Eerie Parables and Prophecies: An Analysis of Han Song's Science Fiction

By Li, Guangyi | Chinese Literature Today, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Eerie Parables and Prophecies: An Analysis of Han Song's Science Fiction


Li, Guangyi, Chinese Literature Today


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In the latter half of the 1990s, Chinese science fiction ushered in a renaissance. Han Song is a standout among this "new generation" of science fiction authors. His science fiction stories are both eerie and multivalent, and although his works are fantastic, they also feature profound reflections upon the existential condition, the thoughts and feelings of China in particular and humanity in general, and are rife with human pathos. At the same time, these works feature a unique literary style, an unconventional and unrestrained creative strength, and a clear mystic inclination. The narrative is calm and unhurried but it is also highly appealing; Han Song's rhetoric, description, and structure all have a distinctive quality.

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One can use refined language, magnificent imagination, or any number of other adjectives to describe Han Song's unique literary style, but no phrase captures Han Song's writing better than "eerie" (guiyi ½⅞). And in Han Song's eeriness, the most apparent characteristic is its indeterminacy. The majority of Han Song's stories feature one or more mysterious images. Some of his stories offer no explanation at all regarding these mysterious images. There is a smattering of conjecture, and at the end of the story the reader still does not know what the explanation is, like the statue of the Bodhisattva Guanyin in "A Guide to Hunting Women" ("Meinu shoulie zhinan" ...) or the Other in "Unresponsive Vessel" ("Meiyou da'an de hangcheng" ...). Other works offer an explanation-one that is elaborated from a scientific perspective, a feature that could be identified as a central conceit of science fiction-but his narrative also brings to light all manner of other possibilities, making this earnest explanation seem suspect, like the statue of the Great Buddha in "Escape from Mount Worry" ("Taoqu youshan" ...), the red fog in "Vermillion Hallucination" ("Chise huanjue" ...), and others. Thus, Han Song's works can be read and re-read; they feature a multitude of possible explanations-the reader's interpretive re-creation is also rife with uncertainty.

Using "Escape from Mount Worry" as an example, I would like to explore this mysterious imagery. The protagonist, Han Yu, prevents his wife's suicide at the foot of the Great Buddha statue, and this becomes a pivotal moment in their lives. When they have their falling-out, upon returning to the city looked over by the Great Buddha, they find the city has suddenly undergone a change: aside from Han Yu and his wife, everyone else has "evaporated." At the end, Han Yu walks up to the Great Buddha and becomes one with it. A sound (this, too, is a suspect phenomenon of unknown provenance) leads them to the knowledge of the true nature of the world. It turns out that the Great Buddha is the last survivor of a prehistoric civilization who felt lonely, and, to escape his isolation, he created a miniature world, then forsook his role and consciousness as creator to become part of this world-Han Yu is the manifestation of the Great Buddha in this world.

When the story of the Great Buddha appears to have been wrapped up, with a flick of the author's pen at the denouement of the story, it is revealed that the harrowing experience of Han Yu and his wife's return to Mount Worry was in fact the product of Han Yu's stream of consciousness during a laboratory experiment in waves in the space-time continuum, and that the Buddha's provenance is no more than a figment of his imagination; its true nature remains undetermined.

However, according to the story's central conceit, matter waves are in fact waves in the space-time continuum, human existence is a perturbation in the space-time continuum, and consciousness is likewise a perturbation in space-time, no different from the material world. Thus, by simply adjusting the frequency, consciousness and matter can blend, allowing one to commune with the true nature of the material world. …

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