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.]
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.
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:
- Go Chengdu Local News
- A deeper Go Chengdu piece (some of the machine translation errors here can be cute…)
- Chengdu Business News
- Home in Chengdu article
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.