Little Smarty Travels to the Future

By Ye Yonglie 叶永烈, Pan Caiying 潘彩英 (adaptation),
Du Jianguo 杜建国 and Mao Yongkun 毛用坤 (illustrations)[1]

Tr. by Adrian Ewald, Lena Henningsen, Lars Konheiser, Elena Mannich,
Federica Monchiero, Franziska Roth, Joschua Seiler, and Sen Wei (Freiburg University)

Introduction to the Text by Lena Henningsen


MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright September 2020)


Introduction: This is a science fiction comic book (科学幻想连环画). Through a reporter’s–Little Smarty’s–travel to Future City, [this comic book] vividly unfolds before [our] eyes future high developments in science and technology and the splendid prospect of limitless magnificence in people’s lives. It also tells its young readers: Only if [we] painstakingly study and only if [we] are bold in climbing scientific heights during the advance of the Four Modernizations, can [we] build our motherland to become as thriving and prosperous as Future City.

Dear kids: Do you want to know how the future world will look like? I am a reporter, called Little Smarty. Recently I went to Future City to gather news. It is extremely fascinating there! Let me tell you what that place is like.

Where should I start? I will start from my “treasure,” my camera, and how I lost it! I remember that day at dusk; I was roaming on the riverbank, wanting to photograph the “Riverbank Evening Scene.”

I grabbed into my bag, but–darn it! The “treasure,” my camera, was gone. I searched my bag again and pulled out a water bottle, a small knife, a pen, and lots of other things. I pulled everything out, but I still couldn’t find the camera. I was extremely worried. A moment later, the curtain of night fell.

I wanted to return to the guesthouse instantly. Perhaps I had just forgotten to put the camera into the bag. However, I had bad luck a second time: It was pitch dark, and I lost my way.

I paced up and down along the riverbank. Suddenly, in the dimming night colors, I saw a snow-white balustrade on the meadow in front of me, and behind the balustrade a white bench. I wanted to have a short rest, so I hurried to the armchair.

I was so tired that I didn’t know what was happening and fell asleep. In my dream, I saw a tiger looking at me with two green-sparkling eyes: ROOOOAAAR… I was really scared [and shouted]: “Help! Help!”

Once I rolled my body to get up, I looked around in all directions and saw bright daylight. As it turned out, I was on a huge steamship. That white balustrade I jumped over yesterday in the dark of night was actually the railing on the side of a steamship, and the long armchair I laid down on to sleep was placed on the steamship’s passageway.

At this moment, the steamship sounded HOOOOOOOOT… and so I realized: The loud roaring of the tiger in my dream just a moment ago was in fact the roaring of the steamship’s hooter! While I still felt surprised and bewildered, an old man with a spyglass dangling in front of his chest came toward me, ushering a little boy and a little girl.

The old man was the captain of the ship, and the two little fellows were his grandson–Little Tiger–and his granddaughter–Little Swallow. The captain listened to my story about the previous night’s strange experience; and when he learned I was a news reporter, he said in a happy tone: “That is excellent! Our ship is going to Future City. You are welcome to come with us to gather news.”

We began to happily chat with each other. I asked the grandfather whether the ship always lies at anchor in the water, because last evening I jumped from a lawn onto the ship! Grandfather answered that last evening the ship had been navigated from the river onto the land to have a break.

That seemed strange. How could the ship navigate on land? Originally, this was a new type of a “hydrofoil.” There is a huge electric fan on the ship that endlessly blows wind under the ship’s hulk. When the ship is navigated by air, the bottom of the ship rises into the air completely, separates itself from the water surface, and doesn’t encounter any resistance from the water, as fast as if it were flying. It can be navigated both in the water and on land.

Grandfather then had something to do and went to the captain’s cabin. I asked Little Tiger and Little Swallow to show me around to have a look. When we reached the deck, we only saw a silver gleam, just like an airplane. Little Tiger told me that the hydrofoil was made of a metal called “titanium” that weighs very little.

