more pessimistic. though the children's answers have nothing to do with science fiction.

"It takes time to see the effect," he says, "since there has been a seed sowed in children's heart."

(Editor:DuMingming、Yao Chun)

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