Science Fiction Studies

#119 = Volume 40, Part 1 = March 2013

SPECIAL ISSUE ON CHINESE SCIENCE FICTION (Edited by Yan Wu and Veronica Hollinger)

Nathaniel Isaacson

Science Fiction for the Nation: Tales of the Moon Colony and the Birth of Modern Chinese Fiction

Introduction. Published serially in the fiction monthly Xiuxiang Xiaoshuo [Illustrated Fiction] between 1904 and 1905, Yueqiu zhimindi xiaoshuo [Tales of the Moon Colony] by Huangjiang Diasou (dates unknown) is recognized as China’s first native work of science fiction. Through a close reading of this uncompleted novel, my paper examines the anxieties associated with utopianism, nationalism, and occidentalism that revealed themselves in early Chinese sf. While the textdepicts a world in which Asian scientists and explorers successfully vie with their European counterparts for hegemony over their mutual Southeast Asian “others,” the novel ultimately foretells a universal order marked by concentric circles of colonial domination—Asia over Southeast Asia, Europe over Asia, the Moon over planet Earth, outer planets over the Moon, and so on. Colonial incursion and technological superiority justify violence visited upon terrestrial “others” and there will always be other extraterrestrial groups who can use their own superior civilization as justification for similar domination. The novel also prefigures some of the tropes of canonical Chinese fiction, particularly the highly influential author Lu Xun’s (1881-1936) metaphorical references to China as the “sick man of Asia” and to Chinese society as cannibalistic. Although sf, along with most other genres, suffered a steep decline in publication due to the national turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s, and while publication and popularity of sf fluctuated throughout the twentieth century, the central tropes of this early work continue to resonate in Chinese sf in particular and throughout the modern literary canon. While the genre lost ground, its thematic concerns and imagery have remained central to modern Chinese literature. Advocates of science fiction in early twentieth-century China sought to adopt the sf genre as an instrument of national strengthening, scientific popularization, and political revitalization.

In late Qing China (1644-1911), the problem of social Darwinism was apprehended not as a theoretical conundrum but as a very real threat to the continued existence of the nation-state. The dialectic opposition of the West as modern, scientific, and civilized and the East as traditional, unscientific, and uncivilized gave rise to a world in which the “Orient” became the target of western conquest. In producing knowledge about the East, the European imperial project had a profound impact on the material and intellectual history of early twentieth-century Asia. Because Asia is literally created by this encounter, Occidentalism—a reversal of colonial and imperial discourse in which the Orient produces knowledge about the Occident—becomes unattainable. In response to Edward Said’s contention that “the answer to Orientalism is not Occidentalism” (“Orientalism” 328), it might also be observed that in many cases in late Qing fiction, Occidentalism was impossible to achieve. Tales of the Moon Colony represents one instance of this conundrum.

I present a brief history of the emergence of sf in China in the context of European colonial incursion and the culturally and intellectually hybridized spaces that such incursion created. Exploring the relationship between turn-of-the-twentieth-century Chinese understanding of the relationship between social Darwinism and the novel, my reading of Lu Xun’s introduction to his 1903 translation of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon and my close reading of Tales of the Moon Colony offers a brief explanation of the social conditions that marked the introduction of science and of fictional works that contemplated the role of science to China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. I relate the emergence of sf to the European colonial project, which in China problematized the adoption of sf as a tool of national salvation. In Huangjiang Diaosou’s Tales of the Moon Colony,simultaneous confrontations between China and Europe and between China and its own past suggest a conflict far more complex than the dialectical opposition of Occident and Orient. This conflict is explicitly stated in the characters’ discussion of colonial logic, and in Chinese authors’ own critique of the perceived backwardness of Chinese culture and literature. It also appears in the shift to the Gregorian calendar and in the recognition of deep time in the discourse of social Darwinism. Chinese sf in this era is marked by a profound anxiety regarding imperialism and colonial expansion. Seen only as “others” by Western science fiction, Chinese authors sought to overturn orientalist discourse, but a simple reversal of Orientalism—Occidentalism—did not emerge as a counter-discourse.

Science Fiction in Late Qing China. The Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860) and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) had left the most economically, socially, and politically important regions of China subject to “semi-colonial” foreign rule. As the last remnants of political legitimacy slipped from the hands of the fiscally and militarily benighted Qing government, a crisis of political and epistemological consciousness took even stronger hold. Unable to repel foreign incursion, Confucianism, the examination system, traditional Chinese theories of political and social organization, and the very understanding of the world order and China’s position in it were shaken to the core. After the Sino-Japanese War, as Kwok notes, “for the first time, the Chinese framework of spiritual reference seemed to many intellectuals to be inadequate and incongruous with the modern temper. The weakening of confidence in the intellectual authority of the past was accompanied by the desire to capture the Western spirit of science, which had made possible the advances in the West’s material strength” (6).

A series of domestic and international crises led intellectuals to conclude that devotion to the study of western science would be a critical element in China’s fate (Reardon-Anderson 9). The long-term repercussions of such domestic crises as the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1871) were compounded by political strife following the Japanese victory of 1895, the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901), and the ensuing indemnity to which China was compelled to accede. The introduction of western science, especially of Darwinian theories of evolution, challenged not only Chinese conceptions of time and China’s place in the world but also the Chinese conceptual frameworks of cosmology and nature (Furth 16).1

Yan Fu’s (1854-1921) translation of Thomas Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics (1893; trans. 1898) brought Darwinian thinking to China in a form that had already undergone profound transformations. The translator’s own misunderstandings and the context of colonial encroachment resulted in a misapprehension of the implications of evolution. What was originally intended to be a critique of the tenets of social Darwinism came to be understood as a statement of its harsh realities. Under the shadow of colonial rule, a tangential offshoot of the main body of evolutionary thinking was emphasized as its most important aspect. This is reflected in the writings of late Qing intellectuals such as Yan Fu and Kang Youwei (1858-1927), by whom the concept of evolution is most often framed in terms of survival of the fittest and the prospect of racial extinction (Pusey 54-57). In short, and framed in the language of social Darwinism, the importation of science and science fiction appeared to many Chinese intellectuals to be a matter of national survival.2       

It is an anomaly of the emergence of science fiction in China that while the genre associated its origins with the translations of western imports, “science fiction” (kexue xiaoshuo) began to appear regularly in China as a generic category associated with specific stories before it did so in the English-language press (circa 1904). Like most generic labels, the term was not so much a taxonomically-derived category as it was a marketing convenience for the budding urban publishing industry, and there was considerable overlap between sf and other genres, especially fantasy and future utopia. Nevertheless, it can be argued that “science fiction” was a concrete publishing category in China before it was in the West.