The deck was equipped with big rotors. Rotating, they looked just like electric fans. The hydrofoil had two types of wind: one wind blowing downward, making the entire boat rise high into the air, and one wind blowing backward, making the boat fly forward fast. That is why the boat can fly over water as well as be navigated on land.

The sea was dark blue–the sky was connected to the sea, and the sea connected to the sky. I was deeply attracted by this fascinating ocean. Little Tiger told me: “This hydrofoil actually uses atomic energy generating electric power to set the ship in motion. Atomic fuel of the size of a piece of soap can actually make the hydrofoil navigate for some ten thousand kilometres!”

“Little Tiger, you should all come down to have breakfast, hurry up!” That was grandfather calling us. I looked around but could still not see him.

Little Tiger took something that looked like a little box out of his pocket and gave it to me to have a look. As it turned out, it was a miniature semiconductor videophone, and on top of the box was a screen. On the screen, I could see grandfather reading a newspaper and talking to us. How interesting was that!

After we had eaten something, we took a short rest, while the hydrofoil again flew more than ten thousand kilometers. Little Tiger looked at his wristwatch and said: “Right now it is 11:25:23, by half past eleven we should arrive in Future City.”

Little Tiger’s wristwatch not only didn’t have an hour hand, a minute hand, and a second hand, but also no gear wheel and clockwork spring. There was only a TV screen with digits written on it: “11:23:40,” which meant it was eleven o’clock plus 23 minutes and 40 seconds now. The digits indicating the seconds were changing constantly.

Little Swallow saw that I was very interested in her brother’s watch, so she gave one to me as well, saying that she had two wristwatches. One of them she got from her mum, and the other one as a birthday present from her grandfather.

I was wanting to open my notebook to take notes on this matter, but just as I raised my head, I saw a tremendous pier appearing in front of my eyes. High over the pier hang a huge signboard: Future City.

Grandpa guided us from the hydrofoil. Little Swallow quickly caught sight of her mum and dad among the crowd. When Little Tiger’s dad heard I was a news reporter, and of the “same profession,” he was very happy and gave me a firm handshake.

Little Tiger’s mum and dad had each arrived with a small car to pick us up. These cars didn’t have any wheels, the fronts of the vehicles were sharp and small, their rumps big, their roofs domed. From the distance they almost looked like transparent, sparkling, and large crystal-clear water drops.

Little Tiger said: “This kind of car is called ‘Floating Car.’ It has a gas motor capable of blowing out two airstreams, one of them blowing downward, making the car rise into the air and leave the ground; the other airstream faces backward, pushing the car forward really quick like it’s floating over the ground.”

Little Tiger’s mum, dad, and grandpa sat in one of the cars. Little Swallow, Little Tiger, and me in the other one. Little Tiger was just about to start driving, when Little Swallow rushed over and wanted to drive. I really wasn’t at ease at all. Little Tiger said: “Don’t worry, everybody here knows how to drive this plaything.”

The floating car started moving. I anxiously sat next to Little Swallow. Suddenly, a floating car came at us head-on, as if about to smash into us. I was startled, but before I could even shout, the floating car jumped over us and flew away.

Little Swallow smiled and told me: “Don’t worry. It is very safe to ride in a floating car. Even if you close your eyes and drive, you will not get into trouble, because there is an automatic collision avoidance device in the car.” Little Swallow and I soon became friends, I found that she was very talkative.

I sat in the car and saw rockets and giant planes skimming through the air. There were many small helicopters that could carry only two or three people. Little Swallow explained that most of the urban area was covered with high-rise buildings, and small helicopters could be parked directly onto small balconies.

It seemed that driving a floating car was not difficult, so I wanted to give it a try. Little Swallow [sitting] next to [me] taught me how. There were all kinds of tall buildings in the city, all of which were made of plastic, and the colors were also very beautiful, like the hundred plants gardens blooming in spring, magnificent and colorful.

