Translation and the Development of Science Fiction in Twentieth-Century China
The Birth of Science Fiction in Late Qing China. Science fiction was introduced into China some 120 years ago—a mere blink of the eye in the long history of Chinese civilization—and from the very beginning its development has been closely intertwined with translation. As Wu Dingbo observes, “Chinese readers first came into contact with science fiction not through original creation but through Chinese translations of Western stories. The dissemination of Western science fiction in China played a very important role in the emergence and development of its Chinese counterpart” (260). Guo Jianzhong maintains that science fiction “did not exist in China until 1900, when the first Chinese translations of western sf stories and novels began to appear” (“Brief History” 11).
The first sf translation in China predates 1900, however. As early as 1891 and 1892, Wanguo Gongbao [The Globe Magazine], a Shanghai-based Protestant periodical that was widely read among the intelligentsia in late Qing China, serialized Huitou Kan Jilue [Looking Back: A Sketch], an abridged Chinese version of American writer Edward Bellamy’s utopian sf novel, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888). It was translated into Chinese by British missionary Timothy Richard (1845-1919), with the goal of introducing Chinese intellectuals to an idealized Western model of social development (Liu 135). Richard’s version of Bellamy’s novel appeared in book form in 1894 under the title Bainian Yijiao [A One-Hundred-Year Sleep]. Although both the translator and Chinese readers at that time attached more importance to its political elements than to its exploration of an unfamiliar future and the possibilities of time travel, the publication of Huitou Kan Jilue “marked the first advent of Western science fiction in late Qing China” (D. Wang, “Translating Modernity” 310).
By 1919, at least fifty sf titles were available in Chinese translations (excluding later editions and reprints of the same titles) in both book form and in magazines (Jiang 161-92].1 This first wave of sf translation in China is largely attributable to the “Fiction Revolution” initiated by Liang Qichao in the early 1900s. The political crisis at the turn of the century (in particular the war against Japan in 1894-95 and the failure of the One-Hundred-Day Reform in 1898) encouraged the realization in progressive intellectuals such as Liang that the “self-strengthening” course for China would be a renewal of society through knowledge imported from Western nations and, more importantly, the “enlightenment” of the populace. Inspired by the model of Meiji Japan, Liang Qichao and his followers believed that the latter task required the creation and importation of “new fiction”—fiction that inspired patriotism, a scientific outlook, and national unity, that would transform people intellectually and lead to the transformation of society as a whole.2 Because of its science-related themes and its extrapolations of scientific and technological change, science fiction became one of the three most important categories of new fiction introduced and translated during this period (the other two were political fiction and detective fiction).
At the climax of the first tide of sf translation between 1903 and 1907, the four most influential late Qing fiction magazines—Xin Xiaoshuo [New Fiction], Xiuxiang Xiaoshuo [Illustrated Fiction], Yueyue Xiaoshuo [Monthly Fiction], and Xiaoshuo Lin [Forest of Fiction]—all published sf novels and stories.3 Jules Verne was one of the most frequently translated writers in this period, in company with Arthur Conan Doyle and Alexandre Dumas (père). The year 1900 saw the publication of Bashi Ri Huanyou Ji [Around the World in Eighty Days], the Chinese version of Le Tour du Monde en Quatre Vingts Jours (1873), translated by Chen Yiru and Xue Shaohui from an English edition of the novel.4 This was rapidly succeeded by Haidi Lüxing [A Tour under the Sea, i.e., Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (1870),1902], Tie Shijie [An Iron World, i.e., Les Cinq cent millions de la Bégum (1879), 1903], Yuejie Lüxing [A Trip to the Moon, i.e., De la Terre à la lune (1865), 1903], Mimi Haidao [The Mysterious Island, i.e., L'Île mystérieuse (1874), 1905], and Feixin Ji [A Record of Flight, i.e., Cinq semaines en ballon (1863), 1907]—to name only a few (Jiang 61). It is worth mentioning here that Yuejie Lüxing was translated by Lu Xun, a famous master of twentieth-century Chinese literature, while he was still an overseas student in Japan.5 The significance of this particular translation lies in the fact that Lu Xun’s preface to Yuejie Lüxing is the first theoretical piece of writing on science fiction in China and it embodies the general opinions and expectations of Chinese intellectuals about this new type of fiction.6also translated with great enthusiasm during this period, including Kongzhong.
Feiting [A Flying Ship in the Air, 1903], Qiannian hou zhi Shijie [The World a Millennium Later, 1904], and Mimi Dianguangting [A Mysterious Electronic Submarine, 1906].7 Chinese readers also became acquainted for the first time with works by H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, the Canadian astronomer and sf writer Simon Newcomb (1835-1909), and other less well known or anonymous sf writers at this time (Jiang 61).
