August 2014, in ExCel London, the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention was in progress. Among the dozens of fan tables in the Fan Village, there was one set up by a group of Chinese fans from Beijing. They were representatives of a fandom called Future Affair Administration (FAA). It was a loosely organized SF club whose members were mostly young people studying or working in Beijing. This time, they sought to take WorldCon to Beijing in 2016. Although it was not a successful bid for various reasons, the fandom hosted the Chinese Nebula Award ceremony later the same year in Beijing, introducing some of the interesting elements they had picked up in the WorldCon to the many SF fans in China.
However, that was not the end of the story. When FAA first came into being, it was backed by Guokr.com, a company focused on education via mass media. Now, the members of FAA decided to bring their collective efforts to a higher level, i.e., creating a commercial entity. By the end of 2015, FAA had officially started to operate out of their own office and obtained the existing brand, Guokr Publishing, from Guokr.com. By publishing books from Marvel, Disney and some of the Chinese SF writers, they were ready to support their more ambitious projects.
In 2016, FAA attracted another round of investment, and a new business plan was laid out. As Liu Cixin and Hao Jingfang won Hugo awards, science fiction is getting more and more attention in China. The market for SF novels, movies and other related merchandise represent a promising opportunity to those who know where to look. The staffs of FAA are enthusiastic SF fans. They are also young and energetic. It is only natural that they wish to work in the area they love. As it is, this new development of science fiction culture in China needs someone who understands the genre to drive forward. The FAA consider themselves the right people for that job, and they are right to think so.
Apart from importing and publishing books, FAA is putting up a scheme to nurture their own writers. They have organized writing contests, taking in stories from all over the country, and the winners were invited to Beijing, where the headquarters of the company is based, to attend writing workshops under the advice of well-known SF authors. According to Alex Li, the chief coordinator of this ongoing endeavour, nearly fifty new writers have signed agreements with the company, looking for opportunities to introduce their works to various media, such as movies, TV dramas, and electronic games. With those activities going on, FAA has attracted around six hundred thousand followers on social networking sites. As these numbers are still growing, it is obvious that we have witnessed the transformation of a fandom into a thriving corporate entity.
Meanwhile, FAA is not the only organization that has adopted science fiction as the central piece of their business. Many English readers probably have noticed that, since 2015, Clarkesworld has continuously published a series of science fiction stories written by Chinese authors. This is actually a joint effort by Clarkesworld and Storycom, a company based in Beijing. When Storycom was established in 2013, its main focus was on story hunting. The plan was to put good stories to the process of further development on other entertainment platforms. As of today, they have retained the rights to 241 SF stories for movie/game adaption, all quality works from Chinese SF writers.
Storycom sent some of their staff to the 73rd WorldCon in Spokane, as well as authors who had signed agreements with the company. They conducted an interview with George R.R. Martin, Ken Liu and Neal Clarke. This occurrence gained support from Phoenix Publishing & Media, a mainstream media corporation in China, and the contents of the interview were widely spread.
Zhang Yiwen, the CEO of Storycom, had years of experience in the film industry before joining the company. According to her observation, despite the fact that Liu Cixin’s novel won a Hugo Award at the WorldCon in 2015, science fiction was a relatively less popular genre in China. The audience and number of works were rather limited. In such a circumstance, to sift through existing stories looking for something with the potential to be a successful movie adaption was a process of trial-and-error. Storycom has been on this task for some time and already kick-started 15 projects simultaneously with different industrial partners. They are not afraid of failures, because they believe that their efforts must be given time to bear fruit. Apparently, Storycom is in a leading position among the crowds who intend to join the business market inspired by the science fiction genre.
However, not all people are looking to the commercial side of the genre. There are plenty of fans who simply wish to share the delight of science fiction books and movies. Those fandoms, although not driven by any kind of capital or investments, keep up their own momentum with constant enthusiasm. Founded in 2009, SF AppleCore is a science fiction and fantasy club located in Shanghai. It started as a union of college SF&F clubs and gradually transformed into a tangible presence for local fans.
