Julie Curates China appears every Wednesday in Hoje Macau

Flying in 1904: the earliest Chinese sci-fi novel

《月球殖民地小说》

Colony: Moon.

 

China launched the country’s first satellite Dongfanghong in 1970, 13 years after Sputnik, nine years after the first cosmonaut, and a week after Apollo 13 returned from the moon. On 16 August 2016 China launched world’s first quantum satellite nicknamed Micius, after the eponymous Chinese philosopher Micius/Mozi, designed  to teleport data outside the bounds of space and time. These days it has become normal for China to entertain inconceivable headlines beyond our grasp.

When did China launch its first sci-fi novel? I wondered.

In the history of Chinese literature, 1904 is destined to be an extraordinary year, which has been long forgotten. China was still known as the (late) Qing Dynasty. A significant literature magazine “Illustrated fiction” 《绣像小说》 serialized  《月球殖民地小说》(Colony: Moon), a science fiction novel which underlines the classic Chinese narrative structure with refreshing content. The author called him/herself 荒江钓鱼叟 (Old fisherman at the wild river), whose identity has remained a mystery.

The unfinished novel contains 35 chapters, in total 13 million published words. It tells the story y of  chivalrous Li Anwu and his Japanese friends Fujita Tamataro who helped Long Menghua from Xiang County of Hunan province to escape his murder trial and reunite with his lost wife and son. Long Menghua went through various adventures around the earth in Tamataro’s air balloon warships. Until in the end, the entire Long family immigrated to the moon where his son was admitted to a Moon academy run by the Moon People.  Like a magic show, every illustration has a hot air balloon in it, which seems to symbolize the Qing Dynasty’s communal aspirations: flying. In the novel, the author also began to comprehend the relationship between the Earth and the entire solar system:

“From his spacecraft Fujita Tamataro watched the Moon People’s  spacecraft that was huge, delicate and sparkling. He folded his arms, thinking: such a moon but what an advanced civilization! From this moment on, Tamataro was fully devoted to his research field. He wanted to invent a new flying machine that could travel freely in the universe.”

 

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