Under the influence of this tide of translated stories and novels, Chinese writers began to write their own science fiction based on these foreign models. The earliest Chinese sf story is widely believed to be Yueqiu Zhimindi [Tales of the Moon Colony], written by Huangjiang Diaosou [“Old Fisherman by a Deserted River,” the pen name of an anonymous author] and serialized in the illustrated magazine Xiuxiang Xiaoshuo in 1904. This unfinished thirty-five-chapter novel rcounts the extraordinary experiences of the protagonist, Long Menghua, who travels around the world on a balloon and even goes to the moon at the invitation of the “moon people.” Descriptions of travels to strange lands can be found in earlier fiction such as the classic Jinghuayuan [Flowers in the Mirror, 1827], but in Yueqiu Zhimindi a technological invention—a balloon—is at the center of the story’s fantastic events, something which had never previously appeared in Chinese travel or fantasy literature.8
Chen Pingyuan argues that the translation of foreign science fiction was only one of the factors stimulating the idea of “flying machines” in Chinese fiction; the introduction of Western learning at that time, especially popular science, had a far greater influence in developing Chinese writers’ knowledge and expanding their imaginary worlds (210). It is clear, however, that Yueqiu Zhimindi would have been a commonplace adventure novel tinged with fantasy if it were not for the addition of the technological marvel in which the characters circle the earth and travel to the moon. Arguably, this owes more to the influence of the many Chinese translations of Verne’s novels around the turn of the twentieth century than it does to the introduction of popular science into China during the same period. Just as the spread of Western learning in the late Qing era led to the ideological transformation of its writers, sf translations initiated the start of sf creation in China.
Other science-fictional creations followed after 1904, including “Xin Faluo Xiansheng Tan” [A Tale of New Mr. Braggadocio, 1905] by Xu Nianci, “Kongzhong Zhanzheng Weilai Ji” [A Record of Aerial Warfare in the Future, 1908] and “Shijie Mori Ji” [End of the World, 1908] by Bao Tianxiao, Xin Shitou Ji [New Story of the Stone, 1908] by Wu Jianren, and Dian Shijie [The World of Electricity, 1909] by Xu Zhiyan. Among them, “A Tale of New Mr. Braggadocio” by Xu Nianci—a perfect example of the the fanciful vision of science held by Chinese writers at this time—is also directly inspired by sf translations. According to the author, “A Tale of New Mr. Braggadocio” is a parody written in response to “Faluo Xiansheng Tan” [Mr. Braggadocio] and “Faluo Xiansheng Xutan” [Mr. Braggadocio: A Sequel], the Chinese versions of two German tales translated by Bao Tianxiao from a Japanese edition [Donghaijuewo 1]. The original of the two tales turns out to be the famous eighteenth-century German folktale, The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchhausen, which describes the bizarre experiences of Baron Munchhausen on the moon and the war between the worlds on the moon and on the sun. Xu writes in his introductory notes that
Upon reading the tales, I was greatly touched by their unusual and amazing plots. So when I went out to enjoy the coolness on a summer night, I took them with me and told the strange stories to the villagers, who were all seized with surprise and admiration, claiming that it was something they had never heard of.... At the earnest request of my country friends, I made an awkward imitation of the two tales so as to please them. (Donghaijuewo 1)
Xu’s story is very much like a sequel to the two German tales, except that the protagonist, Mr. Braggadocio, has become a Chinese man and his new adventures range more widely, from the world on the ground to the world under the ground—there are descriptions of a so-called “Underground China”—and from the earth and the moon to other parts of the solar system, including Mars and Venus.9
Another fanciful case in point is Bao Tianxiao’s “Shijie Mori Ji” [The End of the World, 1908], which bears a close resemblance to an sf translation of the same title published by Liang Qichao in the first issue of New Fiction in 1902. As Liang, the translator, mentions in his postscript, the original story was written by a French writer and astronomer named “Folin Mali’an,” who combined accurate scientific theory with lofty philosophical thought (Yinbing 40).10 The story depicts a gloomy future when the sun has ceased to emit light and heat and the earth has become a frozen hell for human beings. According to Lin Jianqun, Bao Tianxiao’s tale is in many ways a refurbished version of Liang’s translation. Bao uses a similar scientific explanation as the basis for his story: the exhaustion of sunlight as the cause of human extinction. In Liang’s translation the remnants of humanity build an electronic airship and send an expedition out to search for warmer lands. Similarly, in Bao’s story attempts are made to manufacture new kinds of flying ships to help people escape to other planets. Finally, instead of ending on a note of despair, both stories try to explain to readers that the end of the world is a common phenomenon in the universe. In view of these similarities, Lin concludes that Bao’s story is the most significant example of how the science-fictional ideas of foreign sf works were imported into Chinese creations in the late Qing period.
It it worth noting that from the very beginning the view of science fiction held by Chinese translators and writers was strictly utilitarian. Liang Qichao supported the creation and translation of such new genres as political fiction and science fiction from the viewpoint of a politician rather than a litterateur. For him, fiction was a kind of instrument at the service of his political goals (H. Wang 113). This was a view shared by many progressive intellectuals of the day: despite their bitter feelings towards the imperialist West, they were eager to find a convenient and effective way to spread the West’s political ideas and scientific knowledge to the Chinese people. Science fiction became adapted to the needs of translators and writers; its value as a literary form tended to be ignored, which contributed to its eventual wane by the end of the 1910s.
In retrospect, however, the introduction of foreign sf works in the late Qing period opened up a new world for Chinese writers, whose imaginations had never previously been challenged to look outside the stories of gods, ghosts, and spirits in traditional Chinese fairy tales and legends. While sf translators such as Liang Qichao and Lu Xun viewed their work as “textbooks” for popular education and scientific enlightenment, the most significant result of their tranlsations was the birth of a new literary form for China.
