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The Chinese WorldCon Bid for 2023 and the Chengdu Conference of 2019

Saturday, November 30th, 2019 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

The 5th International SF Conference in Chengdu 2019-small

I’ve blogged about some of my authorly visits to China, like my first trip to the 4th International SF Conference in Chengdu in 2017, a trip to study a high-tech company for a commissioned story, and the 2nd Asia-Pacific SF Conference in Beijing in 2019. Both government and private sector are investing in the creative side of the scifi industry, especially writers and editors, in a strategic way to develop the kind of home-grown creative talent that will feed China’s growing movie, TV and game industries. One of the ways they’re doing this is to send their own people to WorldCons, and another is to bring foreign writers and editors to China. A third is that Chengdu, a major SF city, is bidding for the 2023 WorldCon.

[Click the images for Conference-sized versions.]

5th International SF Conference in Chengdu 2019 4-small

Last weekend I was a guest at Chengdu’s 5th International SF Conference, where the bid and its preparations were front and center. The International SF Conference is supported by SFWorld, a major publisher, which is itself supported by the Sichuan province’ Ministry of Science and Tech, and partnered with the Sichuan Association of Science. This is important insofar as it is super clear that Chengdu’s 2023 WorldCon bid is fully supported by municipal (16M people) and provincial (81M people) governments. How supported? Well, the mayor of Chengdu not only head-lined the con’s opening ceremonies, but invited about 30 foreign and Chinese guests for a reception and supper the night before.

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The con itself was also structured to support the bid. They had the guests you’d expect at a scifi con, like writers Eileen Gunn, Pat Murphy, Ted Kosmatka (USA), Taiyo Fuji, Fumiko Takahashi and others from Japan, Rich Larson (Canada/Czech Republic), YK Yoon (South Korea) and editors like Nick Wells (I’m missing a lot by the way).

In addition, they had a full who’s who of past, present and future WorldCon organizers as well as national con organizers, like Helen Montgomery, Bill Lawhorn, Liat Shahar Kashtan, Ben Yalow, Dave McCarty, Colette Fozard, Pablo Vasquez, Norman Cates, Kelly Buehler, Crystal Huff, Hisayuki Hayashi, Kaori Uehara, Ko Tomari, Domenico Monopoli, Silvia Sasolari, and Carolina Gomez Lagerhof. That is a *lot* of con-running fire-power and these guests were interviewed by reporters, spoke on panels and generally discussed and advised the Chengdu folk in many ways on how to sharpen and improve their bid.

For perspective, here is some of the Chinese press coverage that you can google-translate to read:

So I guess the obvious question for the rest of this post is: What do I think of the Chengdu bid?

I would have to say that I support it and will vote for Chengdu in 2023. Do I think it will be a seamless con with no hiccups? No. This would be China’s first WorldCon and there will be a learning process for the Chinese fans and con organizers, as well as fandom from the west. Anything else would be unsurprising and this is a normal cost of moving WorldCon to new places.

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Do I think that it is kind of like the extreme sports of WorldCon? Yes, kind of, but in the good scary way. I am not a natural traveller. I tend to go where my hand is being held and places I can communicate. So going someplace where there’s no English, French or Spanish can be a daunting for me. But, given maps of the city, subway guides, google translate on my phone (set to offline), I actually made my way pretty successfully around.

Would a Chinese WorldCon be affordable? The food is cheap compared to normal WorldCon cities and we were put up in a beautiful hotel where the rooms were $57USD/night. A Chinese visa is about $150 for Canadians and about $225 for Americans (I believe China charges us the same price we charge them for visas). My flight from Ottawa to Chengdu and back was $900CAD. That is pricey, but I spent pretty close to that to go Ottawa-San Jose (WorldCon 2018) and Ottawa-Dublin (WorldCon 2019).

5th International SF Conference in Chengdu 2019 1-small

What would the programming look like linguistically? I’ve seen two ways to run multilingual panels. At APSFCon in May 2019 and May 2018, machine voice recognition and then machine translation were projected above panelists in real time. About 75% of the meaning was clear, with about 25% that you would either get from context or smile about how far computers still have to develop.

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At Chengdu, they mostly run simultaneous translation where human translators speak in cabins at the side of the room and this is transmitted to earpieces for audience members and panelists. The panels are less interactive among panelists because of this, but the diversity of viewpoints is broad.

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For example, I was on a panel last week with an American writer, two Japanese writers and a Chinese moderator. The conversation had a range of cultural viewpoints that I wouldn’t have seen anywhere else.

What would the tourism opportunities beside the con look like? Out of this world. While some guests went to see the pandas, Ted Kosmatka, Rich Larson and I went to a stunning photography art gallery. Pablo Vasquez was a master of seeing ancient temples. Most of the guests got to see a massive museum that covered human occupation from the paleolithic through the pre-dynastic through the dynastic ages, filled with pottery and gold and jades and bronzes.

