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 “Chinese science fiction is a part of China’s modernization project”

Interview | Fei Dao



Fei Dao is a sci-fi writer and an Assistant Professor at Tsinghua University. He has written science fiction short story collections such as Chinese Scifi Blockbusters (《中国科幻大片》) and The Long Journey to Death (《去死的漫漫旅途》). On the occasion of the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival, Fei Dao expressed his views on science fiction heroes, science fiction literature creation in colleges and universities, Chinese science fiction and modernization, science fiction and history, and other topics.


Science Fiction Heroes
Han Song, a famous science fiction master in China, once said, “You may have a sense of ridicule while reading the novels of Fei Dao, but what remains in your memory is a great sadness. He created a series of Don Quixote heroes. Each story is full of sadness and helplessness to life, giving out thrilling sighs to the tininess and comicalness of humans.”


In this regard, Fei Dao said, “This passage comes from the comment written by Mr. Han Song for my collection of novels Chinese Scifi Blockbusters (《中国科幻大片》) which pays tribute to two works, Lu Xun’s Old Tales Retold (《故事新编》) and Calvino’s Wonders of the Universe (《宇宙奇趣》). I think heroes are those people who are not depressed even in great difficulties, who still believe they can do something, and are willing to contribute to the better of the world. One of the great charms of science fiction is to take us into the fictional predicament and feel the heroic spirit. “


Science Fiction Literature Creation in Colleges and Universities
At present, Fei Dao teaches in the Department of Chinese Language at Tsinghua University. As a university teacher, his first course is Science Fiction Literary Creation, which requires students to complete a science fiction piece independently at the end of the semester. “Considering the different professional backgrounds of the attended students, and the fact that most of them do not plan to become a writer in the future, my Science Fiction Literary Creation does not focus on specific writing skills training, but helps students understand the core spirit of science fiction by explaining and discussing Chinese and foreign science fiction classics (creating a self-consistent world, rational speculation, crossing borders, critical thinking, sense of hardship, understanding the other, human solidarity, thought experiments, etc.), improving students’ appreciation of science fiction art, guiding students to critically think about relevant scientific, cultural and social issues, and providing students with intellectual and aesthetic pleasure through training in science fiction writing, and encourage students to bring their innovative spirit into future study and work. ” He said.


“As for specific writing skills and other issues, my view is that the key to the literary writing course is not whether the teachers have rich experience and skills and whether they can ‘explain’ these experiences and skills to students, but whether they can encourage students to set writing goals and supervise and test whether students are fully involved in this matter. Many writers are self-taught, and that can happen with students of course. How should arts students improve their own science fiction writing knowledge structure? How does creativity develop into the plot? How to shape characters and describe scenes?  Beginners often ask such questions to writers. In fact, as long as they get enough supervision and encouragement and appropriate self-study materials (short science fiction classics), they can gradually find the answers to these questions in the process of reading, appreciation, and imitation. “


Chinese Science Fiction and Modernization
In addition to creating science fiction, Fei Dao is also a science fiction researcher. He published the academic monograph Modernity and the Unknown: Research on Late Qing Science Fiction (《 “现代” 与 “未知” ——晚清科幻小说研究》,2021, Peking University Press). Fei Dao once said in an interview, “Chinese science fiction is a part of China’s modernization project, and this great and arduous historical process fundamentally determines its rise and fall, achievements and cruxes.”


Talking about Chinese science fiction and modernization, he says that “To put it simply, although modern China was bullied in the world, it still produced the spirit of striving and heroism under the indomitable will to survive, which was inspired by the ever-changing scientific and technological progress and turned into faith in a better future and the courage to sacrifice for faith. The Chinese science fiction at the beginning of the 20th century also drew the ‘Force’ from the dreams of national independence, national prosperity, and human progress in the great changes of the times. Of course, the prosperity of science fiction literature and art must ultimately be based on comprehensive national strength, as evidenced by the development of science fiction in France, Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, Japan, and other countries. Therefore, it was not until the end of the 20th century that Liu Cixin stepped onto the stage of history. In 2006, The Three-Body Problem (《三体》)began to be serialized. In 2010, the third book of The Three-Body Problem, Death’s End(《三体3:死神永生》),was published, which started to cause a sensation outside the science fiction circle. From 1999 to 2010, this was the stage of Liu Cixin’s personal growth. It is also the stage of China’s rapid economic growth until it becomes the second largest economy country in the world. It is the stage of China’s university enrollment expansion and the annual growth of the population base for receiving higher education. It is also the stage of continuous urbanization and for the first time in 2011 that the proportion of the urban population exceeded half. Such historical changes have provided energy for the accumulation of Chinese science fiction and laid a cultural soil and mass foundation for the success of The Three-Body Problem (《三体》). ” Fei Dao said.


Science Fiction and History
Fei Dei once commented on Ken Liu’s The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary(《纪录片:终结历史之人》), saying, “Serious historians may not take The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary (《纪录片:终结历史之人》)as a historical study, but for millions of readers, such stories, like auxiliary lines in geometry, also open a new space for understanding history, and these people with flesh and blood are the living constructors of history.”


When talking about the role of science fiction in our understanding of history and the past, Fei Dao said: “In my opinion, as a Chinese American, Ken Liu wrote this novel about the 731 Army, not only to complete an excellent science fiction story but also to complete his own personal mission and responsibility through telling. He built a virtual technology in the story, introduced a new variable for human social reality, to test the response of the human world, and thus our familiar history and reality were further improved after the discussion, and we have a better understanding of the actual situation. In short, although we have known that there are various injustices in the reality, we now know that even if reality enters a new situation, these injustices may still develop more vigorously, and even if some incredible new methods are realized, they cannot easily break through the shroud of our own social culture. In this way, we seem to know more about reality. “


Please follow the 7th China-EU International Literature Festival in 2022. The event will be held online from September 7th to September 25th with the theme of “Explore, Imagine, Inspire – Science Fiction, Fantasy and Worlds Beyond”. Bernard Werber and Fei Dao will be joined in a discussion by literary translator Wu Zhenghao about “From Ants to Robots: Unravelling the Tangled Future”.




Interview by EU-China International Literary Festival Team
Translated into English by Helen Qiu