The term itself is a combination of two neologisms imported from Japan: kexue (Jp. Kagaku), which replaced “investigation of things and extension of knowledge” (gezhi)as the Chinese equivalent of science as approaches to knowledge of the material world began to shift from neo-Confucian positivism to the methods of categorical and experimental verification, and xiaoshuo (fiction), which was in the process of shifting from its traditional role as literary marginalia, on the way to superseding poetry as the primary written mode of social and political critique.3 Thus the Chinese translation of “science fiction,” kexue xiaoshuo, recapitulates two of the major transformations in twentieth-century Chinese intellectual history—the introduction of western science and the growing importance of the novel. Science fiction as a literary category emerged in China as a product of what Tani Barlow has identified as “colonial modernity”; it is the offspring of the transnational traffic of ideas, cultural trends, and material culture spawned by European colonial expansion and its encounter with the late Imperial Chinese cultural sphere.

Within the broad category of xiaoshuo, a veritable explosion of generic designations emerged during the late Qing period, all promoting the cause of popular education and national renewal. In an article published in Xinmin congbao [New Citizen], Liang Qichao (1873-1929) listed ten generic categories of novel/fiction: “historical” (lishi xiaoshuo), “governmental” (zhengzhi xiaoshuo), “philosophic-scientific” (zheli kexue xiaoshuo), “military” (junshi xiaoshuo), “adventure” (maoyan xiaoshuo), “mystery” (zhentan xiaoshuo), “romance” (xieqing xiaoshuo), “stories of the strange” (yuguai xiaoshuo), “diaries” (zhaji xiaoshuo), and “tales of the marvelous” (chuanqi xiaoshuo) (Wu Xianya 43).4 In publication, other generic categories attached to titles in the contents of serial fiction such as the All Story Monthly listed “nihilist” (xuwu xiaoshuo), “utopian” (lixiang xiaoshuo), “philosophical social” (shehui xiaoshuo), “national” (guomin xiaoshuo), “comical” (huaji xiaoshuo), and “short stories” (duanpian xiaoshuo). The texts themselves are best defined as polygeneric, rarely fitting neatly into any of the above categories. Kexue xiaoshuo was one genre among many whose narrative features and themes are regularly associated with science fiction and all these genres were concerned with China’s fate. Science fiction was one genre among many through which to imagine China’s national salvation.

For a number of late Qing intellectuals, the vernacular novel was a new form that incorporated a wide variety of new ideas and narrative techniques, one that could reach a broader audience and make that audience aware of the severity of the crisis that China faced (Huters Bringing, 100-120). This may be explained in part as a result of the wide range of issues that authors sought to address in their work. Characters travel both domestically and abroad, encounter natural, supernatural, and technological anomalies, have extended dialogues on political thought (that more closely resemble manifestos than fiction), meet great philosophers of eastern and western traditions, and often participate in any of the above activities in a dream. Fiction monthlies often included extended treatises on the history of civilization or the rise of the western world. Many of these works were loose translations of unattributed western and Japanese works. The generic and epistemological pluralism of late Qing fiction reflects the social and cultural hybridity of China’s burgeoning urban, semi-colonial centers, and of the multitudinous problems and solutions that late Qing intellectuals addressed in their writings.

In China, the term kexue xiaoshuo was first used to describe a work of fiction in the table of contents of Liang Qichao’s Chinese-language magazine, Xin xiaoshuo (New Fiction), which began publication in Japan in November 1902. “Science fiction” appeared alongside the term zheli xiaoshuo (philosophical fiction). Other magazines soon followed suit in their use of kexue xiaoshuo as a generic category; the term appeared next to titles in the contents and on the first pages of stories in popular serial-fiction magazines. Beyond such  broad generalizations, it is as hard to define sf in late Qing China as it is in any other case. Works labeled kexue xiaoshuo at first included translations and creative adaptations of English works, often based on Japanese translations or original texts such as Jules Verne’s adventure stories or Camille Flammarion’s La Fin du monde (1893). The earliest original Chinese works in this category often imagined a China one hundred years hence or in an alternate historical trajectory, at the center of the world economy and playing host to events such as the World’s Fair. These works often blend the heroic invention of the Edisonade with elements of classical Chinese fiction—the wonders of modern science and China’s own fantastic tradition appear in tandem to dramatize the crisis of modernization. Interestingly, these works are also often marked by a narrative breakdown—the imagination of China as a world power becomes unsustainable. Many of these stories, written for serial publication, never reach a conclusion and, among those that do, the conclusion often involves a descent into chaos before the main character wakens from a dream to discover that he is still living in semi-colonial China of the twentieth century.

At the same time, authors such as Lu Xun expressed profound doubts about the potential of such efforts. While the novel in general, and romantic genres in particular, were understood to be endowed with the potential to revitalize the nation-state, whether these aims could be achieved was much less certain, in part because of the relationship between these genres and the imperialist discourses that they sought to overturn. To borrow a phrase from militarist philosopher Tan Daoji (d. 436), late Qing intellectuals sought to “murder the enemy with a borrowed knife.” Chinese writers were cognizant of the relationship between narrative and the will to empire. What remained a matter of question was whether the edge of the discursive knife of empire could be turned back upon its wielder.

Science Fiction and Empire. A growing subset of sf studies explores the relationship between science fiction and orientalism. As Edward Said argues in Culture and Imperialism (1993),empire is as dependent on the intellectual rationalization that sustains its mission as it is upon the military force necessary to carry out the act of physical conquest. The justifications for going to war and for continued occupation are framed in terms of enlightenment, emancipation, and benevolent paternalism, and the ongoing justification for “staying the course” is as protracted as the actual moment of conquest itself: “Empire is formed not on the basis of force itself, but on the capacity to present force as being in the service of right and peace” (Hardt and Negri 15). In other words, the discourse through which Empire is promoted, justified, and historicized as morally and ethically imperative is the whetstone that hones its own blades.  

Recent studies by Istvan Csiscery-Ronay, Jr., Patricia Kerslake, and John Rieder have begun to elucidate the relationships between sf and imperial discourse. Science fiction is one of the many genres that paved the way for empire by creating the conditions for its popular imagination. The wish-fulfillment narratives of science and adventure fiction served as primers teaching young men of ambition how they might contribute to and take part in the spoils of conquest. Csicsery-Ronay has suggested that three critical factors converged in the emergence of sf: “The technological expansion that drove real imperialism, the need felt by national audiences for literary-cultural mediation as their societies were transformed from historical nations into hegemons, and the fantastic model of achieved technoscientific Empire” (“Science Fiction and Empire” 231).