Waves of SF Translation in the Twentieth Century. In addition to the tide of translations in the late Qing period, China experienced three later surges in the importation of foreign sf works in the twentieth century: a second wave in the early days of the People’s Republic of China, a third in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and a fourth in the 1990s. These paralleled and highlighted the significant stages of the genre’s development in China.
After the boom at the turn of the century, there was a noticeable decline in translated science fiction for the next three decades. Only 20 or so translated titles were published between 1919 and 1949, a quarter of those published in the first two decades of the century.11 This decline was largely the reflection of literary and intellectual reorientations. The reformist atmosphere of the late Qing era that conferred social respectability on fantastic “science novels” and “novels of ideals” was gradually replaced by a revolutionary climate that nurtured the more aggressive and politically-oriented literature of the May Fourth Movement. In addition, by the early 1920s popular fiction—especially “Butterfly” love stories and romances—gradually dominated the literary scene.12 This fiction provided an imaginative escape from the complex social circumstances of readers who had lost interest in looking for political ideals and scientific knowledge in fiction. Science fiction lost its popularity with both the intellectuals and the general populace.
It was not until the 1950s and early 1960s that China saw the second tide of sf translation. In part because of the demands of industrial construction in the newly-founded PRC, science and technology gained in importance to the Chinese leadership. In 1956, the central government announced a new slogan, “March towards Science and Technology.” A committee was later established to formulate the first long-term program of scientific and technological development, the “1956-1967 National Long-range Program for Scientific and Technological Development” (Zhu et al. 107-109). Not only scientific workers but also people in all walks of life were involved in a mass campaign of scientific education and technological renovation that lasted well into the 1960s when it was disrupted by the Cultural Revolution.
It was against this backdrop that science fiction, as a vehicle of scientific popularization, enjoyed a rebirth in China. Beginning in 1949, many writers of popular science devoted themselves to sf, producing works such as Zheng Wenguang’s Cong Diqiu dao Huoxing [From Earth to Mars, 1954], Ye Zhishan’s “Shizong de Gege” [The Missing Elder Brother, 1957], and Liu Xingshi’s “Beifang de Yun” [Northern Clouds, 1962]. Foreign sf works were translated into Chinese with renewed enthusiasm. Huang Yi, the editor of China Youth Press, who was in charge of the publication of Jules Verne’s works in the 1950s, noted that their aim in publishing sf novels was to broaden the horizons of young Chinese readers and to encourage their appreciation of scientific knowledge: “science and technology are indispensable tools in the construction of New China ... and science fiction will greatly benefit young people because it can make them more imaginative and creative” (Huang Yi 68).
This second tide of translation peaked between 1956 and 1959; more than 30 foreign sf titles were published in these four years (Jiang 161-92).13 Publishers included the Science and Technology Press and the Science Popularization Press in Beijing as well as some publishing houses geared to children and young readers, such as the Juvenile Press in Shanghai and the China Youth Press in Beijing.14 Sf translations during this period were produced in a more organized way than during the late Qing and Republic years. For example, a series of eight novels by Verne was published by the China Youth Press, translated by a highly qualified group that included the well-known literary translator, Yang Xianyi.15 This may well be the first time that sf was published in series form in China.
China’s concentration on the buildup of national industry in the early days of the PRC made “hard sf” popular with both publishers and readers. Given the strong Soviet influence on the literary domain, Soviet sf naturally became a major publishing resource. A mass of Soviet sf novels and stories was introduced to Chinese readers between 1950 and 1962, including Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s On the Moon (1895) and Beyond the Earth (1920); Alexander Belyayev’s Professor Dowell’s Head (1925), The Amphibian (1928),and The Star of Kets (1936); Alexei N. Tolstoy’s Aelita (1923) and The Hyperboloid of Engineer Garin (1927); Georgii Martynov’s Planet Guest (1957); Vladimir Nemtsov’s A Splinter of Sun (1955); and Vladimir Obruchev’s Sannikov Land (1926) (Jiang 90). These novels, notable for their sometimes naïve but always enthusiastic outlook on the future and their thoroughgoing and relentless critique of short-sighted and alienating capitalist values, conformed to the literary optimism of the newly-founded socialist China. As a consequence, they found favor with Chinese readers and exerted considerable influence on native writers. Because of this political and literary bias towards the Soviet Union, however, this second wave of sf translation was limited in terms of both quality and quantity, and Chinese authors and readers remained unaware of the changing landscape of science fiction in other parts of the world, especially the United States.
The worsening political turmoil of the 1960s soon put an end to regular sf translation and publication. From 1963 to 1978, only one foreign sf novel, Sakyo Komatsu’s Nihon Chinbotsu [Japan Sinks, 1973], was translated into Chinese—published in a classified “internal reference” edition by People’s Literature Press in 1975. With the termination of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1970s, China entered a new era. New reform policies were taken up as an essential way to revive the national economy and to achieve the goal of modernizing agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology—the “Four Modernizations”—reconfirmed by the government. In particular, the more positive view of science and technology also resulted in a new sf boom. Since the late 1970s, China has carried out a series of major projects to promote scientific and technological progress throughout the nation. In addition, the lofty goal of realizing the Four Modernizations by the end of the twentieth century inspired in the Chinese people a longing for the future. When Ye Yonglie’s sf novella, Xiao Lingtong Manyou Weilai [Little Know-all Travels around the Future World, 1978]—depicting the fantastic scientific and technological developments of a wonderful future world in the year 2000—was published, it immediately ignited a nationwide fever for popular science and science fiction. The novella itself became a bestseller, selling more than a record-breaking million and a half copies in China (Ye 42).
