An alumna of prestigious Peking University, Chen is among of crop of talented Chinese sci-fi writers who are asking questions of their fast-changing country and the wider world — and finding literary success.
Fellow novelist Hao Jingfang’s “Folding Beijing”, a tale of class inequality that echoes the real-life struggles of migrants in the Chinese capital, bagged a Hugo Award in 2016 and Chen has claimed a string of prizes in China.
In Chen’s work, as well as discussing the degradation of the environment and its poisonous effect on the poorest, he critiques our increasing reliance on tech and its ramifications on society.
He worries a lot that technology could increase inequality in China.
“We can see a lot of kids in the countryside who are very poor and they basically use their phone to play games to kill time because their parents are all working in the cities to make some money.
“But for those kids that are living in the city — from middle-class, well-educated families — they are mostly limited to using the tech for education purposes. So that makes the gap bigger and bigger,” he says.
But ultimately it’s the whole global system that he thinks need to change, with tighter regulation around both tech and the culture of materialism that is driving the toxic waste problem — now a nightmare China’s poorer Southeast Asian neighbours must deal with.
He adds: “The issue is not resolved, it’s just transferred. It’s always there, switching from one backyard to another.”
Chen Qiufan is speaking at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival which runs November 1-10
PICTURES BY WANG ZHAO