These three factors reiterate Said’s vision of the novel writ large as a literary form functionally tied to the comprehension of expanding networks of global trade and domination spurred on and enabled by industrial production. Csicsery-Ronay goes on to argue that this is reflected in the production of science fiction by nations that have undertaken expansion beyond their own borders in imperial projects, including Britain, France, Germany, the former Soviet Union, Japan, and the United States. The same social and material conditions that spawned sf in Europe transformed late-nineteenth-century China from an empire at the center of a vast network of Asian trade and tribute and a player in the global silver trade to a semi-colonial outpost at the margins of the western world.5 A technology gap threatened to undo the late Qing empire, and audiences sought literary interventions in the crisis that threatened to transform an Asian superpower into a crumbling backwater. Meanwhile, the fantasy of transcendence through technoscientific empire was anathema to the Confucian dream of a return to the antediluvian utopia of the past.

In Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction, Rieder also focuses on the material conditions that led to the emergence of both the genre and its readership. In the vein of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, Rieder’s study notes that the emergence of the reading public was enabled by the material conditions of the industrial revolution: “the early science fiction reading audience—middle class, educated, and provided with leisure—seems to be one well placed to put into action the consumerism at the heart of modern mass culture” (28). The same transformations—rapid growth of industry, the emergence of a consumer class, and the emergence of mass media—also characterized the urbanization of late-nineteenth-century China. Early Chinese sf demonstrates the tension between its desire to imagine China’s own enjoyment of colonial spoils and its worry about the potential for becoming the colonial spoils of another nation-state.

Finally, Rieder adds that the economic boom of the 1850s-1870s, which was followed by an economic downturn, established capitalism as the dominant global economic system. The never-ending cycle of production and consumption resulted in “the imperial competition that gave birth to the first modern arms race” (28). Science fiction is thus situated at the nexus of the three “masses” of modernity—mass production, mass consumption, and mass annihilation. While mass production and mass consumption are productive of the media and its audience, sf’s message is deeply implicated in the anxieties of mass annihilation and imperialism. For Chinese authors, these anxieties were not easily remedied and their narratives portray China as highly problematic and suggest no simple reversal of orientalist discourse.

The work of Said, Kerslake, Csiscery-Ronay, and Rieder encourages a deeper understanding of Orientalism from the other side of the looking glass, examining how Chinese authors grappled with the question of whether they themselves could break free from the fetters of empire, and what the content of such alternative iterations of nationhood and global politics might be. This existential crisis evinced many of the traits of double consciousness described by Frantz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth [1968] and Black Skin White Masks [1952]) and by W.E.B. DuBois (The Souls of Black Folk [1965]), causing authors and intellectuals to see themselves from the perspectives of both oppressed and oppressor, to desire an end of imperial expansion and in the same moment to seek to reclaim and reinvigorate China’s own imperial mission. Chinese authors were conscious of the contradictions and pitfalls inherent in the use of an imperialist genre in the effort to overturn such discourse. As is the case with many western works of science fiction that critique empire, it can be argued that even those authors whose work was highly critical of the world-system of empire were unable to envision its absence.  

Science Fiction and Lu Xun. Lu Xun was positioned within three worlds—the world of classical education for the imperial examination system, the world of medicine, and the world of the modern vernacular novel. He is ensconced in canonical literary historiography as the father of modern Chinese literature and serves as a point of departure both for understanding attitudes toward science in early twentieth-century China, and for understanding the form and function of science fiction. He is emblematic of an emerging, more complex view of the evolution of written Chinese vernacular, and representative of the concerns central to modern Chinese literature. The written vernacular language that supposedly emerged from the forehead of Lu Xun fully formed in “Diary of a Madman” (1918) actually came into popular usage through an arduous process of translation, experimentation, and education that spanned the three or four decades before the publication of this text. Between the 1880s and 1920s, one can see a period of grappling with the role of tradition in the modern world and experimentation with the appropriate language through which to express these ideas. Science fiction was one of many generic forums in which author-intellectuals in China struggled with these changes.

Science fiction was one of the genres in which the central tropes of modern Chinese literature had already begun to take shape prior to their expression in Lu Xun’s influential works. Many of the doubts characteristic of the crisis of figuration that emerged in Lu Xun’s more widely read short stories also appear in the preface to his 1903 translation of Jules Verne’s De la Terre à la lune [From the Earth to the Moon, 1865], whose Chinese title is “Yuejie luxing bianyan.” Lu Xun’s optimism about the translation of science fiction was tempered by his apparent lack of faith in his readers’ interest in science. In the preface he writes:

More often than not, ordinary people feel bored at the tedious statements of science. Readers will doze over such works before they can finish reading. It is simply inevitable because these readers are pressed to read. Only by resorting to fictional presentation and dressing scientific ideas up in literary clothing can works of science avoid their tediousness while retaining rational analyses and profound theories…. As far as Chinese fiction is concerned … science fiction is as rare as unicorn horns, demonstrating in a way the intellectual poverty of our time. In order to fill the gap in translation circles and encourage the Chinese people to make concerted efforts, it is imperative to start with science fiction. (Wu Dingbo xiii)

This is an aspect of Lu Xun that has previously escaped serious academic attention. This preface demonstrates that for a certain period of time the author saw science fiction as playing a critical role in the popularization of scientific knowledge and the quest for national strength. Science fiction in China emerged first in translation, but rather than seeing the genre in particular or fiction in general as marginal pursuits, they were understood as vehicles for national modernization.

