Women writers are taking the Chinese science fiction scene by storm, their growing importance even being the one of the most notable trends of the genre, according to participants in the a large convention held at Chengdu, in western China, this week.
Worldcon, the world's oldest and most influential science fiction gathering, is being held in China for the first time, attracting hordes of enthusiastic local fans.
China is still considered a relatively socially conservative country and, under President Xi Jinping, the space for feminism to express itself has further shrunk over the past decade.
A giant robot sculpture on display at the 2023 World Science Fiction Convention in Chengdu on October 20, 2023 in southwest China © AFP – Hector RETAMAL
But in the field of science fiction , the number of women authors has exploded in recent years, said Regina Kanyu Wang, writer and editor nominated for two prestigious Hugo Awards at this year's Worldcon.
More women today realize that “it's not just this style of +nerd+ or +geek+ science fiction that can be published, or that can be considered science fiction”, she highlights.
“Liu Cixin (the author of the famous Three-Body Problem trilogy) is great, we all love him. But there are so many other things besides the Liu Cixin style “, she adds.
Visitors watch a screening during the 2023 World Science Fiction Convention in Chengdu, southwest China on October 21, 2023 © AFP – Hector RETAMAL
The good news is that when women start writing, they don't feel like they're being treated unequally, Ms. Wang observes, emphasizing that the market and readers demand new perspectives.
“Today, many Chinese women science fiction writers are interested in the problems that women face and that men do not necessarily feel,” Zhou Danxue, a literature specialist at Xi University, told AFP. 'an Jiaotong-Liverpool.
“Female writers can use their own methods to reflect unique female feelings.”
– “A new sense of community” –
Over the past two years, four anthologies composed entirely of women or non-binary authors have been published, which constitutes a major step forward.
Visitors to the 2023 World Science Fiction Convention in Chengdu, October 20, 2023 in southwest China © AFP – Hector RETAMAL
Previously, there wasn't even an all-female collection, and before the 1990s, very few women were among the leading authors.
“The Way Spring Arrives”, one of the anthologies co-edited by Ms. Wang, includes an essay showing that the Internet is a breeding ground for the expression of the talents of women and gays.
Its widespread use “has not only brought people a new sense of community, but (…) removed many commercial and societal barriers to authorship, especially for non-male authors,” explains writer Ni Xueting.
A child wears a virtual reality headset during the 2023 World Science Fiction Convention in Chengdu, October 21, 2023, southwest China © AFP – Hector RETAMAL
Chen Qiufan, one of the best-known science fiction authors in China, told AFP that, traditionally, the genre was not taken seriously and was considered “written and read by boys”.
Today you have “a much larger and more diverse audience,” he notes, estimating that the male-female split of his own readers is around 50/50 .
Monet, a 21-year-old visiting Worldcon on Friday, said she sometimes felt isolated within her fan community.
“It's hard to share my interests with people who don't understand. They would wonder why a girl likes science fiction?” she says.
Visitors attend a water and light show during the 2023 World Science Fiction Convention in Chengdu, October 21, 2023, in southwest China © AFP – Hector RETAMAL
She nevertheless remains optimistic and considers that these attitudes could change, evoking the schoolchildren who enthusiastically walked around the area.
“(Interest in) Chinese science fiction must be cultivated from childhood,” according to her.
“I don't think we had this kind of opportunity when we were young… I really envy them, to be honest.”
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