Science fiction gains traction as demand for quality works grows
By Tang Yuankai  ·  2020-12-08  ·   Source: NO.50 DECEMBER 10, 2020


Visitors take in the displays at an exhibition during the China Science Fiction Convention 2020 in Beijing on November 11(XINHUA) 

Fortunately, November 1 was not a working day, meaning Yu Meng'en could attend the China Science Fiction Convention 2020 on its opening date. The convention, featuring both online and offline events, took place in Beijing. 

"As a super fan, how could I not be one of the first to get here?" she said. In the eyes of Yu, a government employee, it has not been the easiest of feats for China's science fiction industry to have made it this far.
A booming industry
In 2019, China's total box office for science fiction films came to more than 19.5 billion yuan ($2.94 billion), according to a report on China's science fiction industry released at the convention. This achievement could not have been made without the support of fans like Yu, who claimed she "grew up with science fiction products."
In 2012, Yu rushed from Beijing to Shanghai, where the colorized version of the 1902 film A Trip to the Moon, sometimes described as the first science fiction film, was screening. She waited outside the cinema until she finally managed to get her hands on a ticket.
And the convention did not disappoint either. At an exhibition, she saw the 1:1 replica of the DeLorean DMC-12 vehicle as featured in the original movie Back to the Future, the first science fiction film she watched.
Going back to 1999, when Yu was a sophomore at senior high school, the topic of the Chinese composition test in that year's college entrance examination was If Memory Could Be Transplanted. This topic dramatically raised the profile of imagination and science fiction across Chinese society. After that, Yu was able to read science fiction magazines as study material.
The convention has been held for five continuous years since 2016, one year after Chinese author Liu Cixin became the first Asian to win the Hugo Award, the most prestigious award in the science fiction genre. His work The Three-Body Problem received the Best Novel accolade. In the past five years, China's science fiction industry has experienced a boom, along with more and more outstanding Chinese science fiction writers and works gaining international recognition.
Wu Yan, a science fiction scholar and professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology, who released the report at the opening ceremony of the convention, said that as a burgeoning industry, science fiction has evolved to meet the needs of the market.
Various forms of science fiction have sprung up in China, including digital and audio books, video games, and other related products, with a substantial value of output, due to rising demand from consumers.
The report also said China's science fiction industry has maintained high-speed development, with its output value in 2019 reaching 65.87 billion yuan ($10 billion), up by 44.3 percent compared with 2018. Along with the soaring interest in science fiction films, their related products have created a large market, the report said.
A forum at the China Science Fiction Convention 2020 in Beijing on November 11(XINHUA)
Guidelines for development
Science fiction films are usually termed as a combination of film art, technology, and business, as well as a criterion for a country's film-making industry.
In order to boost their development, a document outlining policy measures was released in July by the China Film Administration and the China Association for Science and Technology, an organization of Chinese scientists and engineers.
The document encourages originality, the integration of science fiction literature, animation, games and other resources, and innovation to diversify the themes of science fiction film.
A shortage in funds has always been a tricky problem due to the niche's high production cost. The document provides a financing package. It calls on film companies to settle into cultural industrial complexes, where they will enjoy favorable policies such as a reduction in rent. Financial institutions are encouraged to develop loan products catering to the film-making industry.
"The shortage of talent is the most difficult part for the science fiction industry at this moment," said Ji Shaoting, founder of a science fiction company. Her business is focusing on exploring and training science fiction talent through a writing course. Liu and other eminent writers have signed up with her company to act as mentors.
In regard to this problem, the document encourages colleges and universities to strengthen the training of aspiring science fiction filmmakers. It also suggests carrying on science education by recommending exceptional science fiction films to primary and middle school students.
"The document would chart the course for China's science fiction industry with policy support," said Han Song, the author of science fiction novel 2066: Red Star Over America, which is set in a world where China is the only superpower and the U.S. is falling into decline. However, the industry itself should also put in more efforts, he added.
Moreover, the document proposes a dedicated office for developing science fiction films and a platform for exchanges among players in the industry. Both were established during the convention.
The best of times
Wu said China's science fiction is now at the best of times, compared to the old days when the genre was deemed inferior.
An old story is that Liu was once part of a delegation organized by the Shanxi Writers Association to visit abroad. He was told not to let others know that he was a science fiction writer. Many Chinese authors wrote popular science fiction in the 1980s. "However, their voices were marginalized," Wu recalled.
In 1999, when Wu taught at the Beijing Normal University, he launched a course on science fiction. It was the first time such a course came into a comprehensive university in China. He later set up a master's degree program in 2003 and a PhD program in 2015. In 2017, Wu went to work at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, where he founded a research center for science and human imagination to focus more on his study. All his actions pioneered toward popularizing science fiction in China.
This year, Wu launched an online live-streaming course to introduce classic science fiction works on pandemics, showcasing the amazing imagination of science fiction writers. This course had some 10 million students tuning in.
In addition, a novel written by novelist Bi Shumin also aroused public attention during the novel coronavirus epidemic. Staged during a battle of a Chinese city fighting coronavirus, her 2012 novel Coronavirus is a prophecy for the year 2020.
With the efforts to popularize the science fiction genre, pushed forward by the outstanding works from an assembly of writers, it is obvious that science fiction has now jumped out of its small pond into the wider, public sea.
"Science fiction is the weathervane of a country's development," Liu said. China's future might be filled with challenges, which meanwhile might provide science fiction with ample authentic subject matter and endless imagination. He added, "China's science fiction, along with the country's development, is entering its golden age." 
(Print Edition Title:  A Golden Age)  
Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon
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