Jessica Imbach is a post-doc and lecturer at the University of Zurich. Her research project is situated at the intersection of Chinese Studies and the Environmental Humanities and explores Chinese science fiction, internet literature, A.I. culture, and related discourses of Chinese futurology within the context of the Chinese state’s vision of “ecological civilization” as well as the environmental crisis narratives of the Anthropocene.
Chinese Science Fiction in the Anthropocene
Liu Cixin’s win of the Hugo Award in 2015 signaled by the account of most domestic critics and Western media outlets, not only the arrival of Chinese science fiction on the world stage, but also epitomized China’s emergence as a new center of technological modernity over the last decade. However, the grand narrative of a “Chinese future” has surfaced alongside another planetary narrative, the new geological epoch of Anthropocene, in which humanity’s impact on Earth has become both stratigraphically significant as well as irreversible. It is against the horizon of these two global perspectives that this study attempts to locate the rise of Chinese science fiction, which acts both as a register of futurological thinking in the Anthropocene as well as a global vehicle of Chinese futurism. In addition, this study also probes into the cultural dynamics of the increasingly transnational and future-oriented agenda of the Xi Jinping administration in relation to the politics of cultural difference. The Chinese state’s vision of “ecological civilization” (shengtai wenming 生态文明), for instance, has in recent years become increasingly framed as green China’s struggle to overcome the black and polluting culture of the West.
Taking science fiction by Liu Cixin, Han Song, and Hao Jingfang, among others, as its point of departure, this study interrogates the historical, aesthetic, and political underpinnings of Chinese futurology from both local and global perspectives. As a state promoted sector of the Chinese creative industries, science fiction reflects the symbolic and economic importance of science and technology to China’s growth and self-image. But as a dynamically developing protocol of literary production and cultural expression, science fiction also foregrounds the social agency of technology within the Chinese cultural sphere.