Turning from generic and thematic concerns to language itself, we also see in this work part of the intense labor that the creation of a new written language entailed. Lu Xun’s preface to the Verne translation offers one of the clearest indications that the shift from the classical language to the modern vernacular (baihua/suyu) was not the natural and instantaneous rupture that has been portrayed in the socialist literary historiography. He laments that he had intended to write in a more vernacular register, but that this language was simply not adequate to express the ideas that his translations sought to communicate. Lu Xun and his classically-trained counterparts were better equipped with the two-thousand-year-old language of literary Chinese to convey the complexities of industrial and scientific modernity than by the emerging vernacular style. In the introduction to his translation of Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, he confesses that:

At first I had intended to use only the vernacular language in order to reduce the burden upon my readers, but exclusive use of the vernacular proved to be both troublesome and superfluous. Because of this, I have also made use of classical language in order to save paper. (Lu Xun quanji 10.151)

A radical break with the past, especially one expressed as the adoption of a new linguistic register, proved to be quite tricky. Lu Xun’s own misgivings about the ability of vernacular language to convey the complexities of scientific knowledge in a concise manner are only compounded by the fact that many contemporary readers would have been hard pressed to understand the linguistic register of this introduction, as well as the linguistic register of his later short stories, as belonging to the vernacular. China’s linguistic and cultural break with the past was by no means instantaneous. Lu Xun’s own words parallel the observations of recent scholarship on the Commercial Press (Shangwu yinshu guan): it was easier to read and write in the vernacular language (baihua) if one had been educated in this form. For the majority of turn-of-the-twentieth-century intellectuals, who had been educated in the context of the imperial examination system on a steady diet of classical poetry, the Confucian Analects, and classical exegesis, even Darwin and Lamarck were more easily explained through recourse to writing in classical Chinese.6

Lu Xun’s preface also marvels at the idea of human mastery over nature, noting that the world has been made smaller by speedy transportation. His vision, however, is recognizably pessimistic even in this early piece, for he also notes that the expansion of western civilization to the moon can only result in colonial rivalry and warfare. Arguably, the ambivalence of this preface can be read as pointing to his highly influential “iron house” metaphor, in which he describes the Chinese people as the slumbering and benighted inhabitants of a sealed iron chamber, “with no windows or doors, a room it would be nearly impossible to break out of.” In the highly influential preface to his short story collection, Nahan [A Call to Arms, 1922], he writes:

[L]et’s say that you came along and stirred up a big racket that awakened some of the lighter sleepers. In that case, they would go to a certain death fully conscious of what was going to happen to them. Would you say that you had done those people a favor? (“Diary” 27)

This preface, written in 1922, is foreshadowed in Lu Xun’s work of two decades prior, and is less a theme invented by the author personally than one prevalent throughout early-twentieth-century Chinese letters. In this earlier work, a nascent version of a common sentiment of modern and postmodern Chinese literature is already taking shape: profound doubt about the potential to transcend the social ills that were the target of the May Fourth movement in 1919. This pessimism extended both to misgivings about the potential for social reform in general and about the power of fiction to achieve these aims.7 In my analysis of Tales of the Moon Colony below, I demonstrate how Lu Xun’s highly influential figuration of China’s cultural ills using the tropes of disease, cannibalism, and the iron-house enclosure were already present in the world of late Qing fiction.

Whose Colony Is It Anyway? Published serially between March 1904 and November 1905 in the fiction monthly Xiuxiang Xiaoshuo, Tales of the Moon Colony is China’s first native work of science fiction.8 The incomplete novel is loosely centered around the character Long Menghua (literally “The Dragon [who] dreams of China”). (I say loosely because Menghua spends most of the narrative in an infirmary recovering from a series of illnesses.) The plot presents a series of encounters that result from the ongoing search for Long Menghua’s missing wife and son conducted by Tamatarō and the other fugitives aboard his hot-air balloon. Having killed a man to avenge his father, Menghua flees to Southeast Asia. En route, his ship is wrecked in a storm and he becomes separated from his wife. He is saved and brought to the town of Sungai Buloh in Malaysia, where he meets a number of other Chinese refugees and befriends a Japanese man named Fujita Tamatarō. The group climb aboard Tamatarō’s hot air balloon and set off to find Long Menghua’s wife, whom they later learn has been rescued by an Englishman named Masuya.

Menghua is one of many people in the story who have been forced to flee China as a result of persecution and various miscarriages of justice. Tamatarō has built a hot-air balloon in which the two travel around the globe in search of territory for future colonization. Menghua spends much of the novel in the grip of self-recrimination, self-pity, and melancholia and is often asleep or drunk, while Tamatarō is scientific, rational, and quite effective in his encounters with the outside world. Tso-Wei Hsieh identifies Tamatarō as a rational and active foil to Long Menghua, who represents Chinese sentimentality and confusion (197-98). While in New York, Long Menghua is arrested for not carrying a passport and thrown in jail. While the story imagines pan-Asian technological superiority in the form of Tamatarō’s hot-air balloon, Menghua’s global citizenship is at best second class. The international shame of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which effectively banned Chinese immigration to the US for more than twenty years, is compounded by domestic corruption in the form of an ambassador who is out carousing with prostitutes when Menghua’s friends seek his aid. The strongest Chinese characters in the novel are the women: both Menghua’s and Tamatarō’s wives are literate, do not have bound feet, and dress in western clothing. Tamatarō’s wife, Pu Yuhuan, has invented a light-emitting coat that she wears when accompanying the other characters on their adventures, and she often serves as a translator.

Tamatarō’s own personal efficacy is expressed most clearly in his miraculous and well-equipped hot-air balloon, which is outfitted with an array of modern amenities including an exercise room, bedrooms, a dining room, a hospital, and a conference hall. In a reversal of Europe’s technological superiority, Tamatarō even informs his companions that the English are trying to copy his invention. The marriage between Tamatarō and Pu Yuhuan and the alliance between Tamatarō and the Chinese exiles elides a much more complex relationship and an open wound in Chinese history that is rarely directly addressed in the narrative. Menghua’s detention in New York makes clear that there are differences in the international rights enjoyed by Chinese and Japanese citizens, and the corrupt and ineffective Chinese embassy’s failure to come to Menghua’s aid reveals this to be a sign of systemic dysfunction. Tamatarō hatches a plan to break Menghua out of jail, the first of a series of rescues he is compelled to perform. Tamatarō’s heroic role hints at the paradoxical reality that although Japan had begun to move down a path toward regional hegemony, Japan was the nearest neighbor able to offer scientific training and expertise and China’s strongest proponents for industrial modernity and governmental reform were exiles in Japan.

Tales of the Moon Colony combines elements of the travel narrative and the imperial encounter with the other characteristic of science fiction. The balloon serves both as a techno-utopian enclave and as a vehicle for visiting a series of allegorical sites where the boundaries between civilization and barbarity are explored. The characters travel to Southeast Asia, Britain, America, Transvaal (modern day South Africa), India, and a series of imaginary islands. Eventually, they find Long Menghua’s wife, but the story ends before Tamatarō can successfully manufacture a balloon capable of going to the moon. Although communication with the  inhabitants of the moon (among them Confucius and George Washington) only takes place indirectly or in dreams, Tamatarō indicates that he plans to model a new hot-air balloon on those used by the moon people.