Little Swallow shouted that the beige house in front of us was her home. I hurriedly pulled up the speed control brake, wanting to lower the speed, but who knew that pulling up was speeding up? The floating car rushed toward the house like an arrow. I panicked and shouted: “Oh no! Oh no!”

Just when it was about to hit the wall, the floating car suddenly applied an automatic emergency brake and stopped. That was real science! I wasn’t careful, so I was propelled forward and hit my head against the car shell. Fortunately, the transparent plastic car shell was as elastic as rubber, and my head did not hurt at all.

The car landed gently. The door opened automatically, and the roof was also lifted up automatically. Little Tiger took my hand and yelled loudly while running: “Great-grandpa, grandpa, we have a guest!”

On the balcony in front of the building, an old man with a white beard was playing chess with a monster with a rectangular head. I was taken aback. Little Tiger told me that it was a robot, nicknamed “Iron Egg,” made of stainless steel.

The old man was the father of Little Tiger’s grandfather, Little Tiger’s great-grandfather. He happily shook my hand and said, “Welcome, our little reporter.” Iron Egg also imitated great-grandfather and said in a muffled voice: “Welcome, our little reporter.”

Little Tiger’s parents also came upstairs. Little Tiger’s mother asked Iron Egg to pour tea for the guest. The robot immediately came to “stand upright” and “turn backward” and walked away quickly.

In the blink of an eye, Iron Egg brought up a few cups of tea on a tray. Little Tiger’s father told me that whenever I wanted to drink tea and eat in the future, I should just look for Iron Egg. As “kitchen director” he was in charge of these things.

Through Little Tiger’s explanations I learned that the robot relies on an electronic brain–it is controlled by a mini-computer, so he does whatever instruction you put into his electronic brain. If you turn the chess score into an electronic signal and send it to his electronic brain, he will play chess…

In the factories of Future City, there are many robots. They can operate the lathe, move goods, take care of the instrumentation, package products…

The most interesting thing is that in Future City there are four traffic police stations, on land, on the water, in the sky, and in the universe. Except for the universe, [where there are] human beings working as traffic police, all the other [traffic cops] are robots. If you violate the traffic rules, a robot takes a picture of you with a camera immediately…

Great-grandfather was 120 years old, [but] neither deaf, nor blind. Little Tiger said that he was not deaf because an amplifier had been installed in his ears to amplify the sound. His eyes were not blind because anti-aging lenses had been placed in his eyes, so from his appearance you couldn’t tell that he wore glasses.

Great-grandfather told me [that] he had had three serious illnesses. When his liver failed, it was replaced with an artificial one. When his heart couldn’t beat, it was replaced with an artificial heart… In Future Hospital, if one of your organs fails, it can be exchanged for a new one…

Therefore, the residents of Future City have a long life. In Little Tiger’s family, great-grandfather was not [even] the oldest. Great-grandfather’s parents were alive, and they called great-grandfather Little Number Three! Really interesting!…

The week before, great-grandfather’s parents and great-grandfather’s wife had taken the Future space rocket to the moon to escape the heat. The moon serves as the Moon Palace, and it is pleasantly cool…

Little Tiger asked Little Swallow to take me to his room to play. He went to move the bed so that I stay with him. Little Tiger’s room was very bright, the walls were all made of colorless and transparent new organic glass, and the furniture was made of plastic.

The wall was covered with paintings by Little Tiger, and the paintings were really good. Little Swallow said: “Brother painted a picture, ‘Wu Song fights a tiger’, [but] took it down after only one day. He said that his name is Little Tiger, [and the painting was titled] ‘Wu Song fights a tiger’, so wouldn’t he just be fighting himself?” I couldn’t help laughing.

As we were talking, Little Tiger walked in carrying a bed with both hands. “Whoa, you are so strong!” I quickly ran over to help him. Little Tiger put the bed on the ground and said, “That’s nothing! This plastic bed is lighter than great-grandfather’s wicker chair!”

