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Chen Qiufan

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Electronic Waste: Can We Really Turn the Tide?

Most of the important things in the life of Chinese people happen over dinner conversations. The same goes for Waste Tide and I.

I visited Shantou, my hometown, in the summer of 2011 to attend a childhood friend’s wedding. It takes about three hours one way to fly from Beijing to Shantou down in Guangdong province, not including city transportation and the time spent waiting at the airport. The wedding dinner was costly in terms of both money and time: many attendees were flying in from different cities all over China.

Every Chinese person will experience dinners like this many times in their life. A lot of those dinners will end in people fighting over paying the bill (yes, sometimes even escalating into fistfights), drunken mess, or blatant obscenity.

Thankfully our dinner didn’t turn out like that.

My friend from middle school, Luo, mentioned a small town not far from where we lived: Guiyu (Gui means “precious” and Yu means “isle”, so the name of the town literally translates into “precious isle”; Gui, written as a different character with the same pronunciation, also means “silicon”, making Guiyu sound like “silicon isle”). Apparently, the American company he worked for had been trying to convince the regional government to establish eco-friendly zones and recycle the e-waste, but some local authorities had been standing in their way.

“It’s difficult,” he said, a little too mysteriously, “the situation over there is…complicated.” I knew the word complicated often meant a lot.

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Read the First Chapter from Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide

Mimi is drowning in the world’s trash.

She’s a waste worker on Silicon Isle, where electronics—from cell phones and laptops to bots and bionic limbs—are sent to be recycled. These amass in towering heaps, polluting every spare inch of land. On this island off the coast of China, the fruits of capitalism and consumer culture come to a toxic end. Mimi and thousands of migrant waste workers like her are lured to Silicon Isle with the promise of steady work and a better life. They’re the lifeblood of the island’s economy, but are at the mercy of those in power…

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The Torn Generation: Chinese Science Fiction in a Culture in Transition

Article translated by Ken Liu.

This past March, I attended the Huadi Literary Awards in Guangzhou, where my debut novel, The Waste Tide, was honored with the top distinction for genre (SF) fiction. Published in the capital of China’s most developed province, Huadi is the magazine supplement for the Yangcheng Evening News, one of the largest newspapers in the world by circulation (in excess of 1 million). This was also the second literary award my novel has received (after a Chinese Nebula). As a former Googler, I want to invoke the button that rarely gets pressed: “I’m feeling lucky!”

The Huadi Awards was a joint effort by the local government and media, and as one might expect, it was suffused with the trappings of officialdom. Even the ceremony itself was held in a government auditorium. The winners were led on a night tour of the Pearl River, and our hosts excitedly pointed out the splendor of the post-modern architecture on both shores. However, one of the winners, Chen Danqing, a noted liberal opinion leader and artist, reminisced about his childhood visit to Guangzhou in the midst of the Cultural Revolution.

[On generational labels, the complex realities of modern China, and science fiction as an instrument of progress and possibility…]

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