Controversial chief of china’s leading sci-fi magazine suspended
By Artificial Intelligence
Science Fiction World
The world’s largest science fiction magazine, Science Fiction World, once named Science Literature, was established in 1979 to accompany a government campaign to promote science and technology during the reform and became an opening-up drive initiated by Deng Xiaoping after the end of the Cultural Revolution. By promoting Chinese science fiction as well as introducing western works, the journal won tens of thousands of readers during 1979-1984. That period was also named “The Spring of Science in China”. Unfortunately, in 1984, after years of quarreling between science fiction authors and popular science critics, Chinese government began to ban genre publications by the reason of “spreading liberalism of corrupt capitalism under the name of science”, or communicating pseudo-science and spreading anti-socialism thoughts. It was obvious popular science critics won the quarrel. Science fiction entered an ice age. Most publishing houses stopped printing science fiction and magazines announced they were closing. Only Science Literature and Junior Science were still publishing stories.
After 1991, Science Literature changed its name to Science Fiction World and focused on genre development. Because the political situation had changed and market economy reform was extended, the circulation rose quickly. In the peak years of 1990s, the printing numbers of each issue rose to 400,000. It has become one of the most popular magazines among the youth. In the eyes of most Chinese science fiction fans, Science Fiction World was a holy land of science fiction. You can find the name of your favorite authors on it, and it could also be a venue to begin your writing career. The magazine also hosted the Annual Conference of the World Science Fiction (WSF) in 1991 and two international sci-fi conferences in 1997 and 2007. Thousands of fans rushed into auditoriums to listen to speeches by Liu Cixin, Wang Jin Kang, Han Song, as well as Neil Gaiman, Robert Sawyer, Nancy Kress, and Michael Swanwick during that time.
On March 21, 2010, editors of SFW published an open letter online, claiming their president, Li Chang, was incapable of running the magazine and requested his removal from the post. Li was appointed SFW’s president and chief editor by the Sichuan Association for Science and Technology (SAST), an organization of scientists and technicians under the Sichuan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China. The open letter, which described Li Chang as “unprofessional” and his instructions as “arbitrary and impractical,” is signed “All the editors of Science Fiction World” and was published under the ID, “Rise to Fight,” on douban.com. It said Li had “whimsical new ideas — ordering his Chinese literature editors to write novels themselves instead of writers, foreign language editors to translate novels themselves instead of specialist translators, and art editors to draw pictures themselves instead of artists, which shows he has no idea how to run a magazine.” Li had also “tried to change the cover of Science Fiction World entirely into an advertisement.” “Every department protested against his orders, but Comrade Li Chang threatened to punish staff members who dared to voice different opinions.” The letter also told how Li had refused to pay some authors, refused to sign labor contracts with editors, used substandard paper to print the magazine, published too many advertisements, and alleged had illegally sold the magazine’s registration number to unlicensed publishers.
The open letter opened a secret door to editorial. SFW had a circulation of 150,000 copies a month when Li took over at the beginning of 2009, but the latest figures showed the figure has fallen to 130,000 in just one year. It was still falling. The editors also submitted reports to higher administrative departments, SAST, requesting Li’s removal and the appointment of a leader qualified to save the magazine.
Sci-fi Writers and Fans
Just several hours after the letter was posted online, thousands of irritated netizens commented on the Internet in support of the editors. “I used to be a loyal fan of Science Fiction World when I was in college. A novel called Santi (The Three-body Problem) got me started reading science fiction. Since then I bought the magazine which contain novels, novellettes and short stories of science fiction every now and then,” said Liang Liang, a 25-year-old female planner with an advertising company in Beijing. According China Daily report, she said she stopped buying it early last year, “because the stories became very similar, without anything outstanding”. A former editor of the SFW, Shi Bo, whose pen name is Shuoshuren (Storyteller), wrote in a post, “Save SFW, for the sake of Chinese science fiction,” following the open letter at douban.com. “I have contacted most of the sci-fi writers in Beijing. We are trying to figure out a way to better support the SFW editors,” according to Xinhua News.