The urban planning nerds in us got to see how modern Chengdu is now, and what it’s going to look like in the next 10-20 years as the city is further greened and modernized with new public transit, larger airports and planned railway lines reaching all the way to west Europe and south into East Asia. Sichuan cuisine is recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage asset and it burns my mouth.

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Would there be political issues for some people? Undoubtedly some people for reasons of politics or principle would decide not to go to a Chinese WorldCon. I think it is important to note that as a Canadian, I and many friends are already thinking twice about crossing into the USA for WorldCon since about 2010, and many already decide not to participate in scifi fandom if it involves travel to the US. Dave McCarty summed up many of my thoughts in a quick post-China reaction post on Facebook that’s worth a read.

5th International SF Conference in Chengdu 2019-small

So, it would be a different WordCon, one that is undeniably far far more international in character than anything we would have seen in recent memory. It would be the first of many, I hope, in a country where science fiction books and publishing is on fire. Scifi fans from the west could do far worse than to meet new friends, western editors could do far worse than meet new writers, and western writers could do far worse than meet a sci-fi readership that Liu Cixin estimated to be about 1.25 million readers.

Derek Kunskun at the 5th International SF Conference in Chengdu 2019-small

I will be voting for the 2023 Chengdu bid and I hope you give some thought to it. It would be an amazing way to see China with thousands of old and new friends.


Derek Künsken writes science fiction in Gatineau, Quebec. His second novel, The Quantum Garden, is on sale now. It is the sequel to The Quantum Magician, which was nominated for the Locus, the Aurora and the Chinese Nebula. He also writes a webcomic called Briarworld at Webtoons.com that you can read for free here.

6 Comments »

  1. South Korea or Japan would be great. Or even Hong Kong. But tourism to China seems deeply unethical to me. It’s of course a personal choice for visitors, but I think organizers have a greater ethical responsibility when it comes to selecting their location.
    Having an international convention in China is only legitimizing the Chinese government, it’s not going to change it.

    Comment by Martin Christopher - December 1, 2019 5:36 am

  2. Nobody should support the Chinese government with both the crackdown in Hong Kong and the brutal suppression of the Uyghur population.

    Comment by JimmyShelter - December 1, 2019 8:52 am

  3. I wonder what “Potemkin Village” is in Chinese?

    Comment by Thomas Parker - December 1, 2019 2:06 pm

  4. Seems to me there’s a difference between supporting the Chinese government, and supporting science fiction fans in China who’ve shown such interest in and openness towards English-speaking authors. To each his own, I guess.

    Comment by John ONeill - December 1, 2019 10:29 pm

  5. The question, John, (for me, at least) is this: Will a Worldcon held in Chengdu be an occasion for a free and open exchange of ideas, or will it be an opportunity for a highly repressive government to burnish its reputation in the eyes of the world? One I would be happy to support. The other I wouldn’t.

    It means considering whether an event held in China and sponsored by the Chinese government is somehow separable from that government, and it also necessitates questioning why the Chinese government is so eager to get this event in the first place. (I doubt that it’s because Xi Jinping just loves science fiction.) Another pertinent question is whether it is even possible for Chinese writers or fans to take a stand on any issue, whether literary, cultural, or political, independent of or contrary to their government and its wishes. I would say that the evidence is strongly on the negative side, though the Chinese authorities are anxious to give the contrary impression, which suggests an answer to the question of why they want to land the Worldcon.

    As Derek says, it’s something that should be thought about. I think the most important things to consider have nothing to do with the mechanics of translation or with seeing the sights, though.

    Comment by Thomas Parker - December 2, 2019 1:05 am

  6. I’m bothered by this bid.
    I see no real separation from the government of China and the bid; I see an awful lot of wooing of SF “influencers” on an unprecedented scale and that kind of manipulation directed towards Fandom – on smaller scales – has really bothered me in the past (Scientology, puppies…).
    And I’m even bothered by the catch-phrase – almost sounds like a talking point that’s been handed out by a PR firm – that because non-US fans are having second thoughts about visiting US Worldcons, there’s some kind of equivalency with other’s concerns over visiting China.
    The bottom line on that is: if US politics and policy make you reluctant to visit the US, Chinese politics and policy ought to make you doublly reluctant to visit that country; the reprehensible things that the current US administration are engaged in ought to be protested and if not attending a worldcon here in the US in protest is the right thing to do, Not visiting a Chinese Worldcon is even more the right thing to do.
    This would be the equivalent of boycotting a worldcon in Vichy France but being just fine with attending one in Poland during WWII.

    There are major issues with a Chinese bid: LGBTQI issues, censorship issues, internment camp issues, intellectual property issues, Honk Kong issues, not to mention a deep suspicion that the chinese government’s goal in supporting the bid are probably not the same as those of fans who want to attend a worldcon.

    Comment by crotchetyoldfan - December 2, 2019 12:16 pm


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