At noon, I had a very strange meal. The rice grains were round, like pearls. I asked Little Tiger: “Is this pearl rice?” – “No, this is artificial rice, made in a factory,” Little Tiger’s mother answered with a smile.

I tried to eat a few grains. Oh, it tasted a bit like rice, but it was also different from rice. The dishes on the table were very abundant, such as steamed meatballs, braised pork, spiced egg, and so on. The spiced egg was as big as a small watermelon. I ate a piece of it that tasted a bit like an egg, but it was fresher than an egg.

Little Tiger’s father said, “This is an artificial egg! Workers pour the protein into an oval plastic bag. After buying it, customers boil it in water, add soy sauce and five-spice powder and then it is ready to eat.”

Among [the dishes] was a dish of snow-white glass noodles with watermelon seeds. I wanted to bite off the shell with my teeth. Who knew the whole thing would shatter? “Hey, how come this watermelon seed has no shell?” It turned out to be sesame, a new variety cultivated by the agricultural research institute of Future City.

After the meal, I went to wash the dishes with Little Tiger and Little Swallow. Little Tiger threw bowls and plates into the tile sink–SLAM! CRASH!–and none of them shattered. I was very surprised. Little Tiger told me that in Future City, all household tableware was made of toughened porcelain that was very strong.

When Little Tiger had finished, he demonstrated to me: He threw a porcelain plate into the air deliberately. The porcelain plate fell to the ground–DING, DING–it bounced around a few times. I picked it up and checked on both sides, but it was not broken at all.

Little Tiger washed the dishes very quickly, cleaning them with nothing but tap water. It turned out that a magical “decontamination oil” was applied to the surface of the plates and bowls, so it would not be stained with dirt, water, or grease. When you put dirty dishes and bowls into the water, all dirt [just] falls off into the water.

And what was even better, Little Swallow dipped the white table cloth into the water, and all the grease and dirt on it fell off. She picked up the white fabric again and shook it, and it was dry immediately. Little Swallow said that the white fabric was also coated with a layer of “decontamination oil,” so it would not be stained with water or oil.

They explained to me: The fabric produced in Future City is coated with this magical “decontamination oil.” Therefore, on rainy days, residents neither wear raincoats nor hold umbrellas. When rain falls on the clothes, it immediately drips to the ground.

In the afternoon, Little Tiger’s parents both went to work. I wanted to write down all the new things I had seen. Little Swallow jumped up to me and said there was a new movie called Kingdom in the Forest at two o’clock. “Great,” Little Tiger said, “Little Smarty, let’s go to the movies.”

Great-grandfather said that he hadn’t seen a movie for a long time and that he would like to go with us. The four of us got into the floating car. After a while, a round, glittering building appeared, with a domed roof and arched doors. A signboard at the main entrance read: “Red Flag Circular 3D Cinema.”

Our floating car entered the movie hall from the arched gate. In Future City, the audience is allowed to sit in floating cars to watch movies. Soon, the hall was full of floating cars. The movie had not started yet and the hall was bright, with a blue domed ceiling that looked like the sky outside.

I looked around and didn’t know where the screen was. Suddenly, the bell rang. The light in the whole hall was dimmed, music started to play, and colored images appeared all over the walls. Even the round ceiling turned sky-blue, and geese flew by in a row from above.

The stereo effects of the movie were really great. When a little white rabbit ran into the forest, the golden sunlight spilled on the little rabbit through the gap between the leaves, and it fell on me too. I seemed to follow the rabbit into the forest.

The little white rabbit met a little monkey. The little monkey picked two apples from a tree and gave one to the little white rabbit. At this moment, the smell of apples wafted through the air. Wow, this movie not only had sound and sight but also smell!

The innocent little white rabbit and little monkey were ensnared by an old fox and had to follow it to meet the king of Forest Kingdom, the lion. When that fierce lion roared and rushed toward little white rabbit and little monkey, I was also terrified and turned around, trying to run away.

