Posts Tagged ‘time travel’

Ming submarines blockade Japan

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

Reading through my Douban groups this morning, I came across a twist on the typical online time-travel romance serial:

大明五日游。现在一日,明朝一年。主角到了明朝后,才发现:时间不对——1935?!而且,北方还是清朝的天下……
北清是君主集权,南明是君主立宪。北清首都离边界有1000公里,南明首都离边界只有1000米。但是,南明有主角。
20世纪明朝人穿什么?挣多少钱?20世纪的东厂和锦衣卫是什么样子的?20世纪的大明皇室和内阁,谁听谁的?明、清之间的坦克战怎么打?大明潜艇如何封锁日本列岛?

Ming Empire 1937

A five-day tour of the Great Ming Empire. One day in the present, one year in the Ming. But when our hero reaches the Ming, he discovers that the time is all wrong: 1935?! And to the North is the domain of the Qing….

The Northern Qing, a centralized monarchy, set its capital a thousand miles from the border. The capital of the Southern Ming, a constitutional monarchy, lies just one thousand meters from the frontier. But the Ming possesses our hero.

What did the people of the 20th Century Ming Dynasty wear? How much money did they make? What were the 20th Century Eastern Depot and Silk Brocade Guard like? Who was in charge, the imperial family or the cabinet? How were tank battles fought between the Ming and Qing? How did Ming submarines seal off the islands of Japan?

This synopsis suggests something similar to the early 20th Century futurist political fantasies of Liang Qichao and others: imaginative and even visionary at times, yet static and not all that fun to read.

Send a reporter!

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

elephant-sized pigNot long ago I ran across a microblog post (since deleted) that used the image at right to mock some sort of trendy pseudoscience — possibly Zhang Wuben’s mung-bean miracle cure. In his comment to that post, science fiction author and critic Wu Yan mentioned the story “Elephants with Their Trunks Removed” (割掉鼻子的大象, 1957), a classic of children’s SF from the early PRC.

The story is narrated by a reporter who is dispatched to an agricultural research center in the Gobi Desert to report on the latest achievements, and it reminded me of a number of other Chinese SF stories that feature journalists as narrators.

The five works discussed below may only be related by virtue of being narrated by journalists, but they are fairly representative of changing trends in Chinese SF in the latter half of the 20th Century.

“Elephants,” written by Chi Shuchang (迟叔昌) with contributions by Middle School Student magazine editor Ye Zhishan (叶至善), is a snapshot of Great Leap Forward-era scientific romanticism. Originally titled “A Twentieth-Century Zhu Bajie” (after the pig-demon hero of Journey to the West), the story is included in Classics of Chinese Science Fiction (中国科幻小说经典, 2006), edited by science fiction writer and court biographer Ye Yonglie, and is also available online here.

In the story, journalist Yuesen, meets up with his former classmate Li Wenjian, who now works at the research center. On the way, Yuesen notices what seem to be white elephants whose trunks are missing, but once he arrives, he learns that they’re actually gigantic pigs known as “Wonder #72,” which were created by accelerating the growth of cross-bred Sichuan white pigs and Yorkshire pigs by irradiating the pituitary gland.

The pigs in the story match up perfectly with the description given in the poem on the top left of the poster (source):

肥猪赛大象 Fat pigs that best the elephants,
就是鼻子短 But for a shorter snout.
全社杀一口 The commune kills and eats one,
足够吃半年 Six months before it’s out.

Like much of 20th-Century Chinese SF, “Elephants” is not simply entertainment — it also fulfills an pedagogical mission. Both men were math and physics enthusiasts in high school, and the story demonstrates that they were able to pursue that interest in their chosen careers. The value of math in agriculture is illustrated through a discussion of the cube-square law as it relates to breeding such enormous animals (they’ve had to use a special “bone strengthening serum”). The accelerated growth also means that the pigs are fully grown at ten months, making their meat especially tender and tasty. And math in journalism? “Look at the newspapers. Isn’t there an increasing amount of math and physics vocabulary?” (Ye, 128)

The story is set in some undisclosed year in the future (“19xx”). Hi-tech details, such as wristwatch radios and “Beijing” model hovercraft, place the action toward the end of the century, but many of the issues, from giant pigs to the necessity of conserving iron, are rooted in the late 50s. It’s a dissonance that shows up in several of the stories discussed in this post: (more…)