The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, November 03, 2023

Chengdu Worldcon: Meet the Future

This historic Worldcon has already been very well covered by others, e.g. Nicholas Whyte and Jeremy Szal. For lots of coverage of events, guests and so on, see the con’s Facebook page.

But I’ve been back over a week, and here’s my overdue account.

Last month I spent far too few days in China, at the Chengdu Worldcon, to which I was invited as an international guest. My travel, and accommodation for me and my wife, were covered by the Committee of the 2023 Chengdu World Science Fiction Convention, for which much thanks.

We had a wonderful time. The convention was a smashing success and easily the biggest, and most publicly celebrated, Worldcon ever.

We arrived at Chengdu airport in the early evening of Wednesday 18 October and quickly met volunteers at a stall near the exit, from which were immediately hurried to a minibus that took us to the Sheraton Pidu. Along the way we saw advertisements for the Chengdu Worldcon lining the highways, and the robot panda mascot at numerous intersections. We met the volunteer who was looking after us, Zoe, who was unfailingly sweet and helpful throughout. Our luggage was whisked inside and we were back on a bus for a short drive to the venue.
This was the elegant and futuristic newly built Chengdu Science and Science Fiction Museum, across a lake in the park from the hotel. We took our seats just in time for the start of the opening ceremony.

This combined a traditional Worldcon opening ceremony...
...with a spectacular show, including song and dance, giant video projections, and culminated in a drone display outside the huge semi-circular window of astronomical and sci-fi images whose high point was an outline rendering of a spinning black hole (which unfortunately I didn’t catch, so you’ll have to make do with Saturn).

The other ceremonies – the Galaxy Awards, the opening of the Chengdu International Science Fiction convention, the Hugo Awards, the Hugo after-party, and the closing ceremony – were likewise spectacular: a primary school choir sang in one of these, an entire symphony orchestra took the stage in another, and so on.
They were MC’d by professional television presenters.

The venue was as impressive inside as outside.
I took part in a couple of panels, one on Science Fiction and Future Science and one on cyberpunk, and was interviewed on video by an Italian documentary company and on voice recording for the Huawei news website. For two mornings I put in an hour or two at the Glasgow Worldcon stand. Never in my life have I been asked for so many autographs, or to pose with so many people for photographs. Nicholas Whyte, also at the stall, had the same experience, and others did too. Hardly any of the people whose notebooks and souvenirs we signed, or who stood beside us to have their photo taken, could have known who we were: that were overseas visitors with something to do with science fiction was enough. Among the few who did know us were some students from the Fishing Fortress College of Science Fiction in Chongqing. Our enthusiastic reception was nothing to that of Cixin Liu, author of the Three-Body trilogy and the story filmed as The Wandering Earth. His signing queue was like those I’ve seen for Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Science fiction in China is taken very seriously and sincerely by its fans.

Thousands upon thousands of people passed through the venue, including many primary-school classes there for the day. Lots of young people, and lots of families. They weren’t just there for the toys and for the impressive tech exhibition hall.
The bookstall just across from the Glasgow Worldcon stall had a fast-moving queue of book-laden customers all the time. Many panels were standing room only, with people crowding the doorway leaning in and recording on their phones.

There were hundreds of volunteers, some minding the international guests, others helping visitors to the venue, acting as guides in exhibitions, or adding some elegance to the ceremonies.

Some even worked on security (the hotel and the venue had almost airport-level security throughout the convention). Most seemed to be from language schools, and eager to practice their English.

Our good friend Fan Zhang, who looked after us so well in Beijing in 2019, now has an important post at the Fishing Fortress college of Science Fiction. He took us out to dinner with two of his staff, and had some interesting proposals for next year, which I’m seriously considering.

We had one side trip organised by the convention for guests: a visit to Chengdu’s famous panda research centre, truly unforgettable.

Alongside the hotel was an exhibition of ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’, traditional arts and crafts: Shu embroidery not just displayed but demonstrated, traditional music and singing, silver filigree, a tea ceremony, cut-paper pictures, and melted-sugar drawings made before our eyes and handed to us on a stick to eat. It all made for an interesting and uplifting hour.

On our final day, Monday 23 October, Carol and I went on our own to the Wuhou Shrine, a historic site and major tourist destination set in a great park which opens to some old streets, now lined with gift shops and street food stalls.

And on Tuesday we began the long journey home. We had met old friends and made new ones, and it was a pang to leave.

We owe thanks to many people – the organisers and volunteers, especially Zoe, and a special thanks to the indefatigable Sara Chen.


It sounds amazing, Ken. A lot for Glasgow to live up to! But I know Glasgow will do a great job in a different way. So good to see some of Iain Banks's books have been translated. I hope yours will be, too!

Thank you for the photo report. Nice to see SF in China. Here's to a better future.

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