Chen Qiufan: Introducing Chinese science fiction to the world

Cover of Red Guard from 1978

The following is a class-room translation of a speech Chen Qiufan gave in 2017 at the 8th Chinese Nebula Awards. His speech does not offer much insight into its purported topic, the history of Chinese science fiction overseas, but its political jargon and the sometimes rather convoluted wording (most likely a result of multiple authorship) reflect how Chinese science fiction writers must navigate an ever-expanding landscape of commercial and ideological interests.


Introducing Chinese science fiction to the world – speech given at the “International Summit Forum on the Internationalization of Chinese Science Fiction”[1]

Chen Qiufan


Dear leaders, distinguished guests, friends and supporters of Chinese science fiction, welcome. I am Chen Qiufan 陈楸帆.[2] On behalf of the World Chinese Science Fiction Writers Association (Shijie huaren kehuan zuojia xiehui, 世界华人科幻作家协会) and the Global Chinese Science Fiction Nebula Award (Quanqiu huayu kehuan xingyunjiang全球华语科幻星云奖) organizing committee, I give you today a summary of the various achievements and experiences of Chinese science fiction overseas, and also raise some critical issues that need to be solved for future development. I am thankful for this opportunity and am very much looking forward to the wonderful speeches of experts and scholars at today’s summit forum.

The Global Chinese Science Fiction Nebula Award is a non-governmental organization made up of members of the global Chinese science fiction community. More than 80% of Chinese science fiction talents are united under its banner. In the past, when the development of Chinese science fiction was facing its greatest difficulties, its founders Dong Renwei 董仁威, Yao Haijun 姚海军, Wu Yan 吴岩, among others, recognized the importance of this cause and courageously established this completely new field. Back then, such things were not appreciated and even questioned. And to this day, there are still many people who believe that these domestic works and publishing materials, which they diligently and courageously collected to further prosperity, should not cross the borders without authorization. But we did not listen to these voices of doubt and established the Global Chinese Science Fiction Nebula Award that has not only helped domestic science fiction prosper but has also disseminated Chinese works across the globe. The organizing committee now has the support of Xinhuanet (Xinhuawang 新华网), Time Vision Company (Shiguang huanxiang gongsi 时光幻象公司) and Yitian Culture (Yitian wenhua 壹天文化) and is beginning to enter a phase of sustainable development. Throughout these years, we incorporated the proposals put forward by General Secretary Xi; we must develop powerful and global modes of dissemination to promote the culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics to tell China’s story, to give a correct, three-dimensional and comprehensive picture of China, and to improve the soft power of national culture.[3] This has undoubtedly given the development of Chinese science fiction overseas a great boost. Since 2011 and thanks to the efforts of many members of the association, more than one hundred Chinese science fiction works have been translated into more than ten languages. The Chinese science fiction translation project of StoryCom (Weixiang wenhua 微像文化), “Science Fiction World” (Kehuan shijie科幻世界) and “Clarksworld” has since 2015 already published thirty works of Chinese science fiction, which are now collected in the short story collection “Future Image” (Weilaixiang 未来像).[4] All of these projects are inextricably linked to the efforts of the members of the association. There is no better example of this than Liu Cixin’s 刘慈欣 „The Three-body Problem“ (Santi 三体) trilogy. With the reception of the Hugo Award [in 2015] ,Liu Cixin not only won one of the highest prizes in science fiction, but also conquered readers around the world and set several overseas sales records for Chinese literature. The trilogy has so far been translated into twelve languages, with the English translation alone selling over 250,000 copies. It has influenced a group of social elites and opinion leaders including former US President Barack Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. It is also thanks to Liu’s works that overseas academic circles have begun to comprehensively study contemporary Chinese science fiction from various perspectives. „The Three-body Problem” has already obtained canonical status in the history of global science fiction and has become an unstoppable force with significant and far-reaching influence. Following the success of „The Three-body Problem“, Wang Jinkang 王晋康, Han Song 韩松, Hao Jingfang 郝景芳, Xia Jia 夏笳, Chen Qiufan, Bao Shu 宝树 and other member are now getting the same recognition and some of their works such as „Pathological“ (Shizi 十字), „Ball Lightning“ (Qiuzhuang shandian 球状闪电), „The Redemption of Time“ (Santi X 三体X), and „The Waste Tide” (Huangchao 荒潮) will soon be published in foreign languages. Furthermore, various anthologies of science fiction such as „Invisible Planets “ (Kanbujian de xingqiu 看不见的星球), „Future Image“, „Nebula“ (Xingyun 星云) (in Italian) and „The Reincarnated Giant“ (Zhuansheng de juren 转生的巨人) have drawn attention. Overall, Chinese science fiction has in the past few years achieved quite good results and made important gains in all fields. This would not have been possible without our efforts. I now give a brief account of some of these experiences for further comment and critique by our leaders and specialists.

