Chinese science fiction novels, films join hands to let imagination fly
Published: Nov 05, 2023 10:02 PM
Promotional material for The Wandering Earth II   Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Promotional material for The Wandering Earth II Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

A few days ago, the Science Fiction Film Working Committee of the Chinese Film Association was founded during the China Golden Rooster Film Festival, signifying a solid step taken to promote Chinese science fiction films and novels, which are often closely connected and constitute a support for each other. 

It is generally known that many science fiction films are adapted from science fiction novels. The first novel of this genre  was Frankenstein written by noted British writer Mary Shelley in 1818, followed by numerous works. However, original works of such literary genre were not available in China until the 1980s, except for brief introductions given by some Chinese writers in the early 20th century. 

The magazine Ke Xue Wen Yi (Science Arts) created in 1979, was one of the few magazines that published science fiction for teenagers, but at the time the publication wasn't very popular, as topics such as spacecraft, extraterrestrials and time travel were deemed too far removed from ordinary life. Some people even questioned the value of science fiction, calling it "pseudo-science," so the fledgling literary genre had gradually stalled in China. 

Despite such humble beginnings and dim prospects, the editors of the magazine were so enchanted by the marvel of a science fiction film entitled Dead Light on Coral Island back then, that they were determined to keep the magazine running. In 1991, they changed the magazine name to Ke Huan Shi Jie (Science Fiction World) targeting middle school and college students. Some of the most well-known Chinese science fiction writers of today were among those young readers, including He Xi, Han Song, and Liu Cixin, whose novel Three Body won the Hugo Award. 

Since 1995, Science Fiction World began to publish translated science fiction novels by well-known foreign writers such as Robert Sawyer, Arthur Clarke, Ursula K. Le Guin, etc. which have helped Chinese readers broaden their horizons and inspired more of them to create their own works, including Liu, who later published the novel The Wandering Earth

Nowadays, it seems that more and more people get their first access to science fiction through films or TV dramas that were adapted from novels. 

As an editor for many famous science fiction writers over the past 20 years, Yao Haijun, deputy editor-in-chief of Science Fiction World said, "I really feel that it is only natural that science fiction often develops from books to films, as publications have laid a solid foundation for films, and films will also promote the growth of publications."

However, Chinese science fiction has undergone a difficult journey. 

"When The Wandering Earth started to be shot, it seemed like luxury to make a Chinese science fiction film" recalls Gong Ge'er, scriptwriter and producer of the film, but four years later, they made a second one, which marked "a new beginning." "I really feel that the growing Chinese science fiction market is bringing in a larger  Chinese audience and the audience itself appears to feel more confident toward Chinese science fiction."

After the films The Wandering Earth I and II and the TV Drama Three Body were released, a fervor for science fiction was sparked among Chinese audience. Although movies such as Three Body were not seen as a promising by most of the filmmakers years ago, in 2023 The Wandering Earth II gained a whooping 4 billion yuan ($547.6 million) box office according to, and in 2023 it won the Special Award during the just concluded Chinese top film festival. It has also been announced that The Wandering Earth III is expected to be released in 2027 at the festival. 

In recent years, the adapted films from science fiction IPs and novels have boomed, reflecting China's growing technological strength and AI film production ability. According to the 2023 Chinese Science Fiction Industry Report, in 2022, ten science fiction films were screened, and of all the top 10 domestic box office earners, four science fiction films were made in China, and China's science fiction films and TV dramas gained 8.35 billion yuan($1.14 billion), up 16 percent year-on-year.

Under such influence, more and more young people, who are most of the moviegoers, have become enthusiastic about this genre, which serves as a catalyst for its further development. Experts say that early exposure to science fiction will shape people's minds through an interest toward science,  and let their imagination to bloom and bear fruit. 

Yang Lei, chief director of the adapted TV drama Three Body said, "I read many science fiction articles when I was young. In 2006, when I read this series of novels on the magazine Science Fiction World, I was overwhelmed."

Guan Ziqing, a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Physics of Chinese Academy of Sciences first got access to the science fiction film duringhigh school, later he chose physics as his university major. In his first year, he read the novel Three Body, and became engaged in it after learning about quantum physics. In 2023, he wrote an article called "How a Physics PhD student Feels about The Wandering Earth II," gaining 400,000 views and numerous comments. 

However, the current Chinese science fiction films are still in the "development" stage, admitted Wang Hongwei, a judge of Chinese science fiction movies at the film festival, andthe founding of the Working Committee of the Science Fiction has made a "substantial" step in the development of this genre. 

It is good news that Chinese science fiction has undergone a fast growth over the last decade, as more publishers are shifting their focus towards this genre and more young writers are emerging with more creative ideas such as science fiction games, cartoons and animations. So the mutually supportive Chinese science fiction novels and films, as well as other art forms, will surely help more Chinese young people let their imagination fly and lead the future of science fiction.