The new translation boom soon reached its climax in 1980-1981, with the publication of over 90 titles in translation (Jiang 161-92).16 Not only were classics by Verne, H.G. Wells, and the Soviet sf writers published in large numbers, but readers also discovered sf by writers from other nations such as Britain, France, the United States, and Japan. Writers such as Karel Čapek, Ray Bradbury, and Clifford D. Simak were introduced and authors of international reputation such as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke were enthusiastically embraced. Seven volumes of Asimov’s fiction were published in 1981 alone, including I, Robot (1950); in the rush to import foreign sf, some publishers looked to novels adapted from Hollywood films such as Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977).17
Outside of the publishing houses, the growing number of sf magazines in the early 1980s provided new venues for the publication of fiction in translation.18 The quarterly Kehuan Haiyang [Science Fiction Ocean, 1981-1983] in Beijing saw the promotion of Chinese science fiction and the introduction of foreign works as key parts of its mandate. Its first issue alone included thirty stories in translation, including Edgar Allan Poe’s “Some Words with a Mummy” (1845), Brian W. Aldiss’s “One Blink of the Moon” (1979), and Clarke’s “Silence Please” (1954). The bimonthly Zhihui Shu [The Tree of Wisdom], based in Tianjin, also ran a special column for translations and adaptations of foreign works.
Good times, however, did not last long. In the early 1980s the rapid development of science fiction in China was unexpectedly halted by nationwide “anti-spiritual pollution” campaigns and criticism from the media that attacked sf authors for propagating pseudo-science or “false science.” In tandem with the ebbing of Chinese science fiction, the tide of translation noticeably declined in 1983 to only a dozen titles.19 In the enusing years, during which many Chinese authors ceased to write, it was sf translation that kept the genre from disappearing completely.
The last decade of the twentieth century witnessed a renaissance in sf’s popularity as the tides turned in both politics and cultural production. Since the early 1990s sf has gradually shaken off the negative views imposed on it by past political and ideological campaigns and has been left to develop in a more organic way. During this same period, the emergence of a newly commercialized popular culture based in the mass media gradually became a significant social phenomenon. As a genre of popular fiction, sf found itself the equal of other literary and cultural products in market competition and it entered a stage of freer and more commercialized development. As well, in the era of globalization Chinese sf has had increasing opportunities for international communication and cultural exchange. The 1991 World SF Annual Meeting, held in Chengdu and sponsored by the magazine Science Fiction World,marked a significant opening of China’s sf community to the outside world. In 1997 China invited foreign sf writers, scientists, and astronauts to attend the “1997 Beijing International Science Fiction Convention,” which also did much to promote the growth of Chinese sf and its connections with the international community.
The above factors all contributed to the rapid growth of the sf industry in fin-de-siècle China, and sf translation continued to play an important role. Over 470 foreign works were published in book form in the 1990s, and probably even more in the magazines.20 While Verne’s and Belayev’s novels remained in print, Chinese readers also discovered works that were less didactically oriented, such as novels by Robert Silverberg, Brian W. Aldiss, Philip K. Dick, and William Gibson. The shift in attention from Soviet to American sf was a noticeable trend in the 1990s, with American sf accounting for at least one third of all titles in translation. These ranged from classic works by masters such as Asimov and Robert Heinlein to newer works by winners of the Hugo and Nebula Awards. Anthologies such as Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction were imported into China as soon as they appeared in the US (Yang). Articles about science fiction by Asimov, James Gunn, and other American writers were also widely read for their insights about the genre.
Sf translation and publication has continued to flourish in the new century. As the genre has come to be more widely accepted by the reading public, more mainstream presses are publishing sf; notable examples include literary presses such as People’s Literature Press in Beijing, Lijiang Press in Guilin, and Yilin Press in Nanjing. According to one reliable source (not yet cross-checked against others), about 520 translated titles appeared in book form from 2000 to 2010.21 The World SF Masters series published by Sichuan Science and Technology Press is a case in point, publishing everything from Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land (1961) to Robert J. Sawyer’s Quintaglio Ascension trilogy (1992-94). In 2004, Science Fiction World officially transformed its SF World Supplement (appearing since 1995) to the Translation Supplement to SF World; this has become a major platform for the publication of sf in translation. Shijie Kehuan Bolan [World Science Fiction] also appeared in 2004. Published by Fujian People’s Press, it was devoted primarity to the introduction of foreign sf. Although it only lasted three years, this magazine epitomized the demand among Chinese sf fans for foreign works. In sum, sf translation has expanded in the new century and the world of international sf has been brought home to Chinese readers.
