The winner of the Best Novel category in this year's China's Xingyun (Nebula) Awards is a book that paints a pessimistic, dark view of a corrupt near-future China.
The Waste Tide by Chen Qiufan takes place in the 2020s, and depicts a dystopian future China. Workers in an "economic zone" in Guangdong Province are turned into cyborgs, whose minds and bodies have been altered to make them the perfect manufacturing workers. Meanwhile, a tiny wealthy elite control all of the country's resources and keep a tight grip on the Internet and other information sources, so nobody can tell what's going on. The novel depicts the future China as influential on the world stage, but corrupt and unable to pull its people out of poverty internally.
It's hard to imagine that a novel like this would have been published in China 20 years ago — much less win a major award.
According to an article in the Women of China website from when The Waste Tide was first published:
The book reflects the younger generation's worries about the future, as they are uncertain of how things will turn out here. Although they tend to live more affluently and are more exposed to globalization than their parents, many young Chinese are anxious, unhappy and angry with the hand life has dealt them...
Han Han, one of China's most famous writers and bloggers, said many young Chinese are frustrated with the reality of their situation. "A friend of mine earns 2,000 yuan a month. He needs to work for 25 years without eating and drinking in order to afford a simple house for his family," Han Han wrote.
"This is why a number of workers at Foxconn jumped from the company's building and killed themselves. Working like a machine, having a hopeless future and low salary...plus skyrocketing prices. All you can do is care for your stomach and body without doing anything else."
The second place prize in the Best Novel category went to Zhao Ruirui, 32, author of Caiyuxia, or The Hero With Colorful Feathers. She's not only an award-winning science fiction author, she's also a former member of the Chinese national women's volleyball team, and an Olympic medalist.
This year's Xingyun Awards celebrate younger authors, with the top two winners both being in their early 30s. One of them, author Chen Qiufan, tells the People's Daily that science fiction appeals to authors who came of age after the 1980s and witnessed a revolution in science in technology.
Says Jiang Xiaoyuan, who chaired the jury that decided the award for the World Chinese Science Fiction Association: "The winners this year are mainly of the post-80s generation. They are our hope for the future."