Estranging Realism in Chinese Science Fiction: Hybridity
and Environmentalism in Chen Qiufan’s The Waste Tide

By Cara Healey

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 29, no.2  (Fall 2017), pp. 1-33

In this essay, Healey considers Chinese science fiction author Chen Qiufan’s (陈楸帆 b. 1981) 2013 novel The Waste Tide (荒潮) from the perspective of generic hybridity, the way it combines, subverts, and reinterprets conventions of twentieth-century Chinese realism and the science fiction subgenre of cyberpunk. Specifically, The Waste Tide combines thematic and stylistic elements characteristic of modern Chinese realism (the returned-intellectual narrator, tensions between the loner and the crowd, and the use of the female body as a site for exploring national issues) with the cognitive estrangement of cyberpunk (body modification, focus on global capitalism as unknowable totality, and multiply-positioned subjectivity), maintaining continuity with both mainstream Chinese literary tradition and Western science fiction alike. Healey argues that this generic hybridity, reinforced by the novel’s focus on human/machine hybridity, allows The Waste Tide to explore the enormity of ecological destruction in China in a way that acknowledges humanity’s ambiguous relationship with nature and tensions between the local and the global in environmental consciousness. As a result, the novel calls on readers to explore alternatives to anthropocentric approaches to environmentalism.