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Ye Yonglie

Entry updated 16 May 2020. Tagged: Author.

(1940-2020) Chinese author and occasional film director, sometimes under the pen-names Ye Yang, Ye Ting, Xiao Yong or Jiu Yuan, whose output stretches to fifty volumes of material, of which twenty-four are listed as "works popularizing science". A graduate in chemistry from Beijing University, Ye published his first poem aged eleven, and his first book while still a student. Aged twenty, he became one of the lead authors in the best-selling periodical Shiwan ge Weishenme ["100,000 Whys"] writing over 500 articles on aspects of science and technology, and forming a core element of the Chinese school curriculum. He followed with a series of semi-fictionalized biographies of prominent figures in the Communist Party, which sealed his credentials in the Young Adult and educational markets. In later years, he became known for the Witness series of travel books, not listed here, bringing foreign vistas to armchair tourists. He is often described as the "Chinese Isaac Asimov" (see also Rao Zhonghua), not so much in terms of his sf output, but in its subsumption within a great variety of other genres and modes, particularly detective fiction and nonfiction.

Soon after Deng Xiaoping signified a new era with a 1978 speech citing science and technology as the keys to progress, Ye published Xiao Lingtong Manyou Weilai ["Little Know-it-All Roams the Future"] (1978), in which a fictional reporter offers snapshots of coming developments, including aerial highways, artificial suns and household Robots. Despite largely restating ideas already developed by Gu Junzheng and Zheng Wenguang, his long essay Lun Kexue Wenyi ["On Scientific Literature and Art"] (1980) established him as the standard-bearer of sf in the service of the Party, and made him something of a celebrity. Caught up in the Chinese pro-science boom of the early 1980s, Ye was proclaimed as a "leading popularizer of science" by the Party. The Xiao Lingtong stories remain in print, with an estimated circulation of three million copies, and are a first encounter for many Chinese children with Futures Studies (see Children's SF).

In the brief flourishing of Chinese sf from 1979-1983, Ye's prominent contacts and dogged prolificity allowed him to produce an immense amount of work, published by numerous provincial presses, and establishing him as the pre-eminent Chinese sf writer of the period by dint of sheer volume. He was aided in this by state sanction, having been commissioned by the Ministry of Public Security to write a series of stories featuring a "scientific Sherlock Holmes". This led to several technologically-focused policiers, appearing in million-selling newspapers, and featuring Jin Ming, an officer in the Public Security Bureau of "Coastal City", clearly intended as a Near Future Shanghai, which further bolstered Ye's standing (see Crime and Punishment).

The handful of Ye's stories available in English are drawn from his sf for older readers. "Zishi Qiguo" (November 1981 Kehuan Xiaoshuo Bao; trans Pei Minxin and Yang Renmin as "Reap As You Have Sown" in Science Fiction From China, anth 1989, ed Wu Dingbo and Patrick Murphy) is a cautionary tale of a Clone who murders his "father", set in the United States and dripping with exotic foreign names (Rorvik, Max) that signify it as an unofficial Sequel by Other Hands to In His Image: The Cloning of a Man (1978) (see David Rorvik). The more accomplished "Fushi" (November 1981 Renmin Wenxue; trans Pei Minxin as "Corrosion" in Science Fiction From China, anth 1989, ed Wu Dingbo and Patrick Murphy) features heroic Chinese scientists investigating deadly corrosive bacteria brought back on a returning Spaceship. A landmark work in the didactic sf of the period, it concentrates less on the sensational properties of an Alien microbe than on the politics of accreditation for the scientists who risk their lives to study it. Believing that only three scholars can receive the Nobel Prize for a multi-authored paper, the protagonist removes his name from the credits, to ensure that his heroic colleagues are posthumously honoured (Ye seemed unaware that the Nobel Prize is not conferred on dead scientists).

When the Party backlash against sf began, Ye returned to his Xiao Lingtong series and nonfiction works. His Public Security sponsors and ability to refashion himself as a "detective" novelist allowed him to largely ride out the purges of less established or connected sf authors. But Ye was not totally immune to controversy, and was forced to switch publishers when his Jin Ming novel Hei Ying ["The Black Shadow"] (1981) was deemed too close to the mark for suggesting that Communist China caused some good-hearted people to become "ghosts". The series was further derided for depicting social problems that, according to newly resurgent conservatives, only happened in the West. "Reap As You Have Sown" was also subject to public criticism, for implying that selfishness was hereditary, and hence contradicting the dogma of Party-approved self-correction and improvement. Another, unnamed story, about the eradication of AIDS in the westernmost region of Xinjiang, was killed pre-publication by the Chinese censor for daring to suggest that any cases of AIDS could be found in China. Bundled among writers of Soft SF as a propagator of "false science", Ye eventually fought back in an article "Zouchu 'Wei Kexue' de Yinying" ["Stepping Out of the Shadow of False Science"] (February 1996 Kehuan Shijie), arguing the case once more for sf as an educational tool. It did not, however, mark his return to the genre – the pressures of surviving two backlashes, in 1966 and 1983, seemed to have largely put him off further work in sf.