“Hey, Little Smarty, what are you doing?” Great-grandfather, Little Tiger, and Little Swallow asked in one voice. Only then did I realize that I was watching a movie. “How embarrassing!” My face blushed.

After dinner, Little Tiger, Little Swallow, and I went for a walk on the street. We slowly walked along the plastic sidewalk. I looked up to the sky and discovered two moons! A round moon, and a sickle-shaped moon, one shining to the east and one to the west.

That sickle-shaped one was the real moon, while the round one was an artificial moon. It is mounted on an artificial satellite. This artificial satellite is always hanging up in the sky above Future City. At night, it brightens up Future City, turning it into a city that never sleeps.

In the distance, the high rises gleamed in soft pale blue and pink light, and the borders of the sidewalk also gleamed in pale green light. Even Little Swallow’s floral skirt and Little Tiger’s shirt were all resplendent in their bright colors.

Guess what? The walls are painted with a noctilucent paint, some of which are made of luminous plastic. And the fluorescent light on people’s clothes comes from a luminous dye. These beams are as soft as those from the artificial moon and are very easy on the eyes.

After we had played for a long time, we returned home. Little Tiger pressed the button, and the entire ceiling lit up. Well, what was that? Little Tiger explained: “It’s a ceiling light. In some rooms, the walls can shine. This is called wall light…

… These walls and ceilings are made of foam plastic. During the production process, a certain material is added to it, which glows when electricity is switched on. This kind of material came out of research into the ‘fire-fly’ and is therefore called ‘fire-fly element,’ and uses only little electricity…

… Every house in Future City can generate its own electricity. All roofs have solar panels made of a silver-grey ‘silicon chip’. During the day, when the sun shines onto the roof, this battery turns solar energy into electrical energy and stores it for household-use at night.”

Little Swallow went back to her mother’s room and did her summer homework. I took out my notebook, as I wanted to write down today’s adventure. Little Tiger sat down for his French and German self-study, because he often travelled abroad by plane with his parents. It would be very inconvenient not to learn some more foreign languages.

Little Tiger has ambitious aims: He wants to be a painter, a navigator like his grandfather, and he also wants to deal with electronics all day and become an engineer in the electronics industry like his great-grandfather…

Speaking of dreams, Little Tiger gushed about the school of Future City: The classrooms are spacious, theatre-like with stepped seats, with each row rising higher than the lower one. Even when sitting in the last row, you don’t have to stretch your neck to look at the screen.

What do I mean by screen? It’s the blackboard in the classroom. In class, images of what the teacher talks about appear on the screen. The light from the projector is projected behind the screen and it is so strong that even if the classroom windows are wide open, the projection is still clear.

The students listen to the teacher attentively while looking at the screen. There is no need to take notes, thus preventing distraction and affecting listening to the lesson. There is an electronic device called a “speech recorder.” It can automatically turn the teacher’s speech into script and record it.

When students return home to do their homework, they turn on the device to review the lessons. Little Tiger took out a small square box from his schoolbag and explained that it was a “speech recorder.” When he switched on the device, the small square box constantly printed out white paper. And lines of regular characters appeared immediately on the paper.

Little Tiger said: “Geography is the most interesting class. The teacher simply takes the students on a nuclear airplane to travel around the world. This type of airplane flies extremely fast. Taking off at 8 a.m., it arrived in France at 8:30 a.m. …

… We were in France for a while and arrived in England at ten. After a visit to England, we arrived in Egypt at noon. We had lunch next to the pyramids and continued to Antarctica in the afternoon. In the evening, we returned to Future City for dinner.”

As he spoke, Little Tiger pulled out a picture album and showed it to me: “Little Smarty, look, here I painted the tomb of the martyrs of the Paris Commune. This is London in thick fog, these are the pyramids of Egypt, and this is the Antarctic grasslands landscape.”

