No matter what form the future takes, there's one country that will take a major role in guiding it from those things that it does, or does not, do--China. I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that the 21st century will be a Chinese century, if for no other reason that it accounts for a significant fraction of humanity and shows no signs of letting its influence fade. As it stands, China's looking toward the future--witness the Chang'e 3 landing and Yutu lunar probe, for example, or its plans to have its own space station in operation by the 2020s. Appropriately enough, science fiction is big business there; its Science Fiction World, with estimates of more than one million readers per issue, is the most popular SF magazine on Earth.
Still, something of a gap remains between Chinese and Western SF--at least, from the Western perspective. It's not unusual for Western science fiction to be translated for the Chinese audience, going back to translations of Jules Verne in the early 20th century, but there's far less of it happening in the other direction. Ken Liu is active in translating Chinese science fiction and fantasy for publication in English, I can't think of anyone else who's doing it. The English translation of Cheng Jingbo's "Grave of the Fireflies," which appeared in this month's Clarkesworld, is the first I've come across.
It's the sort of thing that should change. I mean, this is the 21st century after all. Science fiction is a conversation, and when people are excluded everyone else misses out. If I had the opportunity, I'd start a magazine half in English, half in Chinese, translating stories to carry them across the language barrier... maybe someone will start something like that, one day. Maybe someone already has and I just don't know about it. But connections are important.
So I wasn't entirely surprised to find, the other day, about a group that's bidding for the 2016 World Science Fiction Convention--in Beijing.
It's a bit of a quixotic bid, really. The voting for 2016 is going to be held in London this August, and it's been Kansas City running unopposed for years. The KC bid has built up enough steam at this point that I doubt Beijing would be able to finagle an upset. It's my suspicion, and the suspicion of others, that the bid organizers are rather new to the whole thing--for one, none of the standard questionnaires detailing the dates being bidded for, bid officials, and so on seem to be present on their website. A website, for that matter, which I can only read after passing it through Google Translate, as it's entirely in Mandarin. The organizers seem to be some kind of scientific society where people can go for answers to science-related questions, talk about science and technology, and that sort of thing.
I think there's a definite opportunity for a Beijing bid: not in 2016, but down the road. 2018, for example, only has two candidates so far, New Orleans and San José. Targeting a more distant year would give a Beijing bid group more opportunity to level out a foundation and build bridges to bring the Chinese and Western science fiction communities closer together--which, really, should be the entire point of it.
That's not to say I don't have misgivings about how well Beijing would fare in competition--just after I heard about this bid, I saw those photos of the sunrise being broadcast on big TV screens in Beijing because the smog was thick enough to turn the sky grey.* Still, I am reminded that Loncon 1, held in 1957, came only five years after a particularly vicious smog descended over London. The more things change, the more they really don't.
I have to say, though, I do like the logo they've chosen.
* Postscript 01/24/2014 - As I have subsequently seen, that is not what those pictures accurately represented, but the fact remains that the air in China's urban centers is hideously polluted.