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Kehuan Shijie

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Publication.

[Literally "SF World", although the publisher's preferred translation is "Science Fiction World"] The journal of record of the modern sf community in China, Kehuan Shijie was founded in 1979 in Chengdu, Sichuan, as the State-supported Kexue Wenyi ["Science Literature and Art"], one of several magazines that sprang up amid a post-Mao renewal of interest in science popularization. However, with a sudden reversal in the Party line on sf, and claims that the genre was "poisonous" in the wake of critiques of authors such as Wei Yahua, the magazine's government funding was cut off in 1984. Relaunched as an independent journal, with Yang Xiao as editor, the magazine became the nexus of a group of interrelated ventures in book publishing and translation, with Yang herself becoming the familiar face of Chinese sf at foreign conventions.

The magazine was renamed Qitan ["Amazing Stories"] in 1989 and Kehuan Shijie in 1991, enjoying peak sales of 400,000 in 1999, when that year's State-run university entrance exam inexplicably and unexpectedly set the essay topic of "Memory Transfer" (see Memory Edit). In the twenty-first century, its sales dwindled to 130,000, considered "small" in a nation of a billion, although the magazine's editors have argued that every copy is read by several people, and that the true readership is closer to a million. It runs the Yinhe Award ["Galaxy Award"] that has set the tone and pace of sf Fandom in China since the early 1990s. During the magazine's heyday, 70% of its readership was believed to reside in the countryside.

Forced to subsist on its own popularity, Kehuan Shijie has been exposed to market forces for longer than many other Chinese institutions. Its editors since Yang Xiao have included Ah Lai, more famous as an "ethnic" novelist, and the infamously commercially-minded Li Chang. The subject of an open letter of complaint by his own staff in 2010, Li was accused of commodifying the magazine beyond reasonable degrees, and forcing through cost-cutting measures to the detriment of translation, art and editorial quality. Coverage of the scandal, which reached as high as the China Daily [see links below], also alluded to a global issue in science fiction publishing: that a successful journal often attracts fans as employees, who are consequently easier to force into working for love rather than money. Kehuan Shijie begins its fourth decade facing serious, and, arguably, healthy competition for the first time, with rival awards and modes of reader access that may force it to confront its more complacent editorial decisions. [JonC]


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