Rieder argues that colonial expansion and the establishment of global capitalism were driving forces in the emergence of sf, and that the discourse of modernity naturalized the difference between center and periphery as a result of different stages of national development. This social-Darwinian science fiction posited the West and modernity as the future, identifying the periphery with the past. This in turn led to the false identification of asymmetric colonial power structures as the outcome of an inevitable historical process. Early sf played a key role in affirming the dialectical opposition of metropole to colony, progress to backwardness, and civilization to barbarity. Rieder goes on to posit, however, that some early sf worked in opposition to such ethnocentric misprisions (26). In the case of Tales of the Moon Colony,this discourse becomes fraught with ambivalence; it is torn between affirming the superiority of pan-Asian civilization represented by Tamatarō and his balloon and re-affirming the weakness of the East and Southeast Asian metropole through the sickly Long Menghua and the benighted islands that the explorers visit.

The dystopian islands in the Indian Ocean are inhabited by natives whose allegorical relationship to China is at times so transparent that one would hesitate to call them allegories at all. These exploratory visits also see the travelers offering their audience a chance at what Rieder refers to as the “vicarious enjoyment of colonial spoils, as attested to in Victorian England by the popularity of travel accounts and adventure stories” (27). They take golden tables from troglodyte tribes who bind their women’s hands and feet, collect jadeite stones, identify new species, and kill giant pythons. When they descend from the heavens, the tribal chieftain of another island takes them to be gods.

Many of these islands are vignettes of Chinese intellectual and social life. The practice of foot-binding is a particular concern. On the island of Yulinguo, the women’s hands are bound so that “their arms resembled stalks of threshed grain, and their fingers a clutch of orchids; they were considered to be the great beauties of this country” (Huangjiang Diaosou94). On the Isle of Le’erlaifu, the inhabitants are descendants of the Chinese who have become “pedantic scholars,” having confined their scholarly outlook to the Song Neo-Confucian commentaries of the brothers Cheng Yi (1033-1107) and Cheng Hao (1032-1085), and of Zhu Xi (1130-1200).9 The inhabitants of Le’erlaifu fled Taiwan at the fall of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and eventually wiped out the original indigenous population. The island is described as resembling an iron barrel, impenetrable on all sides so that “not even birds could fly over it” (92). The island distills late Qing intellectual life into a geographic prison from which there is no escape and into which no new ideas will penetrate. Huangjiang Diaosou’s image of Chinese civilization as an iron barrel is uncannily similar to Lu Xun’s depiction of China’s citizens as sleepers in an “iron house without windows or doors, utterly indestructible, and full of sound sleepers about to suffocate to death” (Lyell 27). Far from being marginal, the themes at the heart of early Chinese science fiction parallel many of the core themes of other modern Chinese literature.

Tales of the Moon Colony is also in dialogue with a number of familiar tropes of the modern Chinese canon, including the association between the health of the human body and that of the body-politic. Long Menghua is sickly and subject to erratic emotional states, regularly succumbing to a series of illnesses from which he must be resuscitated by a variety of doctors. Like Lu Xun, the doctors in the story often conclude that Long’s problems are caused by Chinese literature and civilization. Dr. Ha Lao, armed with an X-ray lens (touguang jing), determines that Menghua’s heart is only functioning at seventy-percent capacity, his liver looks like a sponge gourd, and his lungs are withered. After some debate about whether the bungling fraud—whose name, Jia Xiyi, is a homophone for “Fake Western Doctor”—can be of any help at all, they go to the ship’s infirmary and Ha Lao uses a series of elixirs to cure Menghua; he even closes his chest up using a special medicinal liquid rather than stitches. In the post-operational debriefing, Ha Lao informs the group:

I believe your heart has been misused since your youth. I’ve heard someone say China has a writing style called the eight-legged essay (bagu). After managing to finish writing one of these your heart will slowly shrink and all sorts of bitter and astringent substances will begin to collect in your ventricles. Your gallbladder will also be many times smaller than a normal person’s.... [T]he first symptom is delirium, and ends in terror-stricken nervousness.... In my humble opinion, you had better stop writing bagu. (66)

 In what is recognized as the very first native work of Chinese sf, the metaphor of cultural and national health is presented in bodily terms. Though this metaphor is most closely associated in literary historiography with the concerns that permeate Lu Xun’s writing, it can be traced back at least as far as the Han Dynasty (202 BCE-220 CE) to the writings of Dong Zhongshu (195?-105? BCE).10 Social critique and the prospects for national salvation are expressed in terms of physical and mental illness, and writing is seen as both a cause and possible cure. This theme appears throughout the novel, tying together the themes of physical health and Chinese letters. Later, Yu Lawu, who acts as Ha Lao’s assistant, compares Chinese poetry to the practice of foot-binding, arguing that this also has contributed to Long Menghua’s poor health (119). Early Chinese sf suggests the degree to which Lu Xun and other May Fourth authors were working with and refining a series of familiar literary devices rather than inventing a new tradition.

Two more tropes which appear in Lu Xun’s writing are anticipated in the adventurers’ voyage to Sichang Sha’er Island. The people of Sichang Sha’er believe that their ruler, a tyrant named King Muhuade, is the descendent of God and, as such, he cannot eat normal food or be clothed in normal garb. Instead, he is fed human flesh and clothed in human skin. The common people have all taken to living hidden underground, but the custom has continued for thousands of years. Tamatarō and company bring their balloon to the imperial palace, where they see hundreds of people tied up before the palace gates. Some have had their skin peeled off; others have had their hands or feet severed. The atmosphere is cold and wretched. Yu Lawu hurriedly pulls Tamatarō and Pu Yuhuan back aboard the balloon, asking “what use is there in visiting an uncivilized place like this?” He walks over to one side of the balloon and begins to hurl down chlorine gas bombs with wild abandon. Tamatarō objects that “The international community has banned the use of chlorine gas. How can you just set to bombing them like this, willy-nilly?” Yu Lawu continues to drop bombs. After some time he finally responds: “Mr. Tama, you say that chlorine gas shouldn’t be used? If we don’t use uncivilized weapons in uncivilized places like this, then where shall we use them?” (108-109).

