Sunday, August 18, 2013

Six top books on utopia and dystopia

Chan Koonchung is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter. Born in Shanghai and raised and educated in Hong Kong, he studied at the University of Hong Kong and Boston University. He has published more than a dozen Chinese-language books and in 1976 founded the monthly magazine City in Hong Kong, of which he was the chief editor and then publisher for twenty-three years. He has been a producer on more than thirteen films. Chan Koonchung now lives in Beijing.

His book The Fat Years, begun in 2008 and published in the US in 2011, has been described as being both a utopian and a dystopian novel. The author prefers "the term heterotopia, a term coined by the French philosopher Michel Foucault and recently reintroduced into Chinese by Professor David Wang of Harvard University. It’s not exactly a utopia: it’s a realm you can have a glimpse of, but it’s very difficult to talk about or to see the whole picture because it’s almost beyond our comprehension."

With Katrina Hamlin at Five Books, Chan Koonchung tagged six top novels that are utopian or dystopian or heterotopian, including:
Swastika Night by Katherine Burdekin

The book was written in the mid 1930s, before the Second World War. The author is warning that the Nazi state will win a major war and then rule for seven centuries. It’s very possible that the Nazis and the fascists could have won, so it’s a kind of alternative history. The book was read by many socialist book clubs in the UK at the time, but after the war it was forgotten, because fascism was defeated in many people’s minds and it wasn’t relevant anymore.

A recent revival of interest in the novel is mostly from a feminist angle, because in this ruthless state people are discriminated against and women are considered inferior – fascism emphasises masculinity and makes a myth of fraternal feeling. But I was interested in its description of a sustainable fascist state. In the book, there could be no end to a fascist state. I see it as a cautionary tale of how a new type of Chinese state could stay in power.
Read about the other books on the list at Five Books.

--Marshal Zeringue