London Chinese Science Fiction Group

LCSFG is a community for people interested in Chinese language science and speculative fiction (SF).

"1923—a Fantasy" /《一九二三年科幻故事》by Zhao Haihong / 赵海虹
Translated by Nicky Harman and Pang Zhaoxia (2012)

Our reading and meeting for June 2021

Sunday 27th June, 2pm BST, email for Zoom details

Story Summary



"Everyone needs ideals in life, don’t they?
Jia Su’s ideal was to create a machine.
Bubbles’s ideal was to make revolution.
Meiying’s ideal was to make an honest woman of herself."

"In the middle of the lab stood a gigantic figure made of brass, its many arms outstretched like a thousand-armed Buddhist guardian god. In each hand, there were glass containers of different colors and sizes. The liquids they held were of colors seen only in dreams. They oscillated and sang."
- from 1923—a Fantasy /《一九二三年科幻故事》by Zhao Haihong / 赵海虹
Translated by Nicky Harman and Pang Zhaoxia (2012) * * *

We're thrilled to invite author Zhao Haihong to join our next meeting in late June, to discuss her story 1923—a Fantasy, translated by Nicky Harman and Pang Zhaoxia.

In this short story, a great-grandchild discovers an old, padlocked box, kept hidden throughout the Cultural Revolution, that supposedly holds the family’s genealogical records. Instead, the contents intriguingly reveals to be two sealed containers of liquids. They are a part of the great-grandfather's innovation, the 'aqua-dream machine', which was a device that used "the power of water to retain memory.”

1923—a Fantasy is a confluence of narratives in the unstable China of the 1920s: a nearly forgotten moment in a family's history; the love story between hostess dancer Meiying and Western-educated Jia Su; his solidarity with Bubbles the revolutionary, and the haziness of Jia Su's laboratory of liquid and steam memories. Zhao's writing style allows for an intimate-at-a-distance approach to the characters, holding the nostaligia for '20s Shanghai at an arms length by soundtracking the story with an informed contextualisation of the period's social unease.

* * *

The English translation by Nicky Harman and Pang Zhaoxia first appeared in scholar Mingwei Song's guest edit, 'Special Chinese SF', of Renditions: A Chinese-English Translation Magazine, issue 77/78, Spring & Autumn 2012, and then republished in his 2018 anthology, The Reincarnated Giant: An Anthology of Twenty-First-Century Chinese Science Fiction. The original Chinese version was published in 2007's fifth issue of《世界科幻博览》. Please get in touch if you need access to these texts.

Please read the story ahead of the session, and take the opportunity to chat with Zhao Haihong about its themes. If you don't get a chance to read the story until afterwards, do feel welcome to join nonetheless. As always, please respond to us by email and we'll send you the Zoom details a day prior the event.

magazine cover image of a digital painting thats shows a sports car racing away from mecca giants

The author

Zhao Haihong has an M.A. in English literature from Zhejiang University and teaches English literature in Zhejiang Gongshang University in Hangzhou, China. She started writing science fiction in 1996, and has received the Galaxy Award from Science Fiction World Magazine, the Soong Ching Ling Children’s Literature Award, and the sixth National Writers Association Award for outstanding children’s literature in China. Her first story collection, Eyes of the Birches, was published in 1999.

The translators

Pang Zhaoxia is a senior lecturer in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, SOAS, University of London. She is also a member of the executive committee of the British Chinese Language Teaching Society.

Nicky Harman is based in the United Kingdom and is cochair of the Translators Association, the Society of Authors. She has translated fiction and nonfiction as well as poetry by authors such as A Yi, Chen Xiwo, Han Dong, Hong Ying, Jia Pingwa, Dorothy Tse, Xinran, Yan Geling, and Zhang Ling, among many others. She mentors new translators, teaches summer school courses, and judges translation competitions.