Many people know that Beijing is a city with magnificent ancient palaces, down-to-earth folk, hutong life and super delicious food, but only insiders know it is also a wonderland for sci-fi fans. This ultimate hitchhiker’s guide is for everyone who lives in between reality and fantasy, and wishes to see Beijing from a different perspective.
Ancient palaces for time travelers
When H.G.Wells created his epoch-making sci-fi novel The Time Machine in 1895, the imaginative English writer might not have thought that time travel would become a major genre of China’s popular literature in a century. This type of novel usually features a woman from modern society traveling back in time after having an accident, and becoming a part of historic events that took place in the imperial court, with the emperor or nobles falling madly in love with them.
Either based on historical truth or not, this genre enjoys a big fanbase among younger generations despite itself already becoming a cliché. So, the next time you are in the Forbidden City or the Summer Palace, remember to keep an eye on the tourists around you – it’s possible that one of them is studying the hidden spots of where a fictional time traveler once landed.
If you are familiar with the sci-fi literature scene, you might know Folding Beijing, the 2016 Hugo award-winning novelette. Written by Hao Jingfang and translated by Ken Liu, Folding Beijing depicts the future Beijing as a monstrous mechanism that divides the city into three spaces: First Space for the elites; Second for middle class and Third for the disadvantaged.
The three spaces share the same space on different time, and without much suspense the First Space with the smallest population is allocated the longest time, while the Third Space with the largest population gets only the nighttime. Though being science fiction, Folding Beijing doesn’t sound distant to many Chinese: The parents that have to line up days before registration to get their children into a decent kindergarten, the unbridgeable gap between the Spaces, the helplessness of the Third Spacers in front of the ungraspable truth, all appear appallingly realistic to us.
In Folding Beijing, the capital city of China is divided into three different physical layers that are designated to the elite, middle class and lower class. In this dystopian world, the different social classes cannot travel between layers and they rarely interact. The main protagonist, an under class waste worker Lao Dao, struggles to pay for his adopted daughter’s education. In order to make extra money on the side, Lao Dao delivers secret letters between an illicit inter-class couple on the city’s first and second layers – a position that is both dangerous and illegal. Winner of the Hugo Award for “Best Novelette”, Folding Beijing was published in January 2015 by Uncanny Magazine and can be found on the magazine’s official website. #chinahousereads #china #foldingbeijing #北京折叠 #goodreads #nyu #instanyu #nyc #instanyc #novel #scifi #fiction #beijing
The Beijing in front of you after finishing reading Folding Beijing might shed a completely different light. If you know Mandarin and would love to read more works by Hao Jingfang, you may go to local bookstores to buy her short stories collection, Deep in Loneliness, which includes Folding Beijing. Of course, you may access the original Chinese version of Liu Cixin’s trilogy The Three-Body Problem, the first book of which was the first novel written by an Asian to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Meet people with similar interests at Beihang University’s Sci-fi Community
Founded in 1996, the sci-fi community of the Beihang University in Beijing is one of the most well-established sci-fi clubs in China. It has more than 200 members who share an interest in science fiction. They have their own regular publication, as well as twice-a-week movie screening events and sci-fi salons. It’s a place where you will learn the best Chinese sci-fi works and meet new friends with the same interest.
Be part of Beijing Comic Con
It is a wonder that Beijing only opened its first Comic Con in 2016, because fans of the Marvel and DC worlds, Star Wars and Doctor Who have been looking forward to a Comic Con of their own for a long long time. For years, there has been online communities of fans of world-famous sci-fi works on Chinese social media, who majorly share the news and fan fictions of their favorite works and also hold small gatherings offline. Thanks to the Comic Con they can finally announce their fandom in front of the whole of Beijing by dressing like a Stormtrooper or selling their self-made Tardis T-shirts. The Beijing Comic Con is an event that sci-fi fans in Beijing would not want to miss.