1 Rooted in China, writing the spirit of the times

In the past few years, I have learned from my experiences with the overseas market that although science fiction is part of fantasy literature, it should still be rooted in Chinese culture, based on Chinese reality and reflect the spirit of the times. One important reason why foreign readers, publishers, journalists and academics are interested in and enamored by Chinese science fiction is because it helps them get a better understanding of China and Chinese people. China is a rising power, has a large population and is currently the world’s second largest economy. As such China and its people have gained an undisputed place on the world stage, where we are playing an increasingly important role. How China imagines the future and how Chinese people view the relationship between science and technology will greatly shape the direction and organization of the world’s future. By incorporating Chinese history and thought, “The Three-body Problem” is exemplary not only in its representation of the idea of humanity’s shared fate, but also captures the concern for the future of the Chinese people and their sense of historical duty. [This is one reason why] it has become a pinnacle of science fiction. Furthermore, it has given us invaluable insights for our own science fictions creations and overseas promotional activities. We must dig deep down to the roots of Chinese culture, convey Chinese values, promote the Chinese spirit, strengthen cultural self-confidence, and [ultimately] creatively transform and innovatively develop Chinese culture in science fiction.

2 Founded on innovation, taking global leadership

Science fiction is a genre that reflects man’s changing relationship to science and technology. It orients itself towards the future and the unknown. However, science fiction is also a form of literature. By giving insight into peoples’ mentality and by engaging with various aesthetic forms, science fiction is inseparable from society. What we see in the works of our successful overseas authors is that they always show a [high degree of] sensitivity and maintain a learning mentality to improve their scientific education and their literary skills. Harmoniously bringing together persuasive literary forms and innovative ideas that are in accordance with the scientific spirit, their works have reached new heights of sophistication and harmony.  Regarding this matter, the organizing committee has encouraged our members to cooperate with Time Vision Company, China Science Writers Association (Zongguo kepu zuojia xiehui 中国科普作家协会), Guoke Network (Guoke wang 果壳网), Future Affairs Administration (Weilai shiwuguan liju 未来事务管理局), Shenzhen Science Fantasy Foundation (Shenzhen kexue huanxiang jijinhui 深圳科学幻想基金会) and “Science Fiction World”. It has also organized various science fiction writing workshops and exchange activities for science fiction writers and scientists. We hope to continue and expand these activities to help science fiction writers and science educators develop innovative forms with a more international vision, while also reflecting China’s most cutting-edge and outstanding research achievements and technological progress.

3 Establishing good relationships and cooperation mechanisms

In the past few years, the members of the organizing committee have created national and international platforms through which they successfully organized various collaborative projects. These include Science Fiction World, China Educational Publications Import and Export Corporation (zhongguo jiaoyu tushu jinchukou gongsi 中国教育图书进出口公司), Future Affairs Administration, Time Vision Company, StoryCom and other domestic organizations. The association also brought in Ken Liu 刘宇昆,[5] Song Mingwei, Tachihara Touya 立原透耶[6] as members, and works with overseas translators, scholars and publishers such as Neil Clarke and Francesco Verso to overcome language and market obstacles in bringing Chinese science fiction to the world. These valuable experiences should be emulated in the future.