China’s leading science-fiction authors have joined mounting calls for the removal of the head of the country’s best-loved science-fiction magazine, and warned of the journal’s imminent demise if no action is taken. “This is obviously a case of a layman leading the experts. If it continues, Science Fiction World will definitely die,” said Wang Jinkang, a six-time winner of China’s prestigious Galaxy Award for science fiction. Wang, 62, the author of 20 science fiction books, including Life of Ants and Cross, a novel about an extremist biological warfare attack on the United States, is one of the most popular sci-fi writers in China and began writing for SFW in 1993. China’s best-selling science fiction writer, Liu Cixin, author of Santi, who has a contract to publish the final book of Santi trilogy with the editing studio jointly run by SFW and Sichuan Science and Technology Publishing House, said he had seen thousands of fan comments online and had been deeply touched by them. “I really hope SFW can overcome the current difficulties. ‘Live long and prosper,'” said Liu. “Science Fiction World is a hotbed of China’s imagination. It has a large readership. It would be a great loss for the country if something happened to the magazine,” said Wu Yan, a leading science fiction writer and critic. “Sci-fi is an important genre, which plays an irreplaceable role in inspiring thinking and enthusiasm for science,” he said. “Science fiction is a special genre that demands expertise to be a chief editor,” said Pan Haitian, chief editor of a fantasy magazine called Odyssey of Chinese Fantasy, and popular author of the short story collection Run, Dajiao! Run and The Legend of Master Yan. The 35-year-old has sold more than 500,000 books. Writers, including China’s science-fiction patriarch Liu Xingshi, He Xi, and young authors such as Chen Qiufan and Fei Dao have all expressed support for the SFW editors. “SFW does not belong to anybody. It has become a treasure of the world in the past 30 years. Its leader should be elected from the experienced editors, which we used to do all the time,” said 79-year-old Liu Xingshi who began to publish novels in 1945 and was a founding writer for SFW. “The magazine is of great significant for the readers. We grew up reading it,” said writer Xia Jia, 26, author of “Reversed Journey.” “I began to read sci-fi when I was 7 or 8 years old and I first came across Science Fiction World when I was a teenager. I really hope the dispute will not hurt the magazine. I hope Science Fiction World can survive this crisis,” she said.
From March 21 to April 1, most Chinese newspapers and networks ran reports and comments on the issue. Media was also refocusing on the Chinese science fiction field after Harry Potter and the fantasy high tide overcame science fiction publishing. Journalist constantly called the editor’s office as well as the office of SAST, wishing to know what was the decision with the issue. For example, China Daily journalist call for Wu Kai, the Party secretary of SAST, but his mobile phone was turned off. On March 25, Li Dayong, deputy Party secretary and discipline inspection commissioner of the SAST, answered Xinhua News journalist by phone that an investigation had been launched. “But I will make no comment until the investigation is finished,” Li said. After this response, there was a long silence from SAST.
On April 1st, 2010, 10 days after the open letter was spread, good news was announced. Li Chang, 53, was suspended pending an investigation into his activities, said Li Dayong, an official of the Communist Party of China branch at the monthly magazine’s publisher, the SAST. Li Dayong announced the decision at a morning meeting of the magazine’s senior editors at its offices in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan. Li Chang said at the meeting that he would cooperate with the investigation, according to an editor who declined to be identified. Li Chang hung up when a reporter called him for an interview and later calls to his phone went unanswered.
The editors seemed to be successful while it was only a “step forward.” Sci-fi writers and fans online said that they would monitor developments. “It is a step forward. We are waiting for the final result,” said Wu Yan, a leading science fiction writer and critic. “The SFW has a leading position in Chinese science fiction. We hope that it can continue to be the base of Chinese sci-fi, under the leadership of a professional chief editor,” Wu said.
“Such editorial rebellions are rarely heard of in China as the publication sector is firmly controlled by the Communist Party and the president or editor-in-chief of a magazine is appointed by the superior administrative department.” “It shows that the editors want to have a real say in editing affairs, and it is a trend of grass-roots democracy,” said one comment, quoted from Xinhua News. That means the open letter had more of an effect than the editors expected.
But the editor in chief is just been suspended, does this mean that he will come back in the future? What other undercover issues still ambush the issue? No one can predict at the present.