Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Science Fiction’s Disaster Dystopias

By Joel Kotkin, Quillette

In Ma Jian’s new novel, the protagonist, Ma Daode, may be a corrupt, womanizing local official, but he is a corrupt, womanizing local official with a mission. His goal is to develop a drug that will allow President Xi Jinping’s vision of a glorious Chinese future to dominate not only citizens’ daily lives but their sleeping hours as well. This is his utopian quest. The China dream, Ma Daode suggests, “is not the selfish, individualist dream chased by Western countries. It is a dream of a people, a dream of the entire nation, united as one and gathered together into an invincible force.” This mindless worship of hierarchy and control permeates his thinking.

China Dream was published in 2018, three years before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, and it provides insights into the Middle Kingdom that are becoming harder to find as control of local media tightens. It is a product of the “golden age” of Chinese science fiction, notes the New Scientist, that has been able to transcend the controls increasingly imposed on most non-fiction writing and public discussion. Author Liu Cixin has argued that, unlike the earliest days of the genre during the last days of the Qing dynasty, Chinese science fiction no longer fits a science-based optimism underlying the Communist vision. Such views, he observes, have “almost completely vanished.”

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