The inhabitants of this island anticipate Lu Xun’s imagery of Chinese culture as cannibalistic (“Diary of a Madman” [1918]) by roughly 16 years, while the explorer’s response accepts and repeats the logic of colonial violence. This narrative preempts a number of tropes associated with Lu Xun, indicating that the author was deploying an already-existing symbolic vocabulary. The prevalence of these tropes in science fiction around the turn of the twentieth century demonstrates the degree to which the genre reflects the literary concerns of the early twentieth century writ large.11

Instead of offering a counterpoint to the legitimization of violence visited upon the “other,” the characters in the story finally adopt the same reasoning in their own colonial mission. In Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have argued that non-European others were the “signs of primitiveness that represented stages of humanity’s evolution toward civilization [and] were thus conceived as present synchronically in the various primitive peoples and cultures spread across the globe” (126). The denizens of Sichang Sha’er represent a stage of primitiveness that is so low on the evolutionary scale as to fall outside of the “humane” rules of modern warfare. Two forms of primitiveness and abject difference are at play in this moment: for the rulers of Sichang Sha’er, their inhumanity is representative of their hopeless social decay, while the inferiority of the cannibalized is figured through the citizenry’s retreat underground. Like the cannibalistic Morlocks in H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine (1895), their life underground “is a telling measure of how far they have fallen socially” (Alkon 145-47). This social decay results in a moral calculus through which the social-Darwinist biological will to power through consumption of the weak is trumped by the ability to destroy both the cannibalistic consumer and the consumed subject from the safety of the bombardier’s cockpit. Tales of the Moon Colony reduplicates the logic of co-evality through the historicization of the various Chinas-in-miniature that are encountered in the Indian Ocean. These evolutionary epics in miniature freeze the islanders as a dialectical negation of Tamatarō and his companions’ own level of civilization. The imagery of anthropophagic savagery and of a suffocating social realm sealed off from the outside world in this vignette prefigures two of the most salient images in modern Chinese literature, both of which appeared in the works of Lu Xun approximately two decades later.

The Island of Sichang Sha’er is plagued by a tradition thousands of years old, the consumption of human flesh. Here we see an even more sinister version of the iron-house metaphor—in this case, it is not so much that we might just let some people suffocate in their sleep; rather, it is suggested that the best thing for them might be chemical warfare. The “just war” exacted upon the rulers and citizens of Sichang sha’er Islandis a mercy killing. In its early incarnation Chinese sf was far from utopian.

It becomes clear that while the technological superiority that the travelers aboard the balloon have mastered justifies the violence that they visit upon unknown islands in the Indian Ocean, there will always be another group who can use their own superior civilization as justification for similar domination. The narrative never reaches the moment of a face-to-face encounter with the denizens of the moon, but Tamatarō reveals that Tales of the Moon Colony will not narrate the establishment of a colony of humans on the moon, but rather the inevitable colonization of the earth by the superior lunarian race (one of the problems with the story is that is comes to an end before we ever get a chance to find out what is really going on on the moon.  We only see terrestrial relationships, and the implication is that these will be perpetuated on a cosmic scale). The people on the moon are more “civilized” than the people of earth, and the inevitable outcome of this higher level of civilization is the establishment of a colony of moon-men on the earth. Tamatarō relates the likelihood of this development to Japan’s expansion during the Meiji period (1868-1912):

Luckily, our Meiji Emperor became aware of these issues, and all of my countrymen strove to be the best. Eventually, they took Taiwan in the south and gained a foothold in Korea to the north, assuming a position as one of the strongest countries in the world. But in the end, even such a position of strength was untenable. The moon is but a minute orb, yet it has developed such a high level of civilization. In a few years, they’ll establish a colony here. I fear that the five races of red, black, yellow, white and brown people are headed for a great calamity indeed. And if this is the case with the moon, then what of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn? And what of Uranus and Neptune? If there are people in all of these places, and all of these places have developed their own civilizations, each of which are a thousand times, or ten thousand times, or even infinitely more developed than ours, as they begin to establish contact with us, what could the outcome be? (198-99)

The colonial situation is mirrored when Yu Lawu gasses the uncivilized denizens of the lost Island of Sichang Sha’er and Tamatarō is led to the conclusion that the inevitable situation is not a reversal of the colonial order, but a repetition of these relations on a greater and greater scale. People from the moon will colonize Earth, people from Mercury will colonize the moon, and so on. The colonial subject will continue to be a colonial subject, and knowledge of the world will continue to be produced by an alien civilization.

Subversion of colonial logic comes in the form of its proliferation and multiplication rather than its inversion. The colonial dialectic insists on the other as an absolute negation, or the reverse of the European, and through this negation the civilized, scientific, rational, and liberated subject is created. In Tales of the Moon Colony, the repetition of colonial discursive practice and of colonial incursion suggests a proliferating multiplicity of colonial identities. The dialectical conflict between thesis and antithesis is replaced by concentric rings, or a hierarchical ordering of power relationships, where progressively more “civilized” members of one polity prey on those lacking civilization. In their dealings with local, trans-national, and extraterrestrial relations among individuals, social Darwinism is the rule of thumb. China itself is near the very center of this power schema, one of the weakest agents in the hierarchy of imperial domination. On the other hand, geographically and politically, China is completely decentered; it is a weak state that cannot guarantee the rights of its citizens at home or abroad. Its presence in the novel is as a spectral space from which most of the characters have made a hasty escape, and as a foil to the relative civilization of Japan and the western world. China’s spectral presence is also felt in the series of mini-China islands dotting the Indian Ocean that the characters visit. 

The story’s radical reconfiguration of the geopolitical imagination is accompanied by a shift in the conceptualization of time, bearing further witness to the changes engendered by the encounter between the Orient and the Occident. Ren Dongmei argues that the degree to which time itself has been transformed in Tales of the Moon Colony is symptomatic of a major epistemological shift. The characters in the balloon reckon time based on the western calendar, and they measure their days in the calculated terms of hours and minutes. Day to day, experiential time is also shifted from the agricultural generalities of seasons to the industrial specificity of hours and minutes. The characters pay close attention to their daily schedule, noting the hours they sleep, the hours they wake up, the time they plan to arrive in a given place, and the hours they will reconvene to depart from another place. The time that it takes to complete a given task—flying from one island to another, for example—is also noted in number of hours. This is a thoroughly modern vision of time and space, where travel between landmarks is not conceptualized in discrete units of distance, but in terms of the time necessary to move between them. The shift in consciousness from measuring space as distance to measuring space as time is often identified as one of the distinguishing characteristics of modernity, one that has a particular resonance in sf.12

Longue durée historical time shifts from the 60-year cyclical system of the “heavenly stems and earthly branches” (tiangan dizhi) to linear time.13  Ren argues that this shift from linear time not only signals the de-centering of the Chinese way of reckoning the past, but also that linear time opens up the horizon of imagining the future (192-200). The linear perspective on time and the adoption of the Gregorian calendar cannot be traced to a single moment. Instead, many publications and individuals during the late Qing functioned using both calendars, and in many respects this practice continues today. Luke S.K. Kwong identifies this gradual (and still not absolute) transformation as the cumulative effect of a series of crises in foreign and domestic affairs that eventually led intellectuals to the painful conclusion that there was “no cyclical redemption in sight” (Kwong 171-73). The notion of tripartite time—overlapping and evolving divisions of past, present, and future—was the product of a crisis of historical consciousness that insisted that this moment was like no other and that therefore cyclical time could not exist. This crisis of consciousness resulted in a series of attempts to map Chinese history in terms of developmental stages, however crude, on the part of translators and intellectuals such as Xue Fucheng (1838-94), Wang Tao (1828-97), Zheng Guanying (1842-1922), Chen Chi (d. 1899), Liang Qichao, and Kang Youwei. All these were models based upon Darwinian notions of evolutionary progress through longue-durée time (Kwong 174-78). China continues to function on two calendars, making reference both to the lunar calendar and the western calendar, and celebrating both the lunar Chinese New Year and the first of January. According to Kwong, “The displacement of one by the other, in so far as it did occur, was never uncontested or complete” (185). Historical events which occurred before the adoption of the western calendar are dated using the tiangan-dizhi system as often as they are dated using the Gregorian calendar.

Those aboard Tamatarō’s balloon and those on the ground experience separate calendars and separate historical trajectories. The people of Sichang sha’er have been dated from the reign of the first Emperor of Japan, Jimmu Tenno (660-585), while the people of La’er laifu trace their lineage to the time of the fall of the Song Dynasty. They are essentially frozen in time, dressing in Song-period scholarly outfits, speaking the language of the court (guanhua), and conducting Song court rituals (91).

The discovery of deep time was in many ways made possible by the colonial era. The ability to navigate led in turn to a race to discovery, which eventually brought Charles Darwin to the Galapagos Islands, where his observation of plant and animal life played a vital role in the development of the theory of evolution. This Darwinian vision of time pervades the novel, freezing the various islands in the Indian Ocean in their own respective evolutionary stages. Darwinian time and the pseudo-Darwinian vision of the “survival of the fittest” are central themes in the Tales of the Moon Colony.

This ongoing shift in the perception and method of marking deep time paralleled a new vision of day-to-day time as well. Clock time came to replace subjective time. This transformation, too, was enabled by colonial modernity. European exploration in search of land, labor, and capital required more precise methods of navigation. Navigators found themselves in need of precise, mechanical methods of keeping time in order to calculate their latitudinal distance from the Greenwich meridian. In turn, exploration and the extraction of resources helped to encourage the development of the industrial revolution domestically in England and Western Europe, and the industrial mode of production also necessitated a more precise measure of time in service of its new machine-oriented workday. In other words, the way we reckon humanly perceptible time is indebted in great part to the age of marine exploration. Time becomes one of the most salient symbols in the representation of the differences between China and the West.

Conclusion. From the moment of its introduction, sf was for Chinese intellectuals a double-edged sword, capable of popularizing much-needed scientific knowledge, but also complicit with the imperial will to power. In Tales of the Moon Colony, the reader is left with a work that can be described neither as a complete novel—the narrative ends before Tamatarō’s speculations can be borne out—nor as particularly “Chinese,” as it takes place entirely outside of China, centering around characters who have cast off the material signs of their “Chineseness.” Long Menghua and his companions aboard the Japanese-made balloon have relinquished the external markers of their national heritage by cutting off their queues, drinking coffee, and dressing in western garb.

First, the novel goes to great lengths to delegitimize China as a geographic or moral center. China has lost its status as the “middle kingdom,” and the looming colonial relationship with the people on the moon predicted by Tamatarō suggests a decentering not only of Europe, but also of the planet Earth itself. In the recurring vignettes of a failed social and political system, China’s moral and intellectual centrality is undermined. As a representation of Japan’s technological and military superiority, Tamatarō’s balloon seems to imply that China too must embark upon a Meiji-style mission of national renewal. The discussion of solutions, however, takes a back seat to a pointed critique of China’s cultural shortcomings. The novel shares with its contemporaries a sense that China faced an unprecedented crisis and a worrisome lack of solutions.

Second, the novel goes to great lengths not only to displace China as a geopolitical center but also to suggest that Europe is not the ultimate center of imperial might, ceding as it does eventual hegemony to extraterrestrial others. In Tales of the Moon Colony,the colonial relationship is concentric, as levels of domination extend from Asia to Europe, and to the Moon and beyond. Rather than challenging the dialectical opposition of colony to metropole, the narrative suggests a constantly shifting relationship between center and periphery depending on the breadth of one’s vision. The text imagines a universal hierarchy of imperial domination where all civilizations subjectify those beneath them, but are in turn subjected to the rule of more civilized peoples above them on the colonial chain of being. Orientalism is repeated along all levels of these concentric circles, not reversed. Where many sf narratives find a way of reaffirming the inviolability of planet Earth and the superiority of a universalized humanity (i.e., western civilization), Tales of the Moon Colony suggests a narrative trajectory in which the cosmopolitan metropole will eventually shift to deep space.14

Finally, Tales of the Moon Colony depicts the temporal decentering of China. This occurs on three distinct levels, all of which reiterate a major shift in China’s position in the world. First, the shift from cyclical time to linear time symbolizes a radical shift in Chinese cosmological consciousness. Linear time was associated with the concept of deep time and universal evolutionary processes as well. Aside from indicating that traditional Chinese visions of cosmic order were being undone, the notion of linear time also suggests that China might not be at the same evolutionary stage as its European counterparts. Third, the shift to clock time means that Long Menghua and Tamatarō are functioning in their day-to-day lives on the universal clock of Greenwich mean time. This narrative suggests a change in the perception of space, through which distance between places was measured in units of time.

