Chinese science fiction is a fascinating national take on the wider genre, made all the more interesting by the fact that western cultural exports, including science fiction, only reached China in relatively recent times. Chinese sci fi is gaining greater appreciation among western readers as more and more authors are translated. The genre is known for its mix of serious, technical scientific subject matter with emotionally engaging characters. check out Audible's one month free trial and receive any two books for free.
By Liu Cixin
The Three-Body Problem is perhaps the best known of the new wave of Chinese science fiction. It is a perfect example of how the genre as a whole isn’t afraid to embrace and grapple with difficult, technical scientific concepts, but does so in a way which doesn’t sacrifice the story or the level which the reader engages with it. Liu Cixin is one of the top three Chinese science fiction authors around and The Three-Body Problem is the perfect introduction to their style.
By Larissa Lai
Larissa Lai offers a magical and engaging tale with Salt Fish Girl. This Chinese fantastical science fiction book features a character who exists in several forms - a fish, a snake, and a woman. The story is set across two time periods, taking in both the past and the future. The story itself focuses on the title character’s struggle for survival. The story features reliable science fiction tropes such as the nature of a different society, and the form work takes, but also pays tribute to traditional Chinese mythology as well.
By Wang Jinkang
Wang Jinkang’s A Song For Life is an incredible tale featuring a robot and a genius scientist. The story explores how life changes for the creator of an intelligent robot who he raised as his own son whose development unexpectedly comes to a halt. This is emotionally engaging science fiction which presents a fresh take on classic genre themes.
By Han Song
2066: Red Star Over America by Han Song is a fine example of how Chinese fiction isn’t afraid to engage with the near future in a way which much Western fiction rarely does. The story is set in a world where China is the only superpower and the United States is falling into rapid decline. A terrorist attack shakes things up during a Chinese delegation’s visit to America. The story has been re released in light of the fact that the original featured an attack on the World Trade Center, as the book was published prior to the tragic events of September 11th.
By Chan Koonchung
Chan Koonchung has set The Fat Years in Beijing of the near future. The story is based around the mysterious vanishing of an entire month of the calendar year from all official records. This dystopian Chinese science fiction story features kidnap, intrigue and terror as well as a plot centered on high reaching political conspiracy. It is an example of how Chinese science fiction writers can produce page turners to compare with the best of the West.
By Fan Huang
Fan Huang is a leading example of the Taiwanese approach to Chinese science fiction and Zero and Other Fictions is an anthology featuring a novella and various short stories. Huang’s work is an example of dystopian Taiwanese science fiction. All of the stories manage to make contemporary political points which also exploring classic science fiction questions related to how life will rapidly change in the near future.
By Hao Jinfang
Hao Jinfang is one of the leading young voices in female Chinese fiction currently publishing work. Folding Beijing is her most successful book and portrays a dystopian society where people are strictly separated into three different classes. The classes are kept separate and this is enforced by making them live in separate physical levels of society and to keep entirely different schedules of time. The award winning story focuses on a main character who is able to illicitly travel through the different layers and times of society.
By Ken Liu
Ken Liu’s The Wall of Storms is a firm reader favorite which helps to cement Liu’s reputation as a titan of fantasy stories. Although more in the realm of epic fantasy than science fiction, Wall of Storms is an example of a Chinese influenced tale that is likely to hold great appeal for Western readers. Many fans of the book have compared it to Game of Thrones and said the story is also powerful and beautiful emotionally.
By Chen Qiufan
Chen Qiufan uses Future Disease as a platform to explore 16 different short stories. Each story touches on familiar science fiction themes such as virtual reality, the changes in the near future, and how technology impacts society both for the good and the bad. This collection is a great way to get into Chinese science fiction for the first time as the short story lengths make it easy to pick up and put down Future Disease.
By Lao She
Lao She’s Cat Country is one of the earliest examples of Chinese science fiction in existence and is the author’s only journey into the genre. It is a satirical science fiction novel featuring a protagonist who visits Mars and integrates into the world of sentient cat beings living there. However, this setting serves as a way of making social commentary of the Chinese culture in which the author lived.
Chinese Science Fiction: A Movement
Chinese SciFi is booming right now. Just recently, Cixin Liu became the first Asian to ever win the Hugo Award for Best Novel with his book The Three Body Problem. This is a great accomplishment and proper congratulations are in order. As of writing this, his book is currently on my reading list and I'm looking forward to it.
And that's not the only Hugo out of China either.
Chinese author Hao Jingfang became the first Chinese woman to win the award for Best Novelette in 2016. Check out her story in the video below!
But despite this recent surge, this has happened before in China. As a matter of fact, twice before.
The first major movement of Chinese science fiction came in 1902 after the fall of Imperial China. This was sparked by author Liang Qichao with his story A Chronicle of the Future of New China. In his story (which went on to remain unfinished), Shanghai hosts the World Fair in 1962 signifying the 50th anniversary of a successful Reform movement. He envisions futuristic tech and other major pieces of modernization.
His story was written to affect his present, but alas, fell on deaf ears to those in power. China remained adverse to modern Western practices and technology.
The next major push in Chinese Science Fiction came in 1949 after the Chinese Revolution. During this time was when Zheng Wenguang was most active. He was known as the Father of Chinese Science Fiction. However, many of his great works at this time were converted into political propaganda to promote the "wonderful socialist future" of China. Shortly thereafter, many independent works were seized and genres banned due to the new political state.
The early 1990's showed amazing progress for Chinese culture after many of the bans on science fiction were lifted. This ushered in the current wave of Chinese Science Fiction. And it hasn't slowed down since.
What is Chinese SciFi All About?
All Chinese science fiction seems to have one thing in common. They all speak of future narratives of the country of China. They tend to be very political in nature if not quite overtly as a matter of fact. The notion that China not only catches up culturally and to societal standards normally set by Western civilization is a recurring theme you read in these stories.
The repression of Free Speech is also liberally spoke on albeit carefully though. According to Mingwei Song, Associate Professor at Wellesley College (Specializing in Chinese Literature and Science Fiction), the new wave of Chinese SciFi has a dark side. He states:
“This new wave of science fiction has a dark and subversive side that speaks either to the invisible dimensions of reality, or simply the impossibility of representing a reality dictated by the discourse of a national dream.”
How were these Best Chinese Science Fiction Novels Selected?
I don't have as much personal experience with Chinese science fiction as I do with other genres... So the selection of the best novels has been based on the opinions of bloggers, Chinese cultural publications, and fan reviews. If you have more experience with the Chinese SciFi niche, please let me know if there are any essential titles I'm missing here.
Get These Best Chinese SciFi Books for Free!
If you are interested in getting some of these Chinese scifi books for free here is an option for doing so -
1. Audible's One Month Free Trial: Audible is one of the best audiobook services on the market due to the wide range of titles held in its library. You can check out any two titles as a way of trialling Audible and if you cancel your trial you still keep your two audiobooks.