Publication details

Self-loathing in contemporary Chinese science fiction



Year of publication 2021
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
Description This paper explores the topos of “self-loathing” in contemporary Chinese science fiction, focusing on the work of Han Song. The notion of “self-loathing” follows Geremie Barmé’s description of the term. Barmé uses this term to describe a peculiar way many Chinese intellectuals across the 20th century reacted to China’s ill-fated modern history. Barmé stresses the double nature of Chinese “self-loathing“ tradition: On one hand, it is posed as a humiliating recognition of China’s backwardness with the implication that the true reason for this state is a deep-rooted corruption of Chinese culture and nature. On the other hand, the typically extreme imagery of the Chinese “self-loathing” tradition reveals a patriotic zeal, a prevalent sense of national uniqueness, and an urge for the nation’s renewal. There are two typical references of the Chinese self-loathing. One is the corruption of pre-modern Chinese culture and society (which is supposed to haunt Chinese nation even in modern times), the second one is Cultural Revolution (as a major example of Chinese nation’s being haunted). This paper argues that another “self-loathing” reference point can be detected in what is perhaps an unlikely medium – in contemporary Chinese science fiction. It is argued that in Chinese sci-fi we encounter a criticism of contemporary Chinese society and politics, though veiled as fictional dystopic visions. The paper focuses on several works by Han Song with briefer references to other writers (Liu Cixin, Chan Koonchung). It is argued that the criticism of China in these works can often be plausibly read in the self-loathing tradition described above. The paper concludes that despite the grandeur of China’s rise in the 21st c. (in both reality and these sci-fi works) the contemporary authors express the same strange sentiment with the earlier authors of the 20th c. – the problem of China’s monstrosity vis-a-vis modernity.

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