Women writers are taking the Chinese science fiction scene by storm, with their increasing prominence one of the genre’s most noticeable trends, according to participants at a major convention in Chengdu this week.
Worldcon — the world’s oldest and most influential sci-fi gathering — is taking place in China for the first time, drawing hordes of eager local fans of all genders.
China can still be a relatively socially conservative country, and under President Xi Jinping the space for the expression of feminism has shrunk even further over the last decade.
But in science fiction, the number of women authors has rocketed in recent years, said Regina Kanyu Wang, a writer and editor nominated for two prestigious Hugo Awards at Worldcon this year.
More women are now realising “it’s not only this nerdy, geeky style of science fiction that can be published, or that can be regarded as science fiction”, she said.
“Liu Cixin (the author of the world-famous Three-Body series) is great, we all love him. But there’s so much more outside of the Liu Cixin style.”
The good news is that once women do get their start as writers, they do not tend to feel they are treated unequally, according to Wang.
The market and readers are demanding new perspectives, she said.
“Nowadays, a lot of Chinese female sci-fi writers pay attention to the problems women face that men might not feel,” Zhou Danxue, a literature scholar at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, told AFP.
“The writers can use their own methods to reflect uniquely female feelings.”
– ‘New sense of community’ –
In the past two years, there have been four anthologies published that were made up of only women or non-binary authors, Wang said, a major breakthrough.
Previously, there was not even one all-women collection, and before the 1990s, there were very few prominent women authors at all.
“The Way Spring Arrives,” one of the anthologies that Wang co-edited, includes an essay pinpointing the internet as a nurturing ground for women and queer talent.
Its widespread use “not only brought people a new sense of community, but … removed a lot of trade-based and societal barriers to authorship, especially for non-male writers”, author Ni Xueting explained.
Chen Qiufan, one of China’s most prominent sci-fi authors, told AFP that traditionally the genre was not taken particularly seriously, and was seen as “written by and read by boys”.
Now, you have “a much broader audience and a more diverse one”, he said, estimating his own readers’ gender split was around 50/50.
Monet, a 21-year-old visiting the convention on Friday, said she had sometimes felt isolated in her fandom.
“It’s hard to share my interests with people who don’t understand. They would ask why a girl liked sci-fi?” she said.
She was optimistic those attitudes could change, pointing out the schoolchildren roaming excitedly around the convention centre.
“I think (interest in) Chinese science fiction must be cultivated from childhood,” she said.
“I don’t think we had this kind of opportunity when we were young… I really envy them, to be honest.”