Zhao Haihong Interview

Mon 3 May 2010 - Filed under: Not a Journal., , , , | Posted by: Gavin

Zhao HaihongIn the new issue of LCRW we’re very happy to present the first English publication of multiple award-winning Chinese writer Zhao Haihong. Her story “Exuviation” was first published in 2000 in Science Fiction World Magazine and received the Galaxy Award. 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.

Fabulous intern Diana Cao (who, coincidentally, will be studying in Beijing for a month later this summer) interviewed Zhao Haihong last week:

Diana Cao: Could you first give some background about how you arrived where you are in your writing today?

Book One. Eyes of the Birches (the second editon)I’ve loved reading and writing since childhood. To me, writing was the only way to prove who I was in my middle school. I tried various kinds of writing in the six years, and some of them were science fiction stories—among them was a story I sent to Science Fiction World magazine and had published. The story “The Rising of the Great Rift Valley” won me the first prize of the Guangya Science Fiction Story Contest for Students (1996) held by the magazine. I was thrilled by the result and that’s the real start of my science fiction career. Since then, I have published 21 science fiction stories, mostly in SFW and later collected in two books: Eyes of the Birches and The Other Side of Time. My third collection The World and my first novel Crystal Sky will be published this year. These stories have brought me six Galaxy Awards (1997-2002) by SFW, the Sixth Soong Ching Ling Children’s Literature Award (2003) and the sixth National Writers Association Award for outstanding children’s literature in China (2004)—the last two are governmental awards, and science fiction is included under children’s fiction for governmental awards.

Translation Novel One. The stars my destinationIn addition to writing science fiction, I also have attempted to do some translation, for I was an English major in the university and got my M.A. in English literature from Zhejiang University. Besides many short stories, I have translated two master works of Alfred Bester, The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man and have been teaching English literature in Zhejiang Gongshang University in Hangzhou, China after my short working experience at Beijing Television studio.

Among all my stories, the most popular one was “Jocasta,” which won me the Highest Award of Galaxy (1999) and is known by thousands of Chinese readers.

Which authors have had the greatest influence on your writing? Which of your peers do you read and enjoy?

Charlotte Bronte and Emily Bronte, I guess. I am a reader more than a writer; when I was a little girl, ancient Chinese poems meant so much to me. Then I read many classical novels. I could barely enjoy modern and post-modern fiction until I came to the university. The Bronte sisters’ were read when I was around 12 years old—which may explain the reason why they were more influential to me.

Compared with my classical reading, my science-fiction reading experience is quite shabby, yet I’m fond of many SF writers. Among them, I’m a great fan of Ray Bradbury, Robert J. Sawyer and Bester (and Neil Gaiman as a fantasy writer). I’m also a fan of Liu Cixin, my Chinese peer.

What is the science fiction writing/reading community like in China?

You can find such reading communities in universities arranged by students. The students may read science fiction stories together, have some discussions, watch science fiction movies and encourage each other to write some stories themselves. As far as I know, there’s no science fiction writing community for published science fiction writers, but there is a popular science writing community and writer’s union here, both supported by government, and science fiction writers are welcomed by both of them. Personally speaking, I don’t think we have a practical writing community for science fiction writers to exchange ideas and discuss our works here in China.

I found that “Exuviation” drew me in both because of the intimacy I felt with the characters and their situations, and also because of the writing throughout. What was the most difficult part of translating your work?

As a non-native English speaker, I don’t have as much confidence in English as I have in Chinese. Although it’s a translation of my own story, to translate something (esp. literature) from my mother tongue into a foreign one is so much harder than translating from English to Chinese, and further, “Exuviation” was my first try. Some friends generously offered great help in my translation; thus many thanks should be given to Geoffrey Landis, Mary Turzillo and Michael Swanwick.

In 2002, when Geoffrey and Mary made a SF tour in Beijing, I was their interpreter. The dear couple encouraged me to translate my work into English, and what’s more, they adapted my first translation. The most difficult part of translating the story is learning to speak like a native. And while doing the translation, I found some words from a Chinese-English dictionary, after which Geoffrey would tell me “I don’t understand this word” or “this word is no longer used,” and then I would know it was a bad translation and should be corrected.

I first met Michael in Chengdu while attending the 2007 Chengdu International Science & Fantasy Conference. When he heard about “Exuviation,” Michael kindly gave me more suggestions for my translation and sent my story to LCRW.

I read in an article on china.org.cn (“Looking for Science in Science Fiction“) that you view science fiction as a means of reflecting not only the outside world but also the inner world, and the emphasis on the inner world in your story is clear through the characters of Tou and Gong. What advantages do you think the science fiction genre offers over other genres?

In science fiction writing, you can be the God of your own unique world, a world of totally new rules and new forms. Fantasy fiction may do that too, but a SF world based on science is more sound and logical to me. What is more, science fiction can show us that all kinds of possibilities lie ahead. It can give us various conditions under which the human nature is pushed to its extreme (like in The Stars My Destination) so we can see the inner world more thoroughly.

What are you working on now? Do you plan to do more translations?

I am a new mother with a 3-month-old daughter, so I can hardly find enough time to write at this period. But in the long run, I am working on a series of stories about a unique world run by a new material called Magicwave, which transports energy/information and substance at the same time.

And I plan to translate “Jocasta” when I’m available.

Is there anything else you would like to add about your story or your writing experience more generally?

“Exuviation” is a special story to me. In 1999, I talked with my editor about writing, and I said “to continue writing is like exuviation to me”—always trying to make some change, always trying to find something new and maybe something more authentic. Therefore, “Exuviation” is more like a symbolic story to me than a science fiction one.

Many thanks to the excellent Michael Swanwick for bringing “Exuviation” and Zhao Haihong to our attention in the first place.

You can find Zhao Haihong’s story “Exuviation” in LCRW 25, available on paper, with chocolate, or as an instant download ebook.