I have deliberately waited until the conclusion of the 2023 Chengdu Worldcon to share my explanation for the positions I took regarding the Chinese Worldcon. I do so in order to avoid having these thoughts confused with criticism of the event.
However, considering the pushback I received during the site selection process and the run-up to the event, I feel compelled, now, to explain those positions and where they came from, because I do feel that an important aspect of my objections has been over-looked, and they apply to future site selections.
But I would first like to address the accusations of “racism” that were leveled in response to my position(s).
I can understand how and why such accusations were leveled. They’re a convenient political ploy and, in this case, absent any merit. Well prior to this Worldcon, Amazing Stories actively reached out to the Chinese fan community and recruited several of its members to regularly post on this site. In fact, I believe that Amazing Stories was the second fan-oriented publication to do so, following Clarkesworld magazine’s efforts.
Our audience is Fans, regardless of where they come from or what language(s) they speak. We have given voice and coverage to fans from all over the world – Latin America, Ukraine, Europe, Japan, Korea, China, publishing posts in both their native languages and in translation. (Go search through the site.) We are read, apparently, the world over, as well.
I view Fans from the world over as members of their own self-selected species, and as Fans, we try to hold the mundane world at bay, eschewing mundane constructs like race, gender, nationality, as unnecessary intrusions into a better world of story, imagination and shared experience, at least within our own enclaves.
But sometimes we can’t avoid having to deal with such “real world” issues, and a Worldcon held in China was one of them.
In writing my objections to that Worldcon, I was very careful to direct my concerns not at Chinese Fans, nor even the Chinese people in general, but at the government of a country that is held in thrall to a dictator.
That being said, I will reiterate my objections before explaining where they came from.
I did not think that WSFS in particular, nor Fandom in general, should be rewarding the propaganda efforts of a government engaged in wholesale genocide against minority communities within its borders. I further objected to that country’s discrimination of LGBTQI communities, its disrespect for intellectual property norms and its intrusive surveillance, particularly of foreign visitors.
I felt deeply ashamed of the Fan community for even contemplating allowing an event to be hosted in a country whose actions are so obviously antithetical to Fannish ideals of diversity and inclusion.
Further, I was ashamed of the Fan community for ignoring its ideals and allowing itself to be used for what was essentially a commercial opportunity to expand its reach, placing commercialism over its ideals, or at least allowing itself to be used in such a manner.
I know full well that the WSFS bylaws offer no formal method for vetting and approving Worldcon bids. I, we, used to be able to count on shared community values to prevent inappropriate bids from being proposed, let alone winning. This no longer being the case, WSFS needs to formalize some method for preventing such things from happening again in the future.
My objections to China’s treatment of its Muslim minorities stems from a long history of being sensitive to discrimination. At the age of 5 I was subject to bullying owing to my lack of height. The thing I could not wrap my head around back then, and still can’t to this day, is how any human could denigrate someone for something completely out of that person’s control, just as sex, race and family religion are not determined by the individual.
Soon thereafter, I was introduced to the horrors of the Holocaust (most American Jews of my generation were annually reminded of those horrors in Hebrew school), not to mention antisemitic acts directed at me in school and elsewhere (having pennies rolled at me in cafeteria, swastikas chalked on the sidewalk outside my home). These may strike some as minor childhood experiences, not on par with many other discriminatory acts we read about almost daily, but I do not think that discriminatory acts are measured against one another externally, but rather by the effect they have upon the individual.
Rather than making me numb, those experiences made me extremely sensitive to discrimination, no matter who it might be directed at.
State-sponsored discrimination is, for me, amongst its worst expressions, as such actions carry with them all of the power and instrumentalities of a state, making them more ruthless, more effective, more profound and offering them greater opportunities to both justify and conceal their actions.
It is from THIS that my objections to a Worldcon held in China stem.
I won’t go into all the why’s and wherefores as I have written on those elsewhere. But I will once again point out two specific factors. First, China (its government, not its people) has long been engaged in efforts to supplant Western thought and ideals, and does so through attempts to subvert our own interests and vulnerabilities: they have done so through film and television (look into the hoops Hollywood has to jump through in order to get films into the Chinese domestic market), through sports and most recently through the science fiction community.
Second, the Chinese government itself has stated that it intends to use the world-wide interest in things SFnal for social engineering purposes; to use the literature of ideas to bend and shape thought in support of their repressive agenda.
