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Chan Koonchung

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1952-    ) Chinese author, editor, journalist, screenwriter and producer, sometimes billed as John Koon or John Chan, a key figure in the modern history of many media in Chinese, but known in the sf genre for a single work. Born in Shanghai but raised in Hong Kong, he completed his education in Boston before returning to Hong Kong in 1976 as the founding editor of Hao Wai ["City Magazine"]. He wrote and produced several films since the 1980s, including Shanghai Blues (1984) and Eat a Bowl of Tea (1990). He moved into radio and television in the 1990s, participating in many international ventures in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong. He now resides in Beijing.

He became notorious for Sheng Shi: Zhongguo 2013-nian ["The Age of Prosperity: China 2013"] (2009; trans Michael Duke as The Fat Years 2011), a Near Future Satire in which smug, materialist yuppies in a recognizably contemporary Beijing discover that the entire country suffers collective Amnesia (see Memory Edit) regarding a 28-day period in 2011 in which a global financial crisis (see Money) was suppressed and managed with extreme force (see Cultural Engineering). Published in Hong Kong, the work soon circulated in digital samizdat form in the People's Republic, although it has not been officially published there, and is unlikely to be. Although lauded abroad for its engagement with Politics and Economics in the People's Republic, its references to martial law and corruption in Taiwan are no less uncompromising. Moreover, in Chan's parsing of Chinese society as "90% free", and approaching perfect freedom in increments, he even hints at a rebuke of the complacency of the West, where "100% freedom" remains a statistical impossibility.

As with other Chinese Mainstream Writers of SF such as Wang Lixiong and Huang Fan, Chan was swift to attract foreign translation and attention; his work is indicative of modern Chinese dissent, but unrepresentative of the Chinese sf canon. He also seems overly engaged with his text's function as metaphor and polemic, at the expense of any narrative achievement, particularly in the latter third of the book, which is a nonfiction essay smuggled in under the cloak of reported speech; even the translator's notes suggest that it resembles a "soap box monologue". Certainly, the fact that a story as insipid and outspokenly derivative of Aldous Huxley as The Fat Years should attract such glowing plaudits from Chinese literati and Western critics might itself be taken as an indicator of the relative poverty of the contemporary Chinese mainstream Media Landscape; Chan himself has speculated that he has been left alone by the Chinese authorities because his book was published as fiction. However, its "fictional" content is relatively low compared to its detailed and perceptive discussion of sociological and political issues in a modern one-party state that, by definition, lacks a "loyal opposition". It remains possible that the difficulty of The Fat Years in finding a publisher in the People's Republic had more to do with its repeated allusion to suppressed incidents from the historical past than with any Equipoisal references to possible futures. [JonC]

Chen Guanzhong

born Shanghai: 1952

works (selected)


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