Tales of the Moon Colony set the stage for a remarkably dystopian strain of sf. Many of the themes appearing in this novel appeared throughout turn-of-the-twentieth-century Chinese sf and continue to figure prominently in sf narratives to this day. In their visits to the various allegorical doubles of China, the travellers observe China at various stages of its evolution but never see the country as having attained the sophistication of the West. Imperial discourse is turned inward, focusing the colonial attentions of the explorers on the backward aspects of Chinese culture that they encounter in the Indian Ocean. At the same time, the narrative turns its attention away from one of the most pressing and growing threats to China’s sovereignty—Japan’s ambition to become the center of its own Asian empire. As mainland China disappears, only to reappear in allegorical miniature in the Indian Ocean, the fraught relationship between Japan and China is glossed over. While the characters openly contemplate the relationship between East and Southeast Asia, between hemispheres and indeed between Earth and the cosmos, the complexities of Northeast Asian relationships and Japan’s annexation of Taiwan following the Sino-Japanese war are never fully explored.

Some of the most salient tropes of twentieth-century Chinese literature—versions of the “sick man of Asia” and Lu Xun’s iron house—appear in Tales of the Moon Colony. The intellectual discussion of the need for language reform that led Chinese authors to pen their own works of sf is reflected in the novel as well, both in its overt criticism of classical Chinese eduation, the examination system, and literary Chinese and in the vernacular register of the novel itself, demonstrating that in the case of early modern Chinese literature, sf played a central role. The ongoing discussion of the relationship between sf and imperialism is especially relevant to understanding the emergence and development of the sf genre in late Qing China. Such a mode of analysis can help us to more fully comprehend the attitude of late Qing intellectuals toward the crisis engendered by the incursion of European Empire.

NOTE ON TRANSLATIONS: Citations are for translated texts when English translations are available. All other English translations, including the cited passages from Tales of the Moon Colony, are my own.

1. While I am by no means arguing that China did not have any body of knowledge which we might understand as “science,” I should note that unless otherwise indicated, when the word science is used in this study, the intended referent is western science. The dimensions of the social and political crisis described in this introduction were such that the majority of those writing or studying science were operating under the assumption that science was an ontologically western body of knowledge.

2. See also Pusey 2-7 and Schwarz 42-60.

3. For a comprehensive history of the transformation of terms and the emergence of western sciences in China from the Ming through the late Qing periods, see Elman, From Philosophy to Philology and Cultural History of Modern Science in China.

4. Unless otherwise noted, all of these categories were labelled “novels” (xiaoshuo). Thus, “governmental” should read as “governmental novels/fiction,” and so on.

5. For more on China’s position at the center of the Asian tribute system and the various iterations of a pax Sinica presided over by succeeding Chinese dynasties, see Horner. For an explication of the relationship between Spanish imperial power and trade between Spanish colonies and China, see Mann 123-96.

6. In the past two decades, a revised account of the development of modern Chinese literature has begun to take shape. This new literary history contradicts the socialist historiography that dates the birth of modern Chinese literature in the late 1910s. The work of authors such as Lu Xun and Hu Shi demonstrates that late Qing Dynasty writers were already grappling with linguistic modernity in the decades prior to the twentieth century. This present discussion is in part intended to demonstrate the role played by the sf genre in the evolution of literary modernity at the turn of the twentieth century. For two more traditional accounts of the emergence of modern Chinese literature, see Tao and Hsia. For more on the Commercial Press and the development of the vernacular language, see Huters, “Culture, Capital and the Temptations of the Imagined Market,” and Chen. See also Judge and, on the rigors of the Confucian educational program and the imperial examination system, see Elman, Cultural History of Civil Examinations.

7. For more on Lu Xun’s profound sense of pessimism and crisis, see Jones 28-62 and Huters, Bringing the World Home 252-74. 

8. Tales of the Moon Colony was originally intended to be a complete novel, but it is cut off at the end of chapter thirty-five. The work suggests a narrative arc more characteristic of a novel than episodic serial fiction, but calling it a novel seems somewhat misleading as it was never completed. The work was labeled “science fiction” (kexue xiaoshuo) on publication. This predates the use of the term in English-language publications.

9. Hsieh translates this phrase as “rotten literati.” The term is a clear reference to Xunzi’s (c.310-220 BCE) chapter “Contra Physiognomy,” in which Xunzi writes: “Hence, the [Book of] Changes says: ‘a tied sack, nothing to blame, nothing to praise, this describes the corrupt Ru’” (Knoblock 208).

10. Dong Zhongshu was a Han Dynasty scholar and advisor to the royal throne. Dong, among others, helped to construct a Confucian orthodoxy based upon correlative associations between the natural world and statecraft. His essay, “Comprehending the State as the Body” (c. second century BCE), correlates the maintenance of physical health with that of the vitality of the state (see DeBary and Bloom 292-97).

11. The “international community” and the ban on the use of chemical weapons referred to in this passage is most likely the 1899 Hague Peace Conference, which laid the foundation for the establishment of the League of Nations in 1919 following WWI. Officially, chlorine gas was not used in war until WWI; it was used experimentally and in small quantities by French troops in 1914, and the first major gas attack was launched by Germany and the battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915 (Trumpener 460-68). It appears, however, that this is a matter of semantics, as chlorine gas was used in the Eight-Nation Alliance attack on Tianjin in reprisal for the Boxer Rebellion in June of 1900. An entry on the Eight-Nation Alliance in the Qingchao yeshi daguan [A Collection of Unofficial Accounts of the Qing Dynasty] reads:

In June, a great attack was carried out on Tianjin. [Generals] Ma Yukun [1838-1908] and Nie Shicheng [1836-1900] fought bitterly for three days. The English troops used chlorine gas bombs in their onslaught. Resistance was futile and Tianjin was soon taken. Chlorine gas is among the most poisonous of chemical agents. Chlorine gas bombs are devastating. The cerebral nerves of a man who comes into contact with it will die instantly. Within a hundred paces [of the blast], there will be no survivors. It has been banned in the era of civilized warfare. To this day, the English have only tried it in Tianjin. Because they saw the Boxer Uprising as an uncivilized movement, they too used uncivilized means in response. (Xiaoheng 4.158-59)

For more on the history of attempts to prohibit the use of chemical weapons in war, see Levie 1192-202.

12. For a comprehensive treatment of the impact of changing perceptions of time and space in the western cultural sphere around the turn of the twentieth century, see Kern.

13. The Tiangan dizhi system, also known as the ganzhi cycle, “is one of two counting systems used in Chinese culture, the other being decimal. The cycle was formed by combining two sets of counters, one denary and the other duodenary to form 60 unique combinations.” These characters, which appear in Shang Dynasty (1200-1045 BCE) oracle bone script, were used to calculate most basic units of time—hours, days, weeks, months, and years” (Wilkinson 175).

14. For thorough treatments of the theme of alien invasion, see Csicsery-Ronay, “Science Fiction and Empire,” and Kerslake.

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