Science Fiction is supposed to open its readers up to all manner of ideas, to expose them to new thought and experiences, and to leave whatever conclusions may be made up to the individual, not to be organized propaganda serving a state-sponsored agenda. (Suppression of “improper” thought is well-known in China. It is ironic that a literature that has been used elsewhere to fight against such influences – Science Fiction in the USSR being one example – now serves an opposite purpose.)
These and other objections, as well as supporting documentation, can be found in several other posts on this subject, particularly this one.
In that post I wrote this: “Do we really want the Chinese government to be able to use Worldcon, Fandom and the prestige of the Hugo Awards to help them convince the world that no one cares about the internment camps, re-education, forced labor and executions? Look – this primarily western and largely progressive international organization held the most prestigious award ceremony in their field a few hours away from the interment camps?”
It has not gone without notice that following the bid vote (which had its own suspect issues), the number of objections to attending steadily increased. Some of that was certainly influenced by the displays of miscommunication and incompetence (or language/cultural issues) coming out of the convention, but I have also seen that many concerns about the event included mention of rights issues, and I take a small amount of comfort from that, as it suggests that there is still room for our community to address these issues, and I hope that we do.
I will go on record as stating that I do not object to the science fiction community using Worldcon, and its other institutions to extend its reach to fan communities around the world. But I do object to thinking that we can use our events and our participation to in any way affect governmental institutions – believing that Fandom’s ideals might somehow have a positive influence on Chinese governmental policy is insane. Fannish institutions are supposed to serve Fannish agendas. Which means extending the reach of Fannish ideals of openness, diversity, inclusion, not restricting them to narrow, state-approved agendas, as was prefaced in Chengdu’s bid proposal: “Fandom in Chengdu is about diversity and inclusion. It includes Han Chinese Clothing culture/anime culture/literature/films industry. In our Worldcon, we will bring these elements together and make the Wolrdcon a audio-visual feast.” A quick internet search will reveal that there are 56 “recognized” ethnicities in China. The Chengdu bid proposal excluded 55 of them. That contradictory statement alone should have been enough to disqualify the bid.
Chief among the arguments for hosting Worldcon in China has been statements to the effect that countries like the United States have their own issues related to discrimination – issues for women, issues for the transgender community, issues for the LGBTQI community, issues for the POC community – and yes, the US is no paragon of virtue when it comes to such things. But there is a difference between the United States and some other countries that have bid or may be encouraged to do so in the future, and that is that the United States, the UK, Ireland, Finland, Australia, Germany, Japan, Canada and the Netherlands are all democracies in which the people still have a voice and can participate in choosing their leaders. They may be, and some currently are, seriously flawed in that regard, but the power to change that still rests within the hands of the citizenry. The moment that such is no longer true for any of the countries listed, I will object just as strenuously to hosting a Worldcon there as I did to the one held in Chengdu.
I strongly urge debate on this issue within the Fan community. None of us (I like to think) is in favor of a Worldcon hosted in a country in which some members of our community will feel uncomfortable attending, or worse, feel they can not attend while giving full expression to themselves without risking censure or, worse, imprisonment. Our objective is to EXTEND Fandom to all corners of the globe, to use it to give that diversity voice, but I don’t see how we can do that effectively if the choice of location prevents members of our community from participating.
I also reject the concept that some program for vetting the suitability of venue is a form of gatekeeping. We are not talking about the people who live in a particular country, we are talking about the governments of countries. The citizens of a country under a dictatorial regime are being victimized by that regime, they are not the regime. Instead of going to their repressive country (bringing with it economic benefit and the veneer of acceptability), lets create programs that can bring more of them to events held in countries that uphold the ideals we espouse. Let them see first hand what freely expressing themselves in an open environment feels like. Let them take that home with them. (Most now recognize that awarding the Olympics to Nazi Germany in the 1930s, to Sochi, Russia in 2014 and Beijing, China just last year was a mistake. So too is the awarding of a Worldcon to countries that do not place human rights and democratic ideals at the forefront of their institutions.)
If Fandom wants to spread its message of being a community that expresses openness, equality, stands for inclusion and representation, then it should not allow its events to be hosted in countries that do not share those ideals.
The featured image for this post was sourced from The Independent “State of Freedom Worldwide”.
That image is reproduced below: