I’m not a regular reader of science fiction. In fact, if I counted on one hand the number of books I’ve read in this genre, I’d still have a few fingers left over. Fairly or unfairly (more of the latter, I’m sure), I associate sci-fi novels with 30-something nerds debating the internal politics of the Interstellar Galactic Council of Krypton….using Klingon….while eating Funions….in their parents’ basement…dressed up like elves or Ewoks or some such thing. I’m not prejudiced, though. One of my best friends is a sci-fi reader.
And, it was from this friend that I received the first installment of David Wingrove’s seven book Chung Kuo series entitled The Middle Kingdom. The premise of these books intrigued me: set about 200 years in the future, China has marched over the face of the planet. Seven benevolent (or seemingly benevolent, depending whose side you’re on) tangs rule the world’s 38 billion people, strictly controlling the flow of information and the development of technology in order to keep peace and harmony. The book mainly takes place in Chinese-ruled Europe where a few oppressed Europeans hatch a plan to assassinate the tang’s son, reassert white dominance over the invading Chinese, and generally wreak havoc.
The sci-fi elements of this book were hokey. The entire world is now created out of some magic material called ‘ice’ which is light as air and stronger than steel. There are phaser guns. The inevitable clones pop up. Needless to say, the genre has not won a new fan.
Still, I may continue through the series. Having lived in China for a number of years and having often pondered the question of “What if China ruled the world?”, it was fascinating to read Wingrove’s vision of a Chinese dominated world. It’s obvious he did his research. More so than a lot of other authors I’ve read, Wingrove seems to have a solid understanding of Chinese culture. For example, Wingrove has the Chinese utterly revise the history of the world up until around 2050 to make it seem as if the West had never been powerful. This is a no-brainer – In Chinese society, history has always been rather malleable and continues to be so today. Wingrove does a splendid job developing this theme and makes the point about how, to the Chinese, history is not an objective set of facts but a constantly evolving tool. It’s a tool by which to maintain power – this is true to some extent of any society. But in Chinese society, it’s also a tool used to maintain social harmony, something that is prized above all else in traditional Confucian ideals.
There are dozens of examples similar to this which make the book believable. Language points, foods, social etiquettes and customs – all of these come together to paint a realistic picture of what the world could be like in 200 years.
And, for all you sci-fi enthusiasts, I do apologize for my grossly inappropriate stereotyping. I have sensitivity issues I should work through. In an attempt to be inclusive, let me say, with all deepest sincerity in Klingon-ese “jIH ‘oH QoS” If you don’t know what that means, well….I’m probably not talking to you.