If we want Chinese science fiction to gain global recognition, it must simultaneously reach out as well as welcome in. Ever since Wu Yan, Yao Haijun and Dong Renwei visited Japan, there has been more frequent interactions between the Chinese and Japanese science fiction communities. In 2016, Cat Rambo, president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America; Crystal Huff, co-chair of Worldcon 75; and Fuji Taiyo 藤井太洋, president of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of Japan, were invited to China to participate in the 7th Global Chinese Science Fiction Nebula Awards. These activities introduced Chinese readers to the world and exposed Chinese writers to the global science fiction stage. We will always remember the people who helped put Chinese science fiction on the world map. This includes Ye Yonglie 叶永烈, Wu Dingbo 吴定柏, Wang Fengzhen 王逢振, Guo Jianzhong郭建中, as well as those who are today in attendance such as Yang Xiao 杨潇, Wu Yan, Yao Haijun, Liu Cixin, Liu Yukun, and Tachihara Touya.[7] In the hopes of finding an international path for Chinese science fiction, they worked together on the theoretical and practical issues of this undertaking and helped Chinese science fiction take giant strides towards the world.

In the future, the Global Chinese Science Fiction Nebula Awards organizing committee will continue to globally promote Chinese science fiction. We will systematically develop and carry out schematized and serialized cooperation at home and abroad. By engaging with all segments of the industry chain from creation, training, criticism, translation to market development, we will establish a platform for the integration of all resources, continue to operate through multiple channels and achieve synergy in communication. We hope to unite all the forces in the world that care, support and love Chinese science fiction, to devote their resources to the global development of Chinese science fiction.

Of course, the task of promoting Chinese science fiction overseas still faces many difficulties and challenges. The state should rely more on non-governmental organizations to gain recognition. Only if we use non-governmental channels, can we get more Chinese interested and involved, and only then can we also subtly enhance the soft power of national culture. More support from non-governmental organizations can only be achieved if they are backed by policy and funding. We can do many things more conveniently and more effectively than the government. However, we will always only be one part of the national cultural prosperity project. It is therefore important to remember that the state is our public platform. We hope to make the World Chinese Nebula Award a platform to reward friends from all over the world for their development efforts in China. We also want to host an annual conference on Chinese science fiction communication, for which we hope to gain the support of the state and the right to hand out awards on behalf of the relevant state departments to organizations and individuals who have promoted Chinese science fiction overseas. Our encouragement will inspire even greater efforts to help China go overseas.


Cultural prosperity leads to national prosperity. Without a high degree of cultural self-confidence and a flourishing culture, there would be no great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Science fiction is an art form that reflects the scientific and technological transformations of its age. Its importance lies in its ability to exalt the creative energies of our nation’s innovations and to help build a strong socialist country. This age has bestowed upon us the important task to tell Chinese science fiction stories to the world and to improve the country’s cultural soft power.

We sincerely hope that more talents will join the Global Chinese Science Fiction Nebula Award Organizing Committee and contribute to the creation, development and promotion of Chinese science fiction’s bright future. We hope more people will advance the revitalization of Chinese science fiction and devote their energies to the strengthening of China’s cultural self-confidence. Thank you!

[1] The transcript of Chen Qiufan’s speech is published on: Dong Renwei 董仁威, “‘Zhongguo Kehuan Zouxiang Shijie Guoji Gaofeng Luntan’ Zai Jing Juxing “中国科幻走向世界国际高峰论坛"在京举行 [The “International Summit Forum on the Internationalization of Chinese Science Fiction“ Took Place in Beijing],” accessed October 7, 2019,

[2] Chen Qiufan (b. 1981) is a science fiction author, who is best known for his novel The Waste Tide (Huangchao 荒潮), which was first published in 2013 and was recently translated into English and German.

[3] This section draws heavily on the political jargon employed in Xi Jinping’s various appeals to writers and journalists to “tell China’s story well” (jianghao Zhongguo gushi 讲好中国故事) and refers to China’s growing efforts to influence public opinion overseas. See for instance: David Bandurski, “The Fable of the Master Storyteller,” China Media Project (blog), September 29, 2017,

[4] Chen refers to the anthology as Weilai xiang, but it was later published as “Touchable Unreality” (Weilai jingxiang 未来镜像). See: Neil Clarke, “Touchable Unreality,” accessed October 9, 2019,

[5] Ken Liu 刘宇昆 (born 1979) is a Chinese-American science fiction author and translator.

[6] Penname of Yamamoto Noriko.

[7] Ye Yonglie (born 1940) and Wu Dingbo (born 1941) are two of the most renowned science fiction writers in China, especially Ye Yonglie’s “Xiao Lingtong travels to future” (Xiao lingtong manyou weilai小灵通漫游未来) has had a great impact on the genre.