The Influence of Translation upon Creation. The significance of translated works in the field of Chinese sf literature is reflective of changes both to the genre and in the function of translation within a literary system. According to Israeli scholar Itamar Even-Zohar—who views literature as a network of relations that interact to produce an ongoing and dynamic process of evolution—if translated literature maintains a “central” or “primary” position in a literary system, this is because: 1) the literature itself is less mature and still in the process of establishing itself; 2) the literature is either “peripheral” (within the larger group of correlated literatures), or “weak,” or both; or 3) there are “turning points, crises, or literary vacuums” in a literature (“Position of Translated Literature” 47). Translated literature that occupies a central position participates actively in shaping the center of the system and becomes a leading factor in the formation of new models for that system, introducing new poetics, patterns, and techniques (46-47). This suggests a useful perspective on the role of translation in the development of Chinese science fiction.
When science fiction was first imported in the late Qing era as a “newborn” literature, it could not immediately produce many original texts of its own, so translated texts filled the gap and presented a model for imitation. As Lin Jianqun points out, the influence of sf translation in late Qing China works in at least three ways: first, in the introduction of science-fictional ideas, as demonstrated in Bao Tianxiao’s “Shijie Mori Ji”[The End of the World]; second, in the adoption of “scientific apparatus” such as the balloon in Yueqiu Zhimindi [Tales of the Moon Colony]; and third, in the imitation of plots, exemplified by Xin Faluo Xiansheng Tan [A Tale of New Mr. Braggadocio].
Of these, it is the borrowing of “scientific apparatus” from foreign works that is most striking in late Qing efforts at science fiction. For example, the means of conveyance imagined in traditional Chinese fantasy literature are typically magical monsters such dragons and kylins, flying carpets, or clouds. After the influx of foreign sf, however, “modern vehicles” such as submarines, airships, and balloons began to appear in novels by Chinese writers. As Lin observes, after the publication of Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea and The Flying Ship in the Air, submarines and airships became positively commonplace. Inspired by these borrowed ideas, Chinese writers invented other kinds of “scientific apparatus” in their own works. For example, in Wu Jianren’s Xin Shitou Ji an array of high-tech transportation devices is introduced, including flying cars and electromagnetic underground trains, and people travel over water with magical “water boots.”
The transforming force of sf translation also works more indirectly. Influenced by the attention to scientific detail of foreign writers such as Verne, Chinese writers not only introduced various high-tech inventions in their novels, but also tried to devise scientific explanations for them. This attitude was very different from traditional Chinese thought, which attached more importance to abstract concepts than to practical ideas. Foreign sf also encouraged late Qing writers to create imaginative visions of the future. The Chinese proclivity for historical speculation shifted in the late Qing years to daring or even wild predictions of a future world. The novel Xin Jiyuan [New Era, 1908], written under the pseudonym Biheguanzhuren [literally, Master of Green Lotus House] by an unknown author, is set in 2000, when Great China dominates the world. The author notes in the first chapter that his ideas were inspired by two foreign sf works—Weilai zhi Shijie [The World in the Future, author unknown] and Bao Tianxiao’s “Shijie Mori Ji” [The End of the World], which were quite distinct from traditional Chinese novels that were usually based on historical or present-day episodes or anecdotes, but never inquired into the future (Biheguanzhuren 356). As David D.W. Wang suggests, many sf works created during the late Qing period were rooted in the actualities of Chinese society of that period and authors who could not air their opinions in real life shifted their energies to the creation of utopias set on other worlds and in other times. What distinguishes their works from earlier Chinese utopian texts such as Taohuayuan Ji [The Story of the Peach Blossom Spring, 421CE], however, is their imitation of future-tense narratives from Western science fiction (“Bei Yayi” 15-16).
When science fiction gradually established itself as a literary genre in China in the latter half of the twentieth century, it continued to be a “peripheral” and “weak” literature in the context of the international scene. Due to limited resources and the lack of a well-established tradition, Chinese science fiction tended to be influenced by foreign models, following as it did the Soviet prototype in the early years of the PRC and later shifting to the American model in the 1980s and 1990s.
The translation of Soviet sf in the 1950s in particular bears a definitive relationship to the shape of Chinese sf in the following years. As Zheng Jun points out:
During this period, Soviet science fiction was introduced in large quantities along with the works of Western sf pioneers such as Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Soviet science fiction, which emphasized scientific details and advocated patriotism and communist values, easily touched the hearts of readers and writers at that time, and became the model for the first specialized sf writers in China. Furthermore, in June 1956, a Soviet sf monograph, On Soviet Science-Fantasy Writings,was translated and published by China Youth Press, providing Chinese writers with theoretical insights into the genre.