Inevitably, Ye became a proponent of new Technology, becoming one of the first Chinese authors to use a word processor (see Computers) in 1994. He tentatively gave up writing at the turn of the twenty-first century, claiming that his eyesight was failing, and protesting that pirate presses were publishing books falsely billing him as their author; the fifty-volume complete works is also, hence, a guarantor of authenticity in the face of numerous fakes. His books continued to appear in multiple editions, while Ye publicly rued what he regarded as the "decline" of Chinese sf, with stories now only printed in units of tens of thousands. Such comments, however, disregard the subjection of modern Chinese sf to true market forces, rather than the government mandates that formerly guaranteed him print-runs in the hundreds of thousands. "Time," he famously proclaimed, "is like a sieve, which weeds out the dross and leaves only the essential", a bold statement when much of his work might be better described as reportage than literature, and his sf stories, while certainly representative of the mid- to late twentieth century in China, may ultimately prove to be more of historical interest than enduring classics in their own right. [JonC]

Ye Yonglie

born Wenzhou, China: 30 August 1940

died Shanghai, China: 15 May 2020

works (selected)


Xiao Lingtong

  • Xiao Lingtong Manyou Weilai ["Little Know-it-All Roams the Future"] (Shanghai: Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1978) [Xiao Lingtong: pb/]
  • Xiao Lingtong Zaiyou Weilai ["Little Know-it-All Returns to Roam the Future"] (Shanghai: Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1984) [Xiao Lingtong: pb/]
    • Xiao Lingtong Sanyou Weilai ["Little Know-it-All Thrice Roams the Future"] (Shanghai: Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 2012) [omni of the above with added story: Xiao Lingtong: pb/]

Jin Ming

individual titles

  • Diule Bizi Yihou ["After Losing His Nose"] (Shanghai: Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1979) [pb/]
  • Feixiang Minwangxing de Ren ["The Voyager to Pluto"] (Shenyang: Liaoning Renmin Chubanshe, 1979) [pb/]
  • Qiguai de Binghao: Ye Yonglie Zuopin Xuan ["An Odd Patient: Selections from the Work of Ye Yonglie"] (Guangzhou: Guangdong Renmin Chubanshe, 1979) [coll: pb/]
  • Shijie Zuigao Feng de Qiji ["The Miracle on the World's Highest Mountain"] (Beijing: Renmin Wenxue Chubanshe, 1979) [pb/]
  • Weilai Shijie Manyou Ji ["A Trip to the Futureworld"] (Shijiazhuang: Hebei Renmin Chubanshe, 1979) [pb/]
  • Bidao Dieying ["Espionage on a Blue Island"] (Changsha: Hunan Renmin Chubanshe, 1980) [pb/]
  • Lun Kexue Wenyi ["On Scientific Literature and Art"] (Beijing: Kepu Chubanshe, 1980) [nonfiction: pb/]
  • Shengmi Yi ["Magic Clothes"] (Tianjin: New Budding Press, 1980) [pb/]
  • Shengsi Weibo: Kexue Huanxiang Dianying Juben Xuan ["Is He Dead Or Not: A Selection of Science Fictional Film Scripts"] (Zhengzhou: Henan Renmin Chubanshe, 1980) [pb/]
  • An Dou ["Veiled Strife"] (Chengdu: Sichuan Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1981) [pb/]
  • Qiuchang-wai de Jiandie An ["The Spy Case Outside the Football Field"] (Hangzhou: Zhejiang Science and Technology Press, 1981) [pb/]
  • Baobao he Beibei ["Baobao and Beibei"] (Shenyang: Liaoning Renmin Chubanshe, 1982) [pb/]
  • Bingdi Lian ["Twin Lotus"] (Shenyang: Liaoning Renmin Chubanshe, 1983) [pb/]
  • Jiqi Lifadian ["Robot Barber Shop"] (Nanjing: Jiangsu Renmin Chubanshe, 1983) [pb/]
  • Ai de Xuanze ["Love's Choice"] (Ningxia: Ningxia Renmin Chubanshe, 1987) [pb/]
  • Ye Yonglie Wenji ["Collected Works of Ye Yonglie"] (Changsha: Hunan Renmin Chubanshe, 2011) [in 50 volumes: binding unknown/]

works as editor


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