Why China relies on science fiction films and books

Why China relies on science fiction films and books

In the beginning it was Zheng Wenguang. Born in Vietnam and moved to China at the age of 18, in 1947, when it was not yet a People's Republic. It is he who is considered the "father of Chinese science fiction" for the publication of his short story From the Earth to Mars in 1954. When Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966, science fiction disappeared from the Chinese galaxy. Only to reappear, in 1979, with Zheng's first long novel, Flyto Centaurus. It is the basis of an epic that in recent years has been relaunched with enormous vigor by a generation of new Chinese authors. With the active participation of the government, interested in the construction of a Chinese mythology conveyed above all through cinema and television. Science fiction is now added to the classic historical dramas, obviously with patriotic traits like all the other genres that Beijing pushes onto the big screen.

The center of gravity of a genre that in China is enjoying enormous success both in both literary and cinematographic production is Liu Cixin, the best-known Chinese science fiction author also internationally. His famous The Problem of the Three Bodies, published in 2008, quickly became one of the major bestsellers in Chinese literature. But then many other names emerged, starting with the talented Hao Jingfang, who with her acclaimed Beijing folding became the first Chinese author to have won the Hugo Award. Moving on to Han Song, a reporter for the Xinhua state news agency and author of The Bricks of Rebirth. Automation, artificial intelligence, a mixture of different levels of reality and grotesque situations are the basis of this literary production which in China is defined as "ultra-unrealistic" but which in reality rests on a reality that perhaps runs too fast, risking to alienate those who are part of it.

Chinese science fiction to conquer the big screen If the reins in literature are rather loose, science fiction in the cinema takes on a value not only cultural but also rhetorical and political. And to say that in 2011 the State Administration for Radio, Cinema and Television had discouraged film and television productions that included "fantasy, time travel, mythical stories, bizarre plots, absurd techniques, even the propagation of feudal superstitions, fatalism and reincarnation, ambiguous moral lessons and a lack of positive thinking ". Only a few years later, these instructions had become a distant memory.

The trend of Chinese interest towards the science fiction genre begins earlier, but the general public, especially international, realizes it with the release of the blockbuster The Wandering Earth, based on Liu Cixin's own novel. With a budget of about $ 50 million, the film grosses 700, becoming the highest-grossing non-American production film in the history of world cinema behind only Wolf Warrior 2, a 2017 Chinese thriller. continues after its acquisition by Netflix and influences not a little the film production of the past years.

Science fiction to create an epic of Chinese soft power But Chinese science fiction on the big screen is much more than just The Wandering Earth, which will still have a sequel to theaters in 2023. In the past few weeks, for example, it has achieved a huge success Journey to the West by Kong Dashan. If The Wandering Earth told of a heroic enterprise in space led by a Chinese astronaut, Journey to the West is a sort of Close Encounters of the third kind with Chinese characteristics. Tang Zhijun, a middle-aged editor of a Beijing magazine, travels to a remote village to investigate the mass sighting of an unidentified flying object. There he meets a local poet who claims that the answer to the mystery lies on a mountain.

The difference from its famous predecessor, who was more fortunate at the box office than with critics, Kong's film was a great success on the circuit of international festivals. After winning four awards, including Best Picture, at the Pingyao International Film Festival, the film was positively received at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and the Osaka Asian Film Festival. In recent years, almost all genre film production has turned to Liu, whose work is often compared to the science fiction writers of the "golden age" of the 1940s and 1950s. But as Sixth Tone pointed out, Kong's new film changes the rules of the game, creating a more authentically Chinese atmosphere.

The Chinese government has become convinced that the science fiction genre can be used effectively as a tool of soft power. This paved the way for a series of big-budget science fiction productions. Chinese authorities are investing resources in science fiction-related projects. In 2019, the government helped launch the Chinese Science Fiction Academy at Sichuan University in Chengdu, a facility whose stated mission is to develop "a science fiction theoretical system with Chinese characteristics." In 2023, Chengdu will host the World Science Fiction Convention. In Kunming, officials have given the green light to build a huge $ 8 billion Paramount Park theme park.

On the other hand, China is no longer afraid to declare its ambitions and is no longer hiding its status as a global power. And what, more than the space race, can power status represent? The United States teaches, with the moon landing in 1969. It is no coincidence that Beijing invests heavily in its space program. Similarly a cinematic sci-fi epic must be built, as did post-World War II Hollywood.

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