According to Yin Chuanhong (5) and Zheng Jun, the first group of specialized sf novelists in the PRC were formerly writers or editors of popular science intent on disseminating scientific knowledge to children and young people. Many had long been exposed to Soviet scientific popularizations. The introduction of Soviet sf to China gave fresh encouragement to these writers, who began to employ this peculiar type of writing to carry out their old task of scientific education. Influenced by Soviet sf publications, hard sf, noted for its emphasis on scientific detail and its delineation of near-future technological progress, made great strides in the 1950s, as demonstrated in the very many stories about space travel. Examples include Zheng Wenguang’s Cong Diqiu dao Huoxing [From Earth to Mars, 1955] and Taiyang Tanxian Ji [An Adventurous Voyage to the Sun, 1955], Yu Zhi’s Dao Renzao Yueliang Shang Qu [A Tour of the Man-made Moon, 1956], Yang Zhihan’s “Dao Taiyang Fujin Qu Lixian” [An Adventure near the Sun, 1956], Rao Zhonghua’s “Kongzhong Lüxing Ji” [A Tour in the Air,” 1956], and Cui Xingjian’s Xiao Lulu Youli Taiyangxi [“Little Lulu Tours the Solar System, 1956]. These works are characterized by their popular-science writing style and their optimistic visions of a communist future that mirrored the ideas of their Soviet models. Even the Chinese name for the genre, kexue huanxiang xiaoshuo, literally “science-fantasy fiction,” was adopted from the Russian term nauchnaia fantastika (Guo, “Guanyu” 52).22
Chinese writers again looked to foreign sf models in the 1980s and 1990s as they worked to liberate the genre from its confines in children’s literature and popular-science writing, where it had been situated since the early years of the PRC. One noticeable effort can be seen in the publication of foreign sf anthologies in the early 1980s, many of which were compiled and edited by writers and critics who wanted to promote domestic sf at the same time that they provided Chinese sf fans and authors with a close encounter with foreign works. The earliest and most influential anthology was Mogui Sanjiao yu UFO [The Devil’s Triangle and UFO], published by the China Ocean Press in 1980. Edited by Wang Fengzhen, a noted literary translator, and Jin Tao, an sf author, this anthology includes seventeen stories by sf writers from America, Britain, France, Spain, and Canada, covering a wide range of topics such as atomic energy, robots, and genetics. Some of the stories were included because of their stylistic experimentation. In the preface, the editors argue that these foreign works can provide artistic inspiration for sf writers and writers of popular science in China (Wang and Jin 4).
These anthologies, as well as other translated works published in the “Golden Age” of Chinese science fiction, broadened the horizons of both writers and readers. They contributed new themes, fresh science-fictional concepts, and novel artistic styles. Some sf collections published in the early 1980s, such as Zhongguo Kehuan Xiaoshuo Daquan [A Complete Collection of Chinese Science Fiction, 1982] and Kexue Shenhua: Zhongguo Kehuan Xiaoshuo Nianjian [Scientific Myths: The Almanac of Chinese Science Fiction, 1983], began to explore ideas such as death rays, matter waves, artificial intelligence, and robotics; other writers began to explore the world of sf mysteries and social science fiction. New importance was attached to plot structure, characterization, and style. Many writers confirmed that their stories were also influenced by the views of foreign sf about the social functions of science and technology.23 Even when the genre became more popular toward the end of the century, it was apparent that native writers often drew their inspiration from foreign works. Without the introduction of contemporary Western sf on a large scale, it would have been impossible for Chinese sf to escape the narrow traditions of the past.
Works in translation enabled Chinese authors to benefit from the experience of other literatures and to refine their own professionalism in the process. Translation functioned as a “major channel through which a fashionable repertoire [was] brought home” (Even-Zohar, “Position of Translated Literature” 194).24 This is demonstrated, for instance, by the appearance of cyberpunk and postmodernist-influenced stories and novels in the 1990s (see Yang; Y. Wu). In addition, translation fostered an increase in the number of readers and fans for science fiction. In order to meet their expectations, Chinese authors had constantly to improve their writing skills. More importantly, many sf writers, critics, and editors emerged from fandom and became the driving force of the sf community, playing a direct role in the evolution of the genre in China.
Conclusion. Translation was a major condition for the spread of science fiction in twentieth-century China—without it, the development of an original sf literature would have been impossible. Such a situation is not uncommon in the global sf field. The influence of American sf in translation on the genre in Japan, France, and many other non-English speaking countries is a recognized fact (see Gunn 587-590, Vonarburg, and Cordesse). American sf itself was inspired and nurtured by the traditions of European fantasy and utopian fiction, as well as by the pioneering fiction of Verne and others. As Gérard Cordesse claims, “nearly all the American themes and even technological inventions have been foreshadowed by European writers.... [I]t is impossible to assess the impact of American science fiction if we do not keep in mind this rich heritage” (161).
In Even-Zohar’s opinion, the interference of external systems through the channel of translation may be essential for the very existence and development of a literary system when it is in the process of emergence or remains “weak” or “peripheral” in a larger literary hierarchy. No literature seems to have managed to avoid such situations at some point in its history (“Laws of Literary Interference” 55-57). Chinese sf is no exception to this rule. Dependence upon translation was a necessary stage in the development of Chinese science fiction, a genre that is still not fully mature and that still has to establish its own strong traditions.
1. The number of sf translations published in periodical and book form between 1891 and 1919 is as follows: 1891 (1), 1894 (1), 1900 (1), 1902 (3), 1903 (9), 1904 (2), 1905 (5), 1906 (5), 1907 (9), 1908 (2), 1911 (3), 1914 (2), 1915 (5), 1917 (2), 1918 (1), 1919 (1). The data are based for the most part on the following catalogues: Minguo Shiqi Zong Shumu [Catalogue of Published Books, 1911-1949, 1987] compiled by the Beijing Library; 1882-1910 Nianjian Fanyi Wenxue Shumu [Catalogue of Translated Literature during 1882-1910, 1993] compiled by Jia Zhifang and Yu Guiyuan; and Xinbian Zenbu Qingmo Minchu Xiaoshuo Mulu [The New Supplemented Catalogue of Fictions Published during Late Qing and Early Republican China, 2002] by Japanese scholar Tarumoto Teruo. Some Chinese scholars claim a much larger number of sf translations for this period but, given the lack of a complete catalogue of titles, I am doubtful of this information.
