Hugo Award winner pushes genre’s boundaries in China

By Xie Wenting Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/25 5:03:40

Hao Jingfang. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Hao Jingfang Photo: Li Hao/GT

Hao Jingfang, the winner of this year's international sci-fi award Hugo Award, tries not to be influenced by the public's insistence on putting her into certain categories.

After winning what is regarded as the top literary prize in science fiction in August, Hao, 32, who comes from Tianjin, found herself under the public spotlight and was hailed as a force of revitalization in the Chinese sci-fi genre.

While the accolade has brought many changes to her life, the author is trying to minimize them and continues to focus on what she wants to do.

"People have different suggestions for me and many urged me to write science fiction and create sci-fi plays after receiving the award. But I have my own writing plans," said Hao in her characteristically tender voice.

She revealed to the Global Times that currently she is working on two novels. The first is an exploration of how family influences people, and the other is a sci-fi retelling of the origins of Chinese civilization.

"I'll put in sci-fi elements, like aliens, into China's early civilization," she said, adding that she hopes for the novel to be released next year.

Folding Beijing

With her skinny frame and long black hair, it's hard to tell from her appearance that Hao is a sci-fi novelist capable of creating sophisticated new worlds.

But one look at her resume and her qualifications are clear. She enrolled in China's most prestigious university Tsinghua to major in physics, later changing to economics and obtaining a PhD degree.

Her academic background has laid the foundation for many of her sci-fi creations.

In Folding Beijing, Hao depicts a capital divided by social classes. The story tells of a father's struggle to send his daughter to school in a futuristic version of the Chinese capital.

The Beijing of her story is divided into three areas and people are allotted different amounts of waking hours each day based on their social status. People in the First Space enjoy the longest amount of daylight.

According to Hao, she got her inspiration from a taxi driver who once complained to her about how hard it was to get his daughter into school.

The vivid descriptions of the lives of this "lower class" and their living situations were based on her observations when she lived in a rural-urban fringe zone.

"I want to bring unseen people into the public eye," she said. 

Folding Beijing is the first chapter of a long novel that she plans to write. "Hopefully, this long novel will be released in three years," she revealed, adding that it usually takes her a year to finish one novel.

While receiving accolades overseas, in China some people have cast doubt on whether Folding Beijing even belongs in the science fiction genre, as it lacks enough sci-fi elements.

Others said the work was able to win international recognition only because it appeals to Westerners' tendency to see the bad side of China, as the story talks about social inequality.

Addressing those doubts, Hao told the Global Times, "What I write is set in the near future. So most settings in the novel are similar to the current time. Sci-fi is not only about the distant future. In the long novel, I will write more sci-fi elements."

While Chinese readers like to see Folding Beijing as a political allegory, Hao discovered that Western sci-fi fans are more concerned about whether machines will replace humans, and are not as focused on the class gap.

Hao believes that machines won't take away all jobs from human beings. "There will be new types of jobs coming out for people."

Making changes

"The novel is useful in raising people's awareness, but it won't bring practical changes," she said.

In order to bring about practical changes that will help minority groups, Hao did extensive work to help left-behind children at the China Development Research Foundation, which is under the Development Research Center of the State Council.

In addition to this job, she also spends a lot of her time helping these children to expand their cultural horizons.

She is now working with her friend to set up a company that will explore ways of using tourism to raise money for left-behind children. They have chosen Miyun county in Beijing and Louna village of Guizhou Province as two experimental locations.

There, they will send teachers to help children, local teachers and parents to cultivate children's cultural lives. The program will officially kick off next year.

As the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Hao tries hard to strike a balance between her heavy workload and family life. Most days, she gets up at 4:30 am and rarely gets to sleep until 11:30 pm. When she is especially busy, she has to get up at 3 am to guarantee that she has two to three hours in the day just to write.

In addition to writing novels, she also runs a WeChat public account where she shares her views on parenting and child psychology.

Genre's future

A year before Hao won the Hugo Award, Chinese writer Liu Cixin won the prize for his sci-fi novel The Three-Body Problem, which caused great excitement across China's online community.

But despite people's high praises, Hao notes that currently it's impossible for a writer to make a living only through writing science fiction, given that it's still a marginalized genre.

"There are many young and talented sci-fi writers in China, but there is no mature sci-fi culture in the country," she said.

In order to reach the public, she suggests that it would be useful to adapt these novels into movies and television shows, as is done in the West.

"Maybe in 10 years' time, we can see good domestically made science fiction films and TV shows," she said.

Newspaper headline: Sci-fi Struggle


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