One of the hallmarks of AppleCore is probably the Shanghai Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival, an annual event that usually lasts for about a month. During this period, various activities are strung out all over the city, sometimes within the campus of universities and colleges.
In 2013, AppleCore started a monthly gathering program in Shanghai — AppleCore Party, which allows whoever is interested to participate in handcrafting workshops, panel discussions, art shows, movie screenings, etc. The main idea is to orchestrate a gathering for science fiction and fantasy fans, providing them with the opportunities to socialize and exchange ideas. In Nov 2014, another programme, AppleCore Reading Group, was kicked off. Members are encouraged to read a specific book every month and come together to share their thoughts about it. Recently, there is even an AppleCore Writing Workshop, which aims to help those who seek to start a career as speculative fiction writers. In addition, AppleCore also collaborates with the Shanghai Science & Technology Association, a government organization, to host events that reach a larger audience and bear the official function of science popularization.
Because of this continuous undertaking to support fans and the field, ApplceCore was presented the gold award for best fandom during the Chinese Nebula Award ceremony in 2016.
Whilst AppleCore concentrates on events and activities, some other fans try to exercise their own creativity. A few fervent readers of The Three-Body Problem discovered that Minecraft, a sandbox video game, could provide the tools to build an animated world with moving characters in it. That gave them some ideas and they set off to produce a series of animated films based on Liu Cixin’s novel. The crew came from different parts of China and collaborated over the Internet. They named their project My Three-Body Problem.
In Feb 2014, the first chapter was completed and uploaded to the public network. The video was widely viewed and drew in new members to join the original crew. Now, they have a variety of roles in the team, such as screenwriters, scenic designers, post-production directors, voice actors/actresses, and even music producers. In Oct 2015, the production of all the 11 chapters of the first season was finished. By then, the total number of views on Bilibili, a popular video sharing site, had reached more than 3.5 million. The crew of My Three-Body Problem also won the best fan award at the Chinese Nebula Award ceremony in 2015.
With the success of the first season, the crew appeared as the partner of the organizer at a comic convention in Nanjing, the capital city of Jiangsu Province, to present their experience of making such a unique series. Meanwhile, they continued to work on the second season with renewed energy and more professional tools, which allowed them to produce videos with higher resolution quality. The work is still going on, and the audience is looking forward to their next release.
In addition to the organizations introduced above, there are other groups and fandoms dedicated to science fiction in China. The Science & Fantasy Growth Fund is an officially registered non-profit foundation in Shenzhen, whose aim is to establish long term support for science fiction writers and communities. The 501st Legion, an international fan-based organization of costume enthusiasts of the Star Wars universe, has a China Garrison and they have been working with local charities for five years. The World Chinese Science Fiction Association (WCSFA) is the hosting organization of the Chinese Nebula Awards, whose members are mostly authors, editors and other professionals who have close links with the SF genre and are willing to contribute to the community. The Association partners with a website, Fannova, and a themed pub, the Sci-fi Fan Space, to support the operations; both are passionately received by the fans. Moreover, there are dozens of college and university SF clubs all over the country, taking in new student members each year and facilitating the platforms to share their fondness for the genre. When students complete their courses in the college, they will leave the club, but many of them will retain the love of SF, or at least the memories of club activities, which is an integral part of their cherished campus life.
Science fiction is a growing phenomenon in China: the various organizations are living evidence of that. It’s not just Star Wars or The Three-Body Problem now, but a substantial foundation quickly coming into shape. Although speculative fiction is still a small portion of the market, the large population in China suggests a considerable potential return for whoever ventures into this new area. As it happens, quite a few principal investors already have eyes on the genre, but this is perhaps a topic for another time. For now, suffice it to say that the unceasing efforts of all the people within the SF community have given the genre a positive outlook in China and a flourishing future is yet to come.