BANG, BANG! Suddenly someone knocked on the door and interrupted our conversation. The door opened and Iron Egg came in and said, “It’s ten o’clock, time to sleep!” Then he turned off the light and went away.

Little Tiger told me: “Great-grandpa is afraid that I will not go to sleep on time, so he installed an automatic device to the electronic brain of Iron Egg calling Iron Egg to switch off the lights every evening.” This way we both had to sleep.

Early next morning I got up, got dressed, and went to the window to look out: The weather was particularly clear, and Little Tiger, Little Swallow, and great-grandfather were all doing their morning work-out below!

I asked Little Swallow: “Where did your grandfather and your parents go?” Little Swallow answered: “Grandpa went to the sea this morning at dawn. Dad went to the oil field early in the morning to do an interview. Mom is preparing breakfast with Iron Egg in the kitchen!”

While we were exercising, an airplane flew through the sky, dusting the sky with a power-like substance. Suddenly the clouds accumulated, and it began to rain. I found this strange. Little Tiger said: “This is ‘artificial rain.’ Since the past two days have seen drought, the meteorological station of Future City let it rain a little bit.”

In Future City, people could control the weather. If they want sunshine, they just spray a little “cloud dispersant” from an airplane to disperse the dark clouds; if they want rain, they just spray a little “rain spray” from an airplane, and it will rain.

After breakfast, I asked Little Tiger to take me to visit the artificial grain factory. We got on the floating car. After we drove for seven or eight minutes, Little Tiger pointed to the rows of green buildings and explained that this was the artificial food factory.

We came to the front of the green houses, and between the green houses, there were tall and large round reaction tanks, all made of stainless steel.

Little Tiger told the control room that he was looking for Teacher Yang. When the car was approaching the general control room, Little Tiger suddenly enlarged the steam valve. The floating car jumped up, and he simply drove in through the open window.

“Well, it’s you again, Little Tiger” said the lady in white overalls and with short hair. I took a closer look, and the lady turned out to be Little Tiger’s mother. Little Tiger wanted to surprise me, so he had referred to his mother as Teacher Yang.

Teacher Yang said happily: “Welcome, welcome, Comrade Little Reporter.” The general control room was like a shop selling clocks and watches. The walls were covered with round, square, and long measuring devices. In addition, there were also small flashing red and green lights.

Teacher Yang asked me which workshop I wanted to see on my visit, and I answered that I wanted to see them all. Teacher Yang smiled and said: “To see them all, I’m afraid, even three days and three nights would not be enough. I am the director of the artificial starch workshop. You can look at our workshop first.”

Through the visit, I understood why the houses here were green: Because plants rely entirely on chlorophyll to produce nutrients. Here, walls and roofs are made of transparent plastic, and artificial chlorophyll is coated in the interlayer. Using the sun and fluorescent light to illuminate, photosynthesis occurs, and a large amount of artificial starch is produced.

When we arrived at the artificial starch storeroom, we saw glass room after glass room where the artificial starch was stored. On each roof, there was a round pipe. Snow-white artificial starch poured down the pipes.

Artificial starch, grain, carbon dioxide, and water are used as raw materials to make starch through photosynthesis. The water comes from the waterworks and is transported via pipes. Carbon dioxide is the exhaust gas from steelworks and power plants and is also transported via pipes.

Under the influence of sunlight and artificial chlorophyll, these two raw materials turn into starch. It’s almost like magic. No wonder you can’t see any vehicles transporting the raw materials. It turned out that the raw materials are coming in through pipes.

We also went to the moulding workshop, we saw that the white artificial starch was rolled in the moulding machine, and when it came out, it had been turned into round, pearl-like artificial rice.

The pearl-like artificial rice was transported to the front packaging workshop and packed into one thin transparent plastic bag after another. I asked Little Tiger: “Are the bags strong?” Little Tiger said: “Definitely! If you don’t believe it, crawl inside and see.”

