Peking University Press, 2022
Reviewed by Shanky Chandra
“To understand the past, present, and future of human development throughout the 20th century, it is no exaggeration to say that studying the history of science fiction is an excellent way to illuminate the nation’s spirit, culture, and literature.” Wu Yan.
There has always been a difficulty in excavating historical materials of Chinese science fiction, which often takes a long time, involves a wide range of coverage, and involves many contacts, and it is often difficult to ensure the original materials are preserved. It is essential to excavate historical data and to interpret it correctly and seriously. In order to interpret anything, you need historical data, but without it, you can’t interpret anything at all. The “History of Chinese Science Fiction in the 20th Century”《20世纪中国科幻小说史》 written by Prof. Wu Yan is the best interpretation of all the excavated Chinese Science fiction materials in the last hundred years. The history of Chinese science fiction has never been written academically until now. Although it takes ten years from conception to completion, “History of Chinese Science Fiction in the 20th Century” is a significant event for a literary genre.
This book is the concluding monograph of the National Social Science Fund’s key project, “History of Chinese Science Fiction in the 20th Century”《20世纪中国科幻小说史》. In the 20th century, Chinese science fiction has experienced its ups and downs of origin, evolution, transformation, and finally, maturity. During this period, genres grew from scratch, writers grew from small to large, works from scarce to inexhaustible, and social influences underwent complex changes. This book sorts out five periods in the history of Chinese science fiction in the 20th century—the development of science fiction in the late Qing Dynasty, the development of science fiction in the Republic of China, the development of science fiction in the early days of the Republic, the development of science fiction in the new era, and the development of science fiction at the turn of the century.
First of all, there is no doubt that “History of Chinese Science Fiction in the 20th Century”《20世纪中国科幻小说史》is a landmark work in the history of Chinese science fiction literature. Although different authors are responsible for each chapter, this book still maintains a relatively stable narrative rhythm within a fixed formal structure. Through a concise introduction to the social environment, ideological background, representative writers, and works of each historical period, the development history of a Chinese science fiction novel in the 20th century is clearly outlined. Many issues worthy of further analysis and discussion also emerged in relatively condensed expressions, such as how to understand the profound influence of Soviet tradition (scientific literature and art, science fiction) on the development of domestic science fiction since the founding of New China, and how to understand (socialism) The relationship between realism and the fantasy of science fiction, and more. Although many issues have not been further developed due to the requirements of space and the form of teaching materials, the book clearly and forcefully presented the development of science fiction as a foreign genre in China in the 20th century. Through this literary form, readers can make a different observation on the historical process of Chinese literature in the 20th century and the spiritual picture of the Chinese people.
After reading this book, Readers can have a general understanding of the development of Chinese science fiction in the last century. The book is divided into five parts: the late Qing Dynasty, the Republic of China, the early Republic of China, the new period, and the turn of the century. Through the analysis of the creative background and representative works of each period, the reader can not only feel the commonality of science fiction in each period but also outline the A complete picture of the history of Chinese science fiction. However, perhaps because several authors wrote a chapter each, the level of each chapter fluctuated a bit, and the changes in the writing style of the book were not used to it, but in general, it was still very good. It will be more effective to read together with the “Selected Chinese Science Fiction Literary Theory” 《中国科幻文论精选》 of the same series.
Throughout the book, from the beginning of Chinese science fiction in the early 20th century to the Republic of China, the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and then to the 1980s and the end of the 20th century, the book systematically discusses the prosperity and decline in the history of Chinese science fiction, including various periods. In the Mr. Wu’s preface first, and the last paragraph describes the general outline of his ideas for compiling this book:
- There is a high priority on excavating historical materials.
- It is horizontally related to the contemporary literary and cultural context.
- Vertically, to bring all historical events and processes into line.
- As a means of providing insight into history itself.
The evolution of Chinese science fiction is naturally divided into several stages, which also correspond to the five chapters of this book – the late Qing Dynasty, the Republic of China, the new China, the new era, and the turn of the century. Each chapter focuses on a certain period of time during the history of Chinese science fiction. Each chapter is divided into three parts: creative background, basic appearance, and representative works of writers of this period as well as the works of important writers and creative schools of the time. This structure offers the benefit of being concise, clear, and consistent in style.
A literary history may be expected to have a coherent thread. History of Chinese Science Fiction in the 20th Century”《20世纪中国科幻小说史》presents a series of chapters dealing with the interrelationships between the earlier and later periods, such as the comparison of the Republic of China with the late Qing Dynasty, the continuation of popular science in the early Republic, the returnees in the new period, etc. As Mr. Wu stated in the Concluding Remarks, “When it comes to the pursuit and reflection of human modernization throughout the 20th century, it is no exaggeration to consider the study of history of science fiction one of the best ways to illuminate the national spirit, changes in national culture, and national literature and to grasp the past, present and future of development.”
History of Chinese Science Fiction in the 20th Century”《20世纪中国科幻小说史》is more refined and easier to read, and it is aimed at a wider audience. It is not only an academic work, but also a must-read for Chinese science fiction enthusiasts.