2. Liang Qichao himself played a role in the introduction of science fiction into China in the early twentieth century. The first issue of his magazine New Fiction included Liang’s translation of an anonymous sf story, “Shijie Mori ji” [The End of the World, 1902], about the death of the Earth as the result of diminishing sunlight; the story focuses on the love of the last survivors, a boy and a girl, who die in each other’s arms in an Egyptian pyramid. In 1903, Liang, in collaboration with Pifasheng [Luo Xiaogao], translated Jules Verne’s Deux ans de vacances [Two years’ vacation, 1888]as Shiwu Xiao Haojie [Fifteen Little Heroes], based on the Japanese translation by Morita Shiken.
3. New Fiction was launched in Japan by Liang Qichao in 1902; after 1902 it was published by Guangzhi Bookstore in Shanghai. Twenty-four issues were produced between 1902 and 1906, read for the most part by Chinese students in Japan and intellectuals in China. Illustrated Fiction, a semi-monthly magazine, was launched by the famous Commercial Press in Shanghai in May 1903 and lasted until April 1906. Monthly Fiction (1906-08) was published by Qunle Bookstore in Shanghai, with 24 issues being produced under the editorship of Wu Jianren. Forest of Fiction (1907-1908), edited by Xu Nianci, was published by Xiaoshuolin Press in Shanghai and lasted 12 issues. Most sf translations of this period were produced in Shanghai, the publishing center of late Qing China which boasted a multitude of magazines, newspapers, publishing houses, and bookstores. The distribution of books and magazines was handled mainly by the publishers themselves and large enterprises such as Commercial Press sold its publications not only to bookstores in Shanghai but also to bookstores in other cities in China, and even to Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore. Sf in translation appealed mainly to Chinese intellectuals and to literate people in urban areas.
4. See Around the World in Eighty Days (trans. George M. Towle and N. D’Anvers, 1873).
5. Between 1903 and 1905, Lu Xun translated four sf works, including three novels by Jules Verne (De la Terre à la lune , Voyage au centre de la terre , Sans dessus dessous ), and a story entitled “Zaoren Shu” [The Technique of Creating Men] by an unknown American writer. Yuejie Lüxing [De la Terre à la lune] was published by Evolution Press in Tokyo in October 1903, while two chapters of Didi Lüxing [A Journey underneath the Earth] appeared in the Tokyo-based revolutionary monthly Zhejiang Chao [The Tide of Zhejiang] in December 1903 (the complete novel was published by Qixin Bookstore in Nanjing in 1906). Unfortunately, the translation of the third novel, Beiji Tanxianji [An Adventure at the North Pole (i.e., Sans dessus dessous), 1904], has been lost. Lu Xun’s fourth translation, “Zaoren Shu,” appeared in the magazine Nüzi Shijie [Women’s World] in 1905. All were retranslations of Japanese versions. In fact, during the late Qing era the majority of Western literary, philosophical, and sociological works were imported into China from Japan, with overseas Chinese students undertaking most of the translations (Xiong 640).
6. In his “Preface to Yuejie Lüxing,” Lu Xun contends that reading science fiction can help to destroy traditional superstitions, improve one’s thinking, and spread civilization. He claims that “if we wish to lead the Chinese people forward, we must start with science fiction” (Lu 152; my translation). Lu Xun also comments on what he sees as a key feature of science fiction, its combination of scientific knowledge and human affect. He considers that sf writers are particularly skillful at describing the wonderful prospects promised by scientific advances, which they integrate into their particular fantastic imaginings. In sf novels, readers can enjoy human emotions, interesting anecdotes and adventures, allegorical narratives of the present, and insightful ideas.
7. The original source of Mimi Dianguangting [A Mysterious Electronic Submarine] is probably Kaitei Gunkan [A Submarine Battleship, 1900], a future-war novel about a conflict between Japan and Russia that effectively predicted the actual war of 1904-1905 (Clute and Nicholls 639). It is interesting to note that Oshikawa Shunrō’s works were introduced into China at the same time as battles in the Russo-Japanese War were being fought on Chinese territory. Chinese translators appear to have focused their interest on the author’s scientific observations and his descriptions of superior technology, while neglecting the militarist ambitions for overseas expansion that are also clearly manifest in the novels. This clearly reveals the mixed feelings of Chinese intellectuals for Japan during this period: they were infuriated by Japan’s expansion into Chinese territory at the same time as they appreciated Meiji Japan’s military and technological accomplishments, seeing in Japan a model for social and political reform (Li 110).
8. Written by Li Ruzhen [1763-1830] in the mid-Qing Dynasty, Flowers in the Mirror is an account of travels to such strange countries as the Land of Giants, the Country of Gentlemen, the Land of Women, and so on. The author projects his own ideas about the perfect society on to the vividly imagined world in the novel.
9. Faluo literally means “conch” in Chinese, referring to a kind of musical instrument used in ancient Buddhist rites. It was adopted by the Japanese translator to indicate absurdity and unbelievability (as in “to blow one’s own conch,” that is, to brag and boast).
10. “Folin Mali’an” is French writer Camille Flammarion, who published La Fin du Monde in 1893.