As soon as I crawled inside, Little Tiger, that little devil, held the opening shut. I tried with all my strength to stand up, but despite my efforts, I just couldn’t get up. Teacher Yang said: “Come on! Enough! Little Tiger.” Little Tiger loosened his grip, and I rolled out. The bag was not even a little torn.

Teacher Yang told me that the bag was not only firm, but was also impenetrable to water and bacteria. Even if it sank to the bottom of the sea and was left there for a few years, the artificial rice inside would not go bad.

We came to the artificial protein workshop. Here stood rows of large cylindrical tanks that resembled pillboxes. There were small windows on the tanks, and I could see through the glass of the small window that there was a milk-white substance inside.

The artificial protein is made of paraffin wax, and then put into microorganisms called “wax-eating bacteria.” These microorganisms absorb the paraffin and then transform it into protein in the body. The “wax-eating bacteria” get fatter and fatter the more they eat and continue to reproduce. Then, the “paraffin bacteria” is mashed into a sauce and becomes artificial protein.

In the artificial protein workshop, there were barrels and barrels of artificial meat paste, artificial milk, boxes and boxes of artificial cakes, and large numbers of eggs the size of watermelons.

We left the artificial grain factory and took a floating car to go visit the farm. We arrived at the gate where the sign read: Future City Agricultural Plant. I said to Little Tiger: “Isn’t the word ‘plant’ wrong? It should be the word ‘plantation’!” He asked me not to draw conclusions before the end of the tour.

The door was closed. When our floating car approached, it opened automatically; as soon as our car entered, the gate closed itself behind us. Little Tiger got closer to my ear and said, “The manager of the farm is a very good man. If we come, especially if you come, he will definitely invite us to eat something delicious.”

As soon as we entered the door, it was like our floating car was moving through a virgin forest: the sunflowers on both sides were like towering trees, except that in the middle there was a straight white plastic road.

Our car stopped in front of a huge crystal palace. The manager of the farm was already there to greet us. It turns out that when the door opens automatically, the automatic system informs the host of the arrival of a guest. Can you guess who the manager was? Little Tiger’s father, Uncle Liu.

Uncle Liu is the manager of the farm and a special reporter for Future Daily. In Future City, because education is widespread, many citizens study two majors at university, one major during the day, and another major at night using the television correspondence university. After graduation, they often have two jobs.

Uncle Liu smiled and said to me: “Comrade Little Reporter, it’s so great that you came here to gather information from us. We have more news than leaves!” I was about to open my mouth, but Little Tiger interrupted, “Dad, Little Smarty said the word ‘agricultural plant’ on your sign is wrong.”

Uncle Liu laughed: “When we first hung up the sign, many people said that we had written the wrong word. Let’s first go to my office and rest for a while. I will treat you to something to eat, and then I will show you around. You will know when the time comes whether it’s written right or wrong.”

At the entrance to the Crystal Palace, the stems of the sunflowers were as thick and long as telephone poles, the leaves were as large as bed sheets, and the flowers as large as round tables. These bright yellow sunflowers were incredibly beautiful.

When I walked into the Crystal Palace, I realized that it was a greenhouse made of plexiglass. Inside was a large round pool. The agricultural farm director’s office was in the middle of the pool. We walked toward the office along a plastic bridge.

The water was green and the lotus leaves were floating on its surface like boats. “How come I can’t see the lotus?” I asked as I walked. Uncle Liu pointed to the green boat-like leaves and said, “This is aquatic pumpkin. Since it doesn’t like the cold, it is planted in the Crystal Palace, inside the plexiglass greenhouse.”

I took a closer look at the big yellow pumpkins floating on the water. They looked beautiful. Uncle Liu said: “The water in this pond is a nutrient-rich solution. Letting the crops grow in this solution is called ‘soil-free cultivation.’ In the future, we’ll be able to plant crops on the surface of the lakes and rivers of Future City.”

