On the boom in Chinese science fiction - review by Megan Walsh

Megan Walsh

When Worlds Collide

On the boom in Chinese science fiction


In ‘What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear’, a 2012 story by the young Chinese science fiction writer Bao Shu, the end of the world seems near. And yet, after a series of strange and dramatic flashes in the sky, the world keeps going, only now the arrow of time is reversed. Kicking off amid the pomp and optimism of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the narrative takes the protagonist backwards in time to the mistakes and calamities of recent Chinese history: the hushed-up SARS outbreak, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the shattered hopes it left behind, the Cultural Revolution and the violent mania of Red Guards, and rising tensions with the Soviet Union as ballistic nuclear submarines patrol the seas.

Like much of the best speculative science fiction, the story has proved itself unsettlingly prescient. With the Chinese Communist Party’s attempts to downplay the coronavirus outbreak and its crackdowns on influential individuals and organisations, the People’s Republic now also finds itself complicatedly close to Russia. China may not yet have officially taken sides in the Russia–Ukraine conflict, but propaganda from the Kremlin is echoed in Chinese state media and circulated by legions of online nationalists, known as ‘Little Pinks’, in the ‘second battlefields’, or comment sections. The words ‘Russian invasion’ are banned on Weibo, one of the biggest social media platforms in China.

In both East and West, much populist rhetoric in recent years has been pegged to notions of national rejuvenation. And in China, where the Communist Party has been in power for the last seventy years, the past remains an occupied territory for which there is an agreed and celebratory

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RLF - March