Folding meanings: Young Chinese writers use science fiction to criticise their society

Alec Ash in The Economist:

ChinaChinese sci-fi is having a moment. Liu Cixin’s bestselling alien-invasion trilogy “The Three-Body Problem” has sold more than 4m copies. Since 2015 it has won international fans too, after becoming the first Chinese book to win the prestigious Hugo award for best science-fiction novel, and a major movie is due out this year. But whereas Liu, 53, writes about aliens, physics and man’s place among the stars – traditional science-fiction concerns – a new generation of Chinese writers is experimenting with the genre as a way to discuss the realities of 21st-century China. Hao Jingfang won international acclaim when one of her stories, “Folding Beijing”, won the novella category in the latest Hugo awards. In China the story was hotly discussed online, not just for its literary merits, but also for its social criticism. The story follows Lao Dao, a migrant sewage worker living in the underbelly of the capital who is saving up to pay kindergarten fees for his adopted daughter. Yet this Beijing is divided into three segments: an elite 5m live in “First Space”, 25m more occupy “Second Space” and a teaming underclass of 50m are in “Third Space”, where Lao Dao toils. As well as being separate socially, these strata are physically divorced. Every day at 6am the skyscrapers of one space fold in on themselves and pivot like “gigantic Rubik’s cubes” so that the earth literally turns over to reveal the next lot who have their turn at living above ground. Lao Dao rides the folding, morphing city up into Second and then First Space, smuggling a lover’s message and stumbling across an explanation of how the city came to be as it is.

As a commentary on inequality and those who are left behind by China’s breakneck urbanisation, Hao’s message is hard to miss. (Her inspiration for the story was a Beijing taxi-driver who complained to her about his daughter’s high kindergarten fees.)

More here.