11. The number of sf translations published in book form between 1919 and 1949: 1919 (1), 1921 (2), 1931 (1), 1934 (1), 1937 (2), 1938 (2), 1940 (2), 1942 (1), 1944 (2), 1946 (2), 1947 (1), 1948 (1), 1949 (2) (Minguo Shiqi Zong Shumu [Catalogue of Published Books, 1911-1949, 1987], compiled by the Beijing Library).
12. Commonly known as “Butterfly Fiction,” these works had distinctive features that attracted the common reader: treatments of the theme “talent meets beauty,” strange and complicated plotlines, archetypical protagonists, and simple and direct language (Link 331-32)].
13. The number of sf translations published in book form between 1950 and 1966: 1950 (1), 1952 (1), 1955 (5), 1956 (8), 1957 (10), 1958 (8), 1959 (6), 1960 (1), 1961 (1), 1962 (1) (National Catalogues of Published Books, compiled by Xinhua Bookstore and later by the Editions Library affiliated with the Ministry of Culture).
14. The Chinese publishing industry witnessed the conversion of private companies into state-owned or joint state-private publishing houses after 1949. As well, a high degree of specialization was introduced and a number of official presses were established to take charge of the editing and publishing of books in specific fields. The People’s Press focused largely on books about political theory and political affairs, the People’s Educational Press mainly produced textbooks for elementary and middle schools, and the Foreign Languages Press was established in 1950 with the task of promoting Chinese books to the overseas market (Sun 187-89). Foreign literature was produced largely by two publishing houses, People’s Literature Press in Beijing and the New Literature Press in Shanghai (185-186). Chinese translations of foreign works on technology and science were published almost exclusively by specialized presses, such as Science Popularization Press, Science and Technology Press, and Agriculture Press. Science fiction, regarded as a form of popular science, was included in the publication plans of several publishing houses focused on science and technology. From 1950, most of the distribution of books and magazines in the early PRC was handled by Xinhua Bookstore, China’s largest state-owned chain; it had regional flagship stores and smaller local stores in each of the nation’s administrative zones as well as a nation-wide retail network that included even such remote areas as Xinjiang and Gansu. It is safe to assume that readers at that time had access to foreign sf works as long as there was a Xinhua Bookstore nearby.
15. Yang Xianyi [1915-1990], one of China’s most distinguished translators, is known for producing a remarkable number of quality translations in cooperation with his wife Gladys Yang, including classic novels such as A Dream of Red Mansions (also known as Story of the Stone) and the selected works of Lu Xun.
16. The number of sf translations published in book form between 1979 and 1989: 1979 (3), 1980 (35), 1981 (59), 1982 (30), 1983 (17), 1984 (13), 1985 (12), 1986 (15), 1987 (9), 1988 (2), 1989 (2) (National Catalogues of Published Books for 1979-1989).
17. The first American sf movie publicly shown on the big screen in China was Futureworld (1976). The second was Superman (1978), which caused a sensation when it was released in China in 1986. Neither Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) nor Star Wars (1977) had been released in China when their novelizations became available, so that these translations were actually published out of context, another interesting phenomenon in the history of sf translation in China.
18. The book market has witnessed rapid growth in both publication and distribution networks in the years since the Cultural Revolution. Since the early 1980s, channels for the distribution of books and magazines in China have become notably diversified, including privately run bookstores, the sales departments of publishing houses, and private distribution companies. Readers throughout the country have access to sf books and magazines.
19. Chinese sf has been more in touch with the outside world since the late 1970s, when Brian Aldiss visited China as a member of the British Celebrity Delegation. In 1980, Ye Yonglie became the first Chinese member of the World SF Association. In 1983, the delegation of American sf Writers’ Union, including Roger Zelazny, Charles N. Brown and Frederik Pohl, came to China and met with several Chinese sf novelists, which was the earliest face-to-face communication between Chinese and foreign sf communities. But the irony is that just as connections were developing, they were immediately shut down again by the political campaigns at the time. It was not until the 1990s that large-scale contact between Chinese and foreign sf writers resumed.
20. The number of sf translations published in book form between 1990 and 1999: 1990 (19), 1991 (37), 1992 (64), 1993 (5), 1994 (16), 1995 (25), 1996 (39), 1997 (70), 1998 (96), 1999 (101) (National Catalogues of Published Books, 1990-1999). In the magazine sector, Science Fiction World alone accounted for 187 titles during this decade (Jiang 193-97).
21. The number of sf translations published in book form between 2000 and 2010: 2000 (74), 2001 (48), 2002 (31), 2003 (71), 2004 (31), 2005 (31), 2006 (51), 2007 (23), 2008 (50), 2009 (74), 2010 (36) (National Digital Library of China).
22. Some Chinese scholars have suggested that “kehuan xiaoshuo” should be replaced by the older title kexue xiaoshuo (literally “science fiction”) because the former has led people to confuse science fiction with pure fantasy novels (e.g., L. Huang 42-44; Guo “Guanyu” 52).
23. This information is based on responses to a 2005 questionaire by a number of leading sf writers, critics, and translators in China (see Jiang 198-217).
24. Even-Zohar defines repertoire as “the aggregate of rules and materials which govern both the making and handling, or production and consumption, of any given [literary] product” (“Factors” 21).
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