Monday, March 26, 2012

Asian science fiction and the draw of dystopias

The Los Angeles Times recently presented an article on the recent move of science fiction into the Chinese underground. Stories addressing totalitarian governments and brainwashed citizens are particularly popular. A frequent theme is "the unstoppable rise of China and the end of the American empire," according to Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore. Interestingly: "China all but banned popular "time travel" television dramas for promoting "feudalism, superstition, fatalism and reincarnation." These are certainly interesting items for consideration.

Comparisons to 1984 and Brave New World were inevitable, but I also suspect it doesn't even begin to address many of the complexities within this situation and the historical role of literature and its relationship to culture as both a reflection and a shaping factor.

One Chinese author remarks: "I went to America to present my ideas, but they thought that the portrayal of China's superpower status was an exaggeration. Americans think that America cannot be destroyed. They laughed at this idea. They didn't believe in me."

These are, alas, still statements that can cause a lot of dismay and discomfort among some readers. One has to avoid ethnocentrism and be prepared to confront the uncomfortable propositions and positions. But the way such stories and ideas are presented at all can be quite informative in allowing us to understand many cultural responses and attitudes of the times. Particularly with speculative literature this does not mean they are mainstream views, plausible views, explicit wishes, or lamentations of a world that will not be. It's fiction. A work of imagination that at times could be more plausible or less plausible.

One wonders how science fiction will flourish and grow in other countries in the coming years ahead.

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