What Is Real in Chinese Science Fiction? Toward a Poetics of the Invisibility

Talk by Mingwei Song, Wellesley College

The contemporary new wave of Chinese science fiction began to emerge around the turn of the twenty-first century. This lecture explores the cutting-edge literary experiments that characterize the new wave, which evoke sensations ranging from the uncanny to the sublime, from the corporeal to the virtual, and from the post-human to the transcendent. I will discuss several important science fiction novels and stories such as Han Song’s “The Regenerated Bricks” (2011), Subway (2010) and The Hospital Trilogy (2016-18), Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Trilogy (2006-10) and “Micro-Era” (Liu Cixin, 2001), Chi Hui’s “Rainforest” (2007) and 2030: Terminus (2017), as well as Chen Qiufan’s “Balin” (2015) and The Waste Tide (2013).

The new wave has a dark and subversive side that speaks either to the “invisible” dimensions of the reality, or simply the impossibility of representing a certain “reality” dictated by the mainstream realism. Making the “invisible” visible in scientific and political terms has enabled sf to cut sharply into the popular imagination and intellectual thinking of those who are, even faintly, aware of the alterity. On its most radical side, the new wave of Chinese sf has been thriving on an avant-garde cultural spirit that encourages one to think beyond the conventional ways of perceiving reality and challenge the commonly accepted ideas about what constitutes the “real.”

Mingwei Song is an Associate Professor of Chinese Literature at Wellesley College. His research interests include modern Chinese literature, cinema studies, youth culture, and science fiction. He is the author of numerous books and research articles, including Young China: National Rejuvenation and the Bildungsroman, 1900-1959 (Harvard, 2015), Criticism and Imagination: Collected Literary Critical Essays (Fudan, 2013), and Sorrows of a Floating World: A Biography of Eileen Chang (Taipei, 1995; Shanghai, 1998). He has been researching on Chinese science fiction since 2010. He is the co-editor of The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First Century Chinese Science Fiction (Columbia, 2018), and he has also edited six special journal issues on Chinese science fiction: Renditions (2012); China Perspectives (2015); Chinese Comparative Literature (2015); People’s Literature (2015); Literature (2017); Hong Kong Literature (2019). His academic articles and essays on Chinese science fiction appeared in English and Chinese journals such as Science Fiction Studies, Shanghai Culture, Shanghai Literature, Twenty-First Century, and Dushu. Some of his writings (in English) on Chinese science fiction have been translated into German, French, Italian, and Chinese. He gave talks on Chinese science fiction at Harvard University, University of California at Berkeley, MIT, University of British Columbia, Charles University (Prague), Deutsche Kinemathek (Berlin), University of Sydney, University of Bologna (Italy), Naples University of Oriental Studies (Italy), University of Helsinki (Finland), University of Stockholm, Uppsala University (Sweden), Lund University (Sweden), University of Cambridge, Yale University, and other universities. He organized three conferences on science fiction: “Global Science Fiction” (Wellesley College, 2013); “Science Fiction Workshop (Fudan University, 2016); and “Science Fiction in the Sinophone Literary World” (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, 2018). He served as the jury for numerous major Chinese science fiction awards, and he has been frequently interviewed by newspapers, radio and TV stations from the United States, United Kingdom, China, Australia, and Germany. He is currently completing a monograph Posthuman China: Poetics and Politics of Science Fiction.

Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies

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Published: Thursday, April 25, 2019