Visiting scholar discusses the ‘hidden army’ of Chinese science fiction

To understand modern Chinese science fiction, argues scholar Mingwei Song, one must grapple with different forms of invisibility.

Song, an associate professor of Chinese at Wellesley College, visited Yale on March 4 to deliver a Kemp Fund Lecture on “The Fear of Seeing: The Poetics of Chinese Science Fiction.”

In one sense, the so-called “new wave” of Chinese science fiction — which began around the turn of this century — has been defined by its invisibility to mainstream critics and scholars. Evoking the writer Fei Dao’s comparison of the genre to a “hidden army,” Song said that this lack of scrutiny gave science fiction writers the freedom to explore subversive social issues, exposing the invisible “nightmare unconscious” of the Chinese dream.

Therefore, argued Song, the mainstream success of writer Liu Cixin’s “Three Body Problem” trilogy and a blockbuster film based on his novel “The Wandering Earth” has heralded an end to the genre’s “golden age.”

Song’s lecture also touched on ways in which Chinese science fiction has allowed for literary inventiveness. By playing with the tension between the literal meaning of language and its “metaphorical construction,” science fiction is able to explore broader metaphysical themes in addition to social and political mores.

By way of example, Song quoted the American author Samuel Delaney’s sentence, “Her world exploded.” In a conventional context, the sentence would be understood to be a figure of speech or hyperbole, but science fiction allows the metaphor to be read quite literally — another way of manifesting the invisible.    

The lecture was sponsored by the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures.

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