Science Fiction is a Way of Thinking that Crosses Frontiers
Since 2004, Wang Yao has published science fiction and fantasy novels under the pseudonym “Xia Jia”. Seven of her stories have won the Galaxy Award, China’s most prestigious science fiction award. So far she has published a fantasy novel Odyssey of China Fantasy: On the Road (《九州·逆旅》), as well as three science fiction collections The Demon Enslaving Flask (《关妖精的瓶子》), A Time Beyond Your Reach (《你无法抵达的时间》) and Xi’an City Is Falling Down (《倾城一笑》). Her super short story “Let’s Have a Talk” written in English was published in the British magazine Nature’s science fiction short story column, and her English short story collection A Summer Beyond Your Reach: Stories was published in 2021. At the opening of the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival, Xia Jia expressed her views on topics such as Chinese science fiction literature in the era of globalization, and the cultural community of science fiction fans.
Chinese science fiction literature in the era of globalization
“Obtain the general wisdom, break the superstition of hereditary, improve the mind, and save the civilization.” This sentence comes from an introductory text of Lu Xun’s translation work of Verne during his stay in Japan in 1902. “After Lu Xun gave up medicine and started writing, he never engaged in science fiction-related activities again, and these views in his early years did not attract widespread attention, at that time or later. But from another perspective, Lu Xun’s lifelong literary and political activities are always related to what Wang Hui called the ‘dialectics of hope’, that is, ‘going a different way, fleeing a different place, seeking different people’. In order to resist the despair of ‘here’, he constantly goes ‘elsewhere’ to look for hope. In this sense, Chinese science fiction has always had a deep resonance with the spirit of Lu Xun. The works such as The Three Body Problem （《三体》）and The Wandering Earth （《流浪地球》）that we are familiar with can also be interpreted within the same framework.” Xia Jia said.
Xia Jia is a researcher of Chinese science fiction literature, who has published the doctoral thesis “Fear and Hope in the Age of Globalization: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction Literature and Its Cultural Politics (《全球化时代的恐惧与希望：当代中国科幻文学及其文化政治（1991-2012）》)”, and who is the author of The Coordinates of the Future: Chinese Science Fiction Anthology in the Age of Globalization (《未来的坐标：全球化时代的中国科幻论集》（2019）). Talking about Chinese science fiction literature in the era of globalization, Xia Jia believes that science fiction was born in the development process of capitalist modernity, and is the genre that best reflects the complexity and contradiction of the latter. Chinese science fiction has developed along with China’s tortuous and complex modernization process. On the one hand, it takes the science fiction of developed countries and regions as the benchmark, and on the other hand, it contains a strong utopian desire and potential for reflection, criticism, and to go beyond capitalist modernity. In today’s era of crisis faced by all mankind, we need to focus on the science fiction of countries and regions in the “underdeveloped” state of global capitalism, including China, in order to activate our imagination and strive for a future that may be better. Currently, Xia Jia is working on the creation of a series of short stories of science fiction Encyclopedia of China.
Multiple practices across frontiers
Xia Jia is not only a famous science fiction writer, but also an excellent translator of the genre. “Science-fiction is a cross-border way of thinking. Translation, like other activities I have been involved in, is a practical process of “cross-border”, which allows me to change my perspective and use a “defamiliarization” approach to re-examining and thinking about things that were all too familiar. At the same time, translation is also a valuable training for my native language, enabling me to pay more attention to how to express effectively and accurately, and how to convey different ‘tones’ and ‘voices’.”
Xia Jia once jokingly called her works “porridge sci-fi”. “It was originally a joke, a comment from a friend of mine after I wrote a story in high school inspired by Ted Chiang’s work. We all vaguely captured at that time that Ted Chiang’s work was in an ambiguous state between sci-fi and non-sci-fi, and this ambiguity has also become something that I have been fascinated with and tried to explore in my own sci-fi creation. I think science fiction should be ‘cross frontiers’ in essence. No matter in terms of form or content, it should not stick to any type of norms or routines. Therefore, ‘porridge sci-fi’ does not represent a specific style, but suggests the openness and diversity that sci-fi should have. In the process of my own reading and research, I also pay a lot of attention to works that embody certain alternative characteristics.”
The cultural community of science fiction fans
Xia Jia joined the Science Fiction Association of Peking University during her university days, and later participated in Worldcon many times. She is currently teaching at Xi’an Jiaotong University and actively supports the development of the school’s Science Fiction Association. “As a science fiction fan, I have personally witnessed the development of Chinese science fiction since the 1990s, which is inseparable from the development of the cultural community of science fiction fans, or as we call it ‘fandom’. From magazine and book publishing to today’s transition to omnimedia, China’s science fiction cultural industry has been built from scratch. The most important factor is not capital, but people. These people (writers, editors, translators, researchers, event organizers, product operators, media practitioners, etc.) almost all come from the cultivation of the fandom of science fiction. This is how I grew up myself, and I hope that China’s sci-fi fandom will continue to thrive and prosper.” Xia Jia added.
At the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival, Xia Jia will join Czech science fiction writer Julie Novakova, in discussion with Regina Kanyu Wang, to talk about their writing, their literary perspectives and “The Relationship Between Science and Science Fiction”.