We were walking and walking, and with a SWOOSH, my entire body was soaked wet. I raised my head and saw a koi carp larger than a human that jumped from one side of the bridge to the other. Little Tiger said: “This is the naughtiest koi carp ever. Last time I came here, despite the cold, he similarly splashed my entire body.”

When we entered the office, Uncle Liu said: “Come, I invite you to eat this thing. Little Smarty, can you guess what it is?” I had a look and saw a huge round watermelon in the room.

Uncle Liu said: “This is a big watermelon. Every time I have visitors here, I use it to entertain them.”

Little Tiger rushed forward to slice the watermelon. I thought to myself: “If it is so big, how can you handle it?” Little Tiger took an electric saw and pressed it on the watermelon. It sounded like a fast knife cutting tofu CREAK, CREAK… And in less than 10 minutes, the big watermelon was cut in two halves.

I asked Uncle Liu what kind of magic they had used to make their watermelons grow so big. Uncle Liu said: “There’s no need for magic. Rather, the big watermelons are bred with the help of ‘Plant-growth-regulator-stimulation-preparation’…

… ‘Plant-growth-regulator-stimulation-preparation’ can stimulate the growth of crops. After you put it on ordinary corn, it grows as high as a tree so that you would need an elevator to break off the corn. Once stored, you can see that the corn seeds are even bigger than washbasins.”

The large watermelon was soft as well as sweet and very juicy. We were chatting and eating. We ate so much that our bellies looked like balls, and we could not eat any more. But only three little craters were eaten from the watermelon.

We then took a floating tractor to visit the fields. This kind of floating tractor can also rise to the sky, lifting itself up from the ground. When the floating seedling-lifter or the floating rice-transplanter are used for field work, rice seedlings can be planted in an instant. They would neither drown [the seedlings] in the mud nor press down on the crop.

While we were driving over the fields, Uncle Liu explained to me: “These leaves, which are larger than a bed sheet, are pak choi. These pencils, which are standing upright and look like pines, are sugar canes; these round rosy clouds are multi-colored cotton…”

We arrived at a big orchard, where there were red apples larger than washbasins, and the yellow tangerines looked like pumpkins. The heavy purple grapes looked like they were as big as eggs.

Ever since the “plant-growth-stimulation-preparation” had been used on the crops, they not only grew high and big, but also extremely fast: Within one month, you could collect the first harvest of apples, in half a month the first harvest of sugarcane, within several days you could already manufacture some products. Because of that it is not called “plantation” but “agricultural plant.”

Right before our eyes appeared one large row of factory buildings. It was a factory that produces plant-growth-stimulation-preparation, pesticides, and chemical fertilizer. Uncle Liu smiled and asked me: “Comrade Little Reporter, how is it? Is this a ‘agricultural plant’ or not?” I said with a sigh: “This really is an ‘agricultural plant’ in the true sense of the term.”

I still wanted to find out about how Future City had been constructed. What about its past? In the evening, I went to consult Little Tiger’s great-grandfather. He said: “In Future City’s library there is a book that records The History of Future City. Read this book, then you will know.”

The library of Future City is a palace-like building in antique style, located in the heart of the city. In front of the door there is a pair of tall, majestic, white jade ornamental columns. The roof of the library is decorated with ornaments made of broken tiles of plastic in gold color, looking extremely majestic.

We got to the reading room, where the windows are bright and clean and give people a refreshing and comfortable feeling. In the middle of the room there is a TV set. As soon as we came in, two lines appeared on the screen: What book do you need? Please write down the title of the book on the glass plate below.

Below the glass plate was an electronic fax device that automatically reported the books the reader needed to the librarian. I wrote the book I wanted to borrow on the glass plate. Next to me, Little Swallow said: “Borrow a couple of comics with fighting or fairy tale stories for me.”

In a moment, a robot similar to Iron Egg entered, carrying a big pile of books in both hands. That was the automatic librarian. The books the three of us wanted to borrow were all delivered to us.

The History of Future City is a thick and large book. But holding it in my hands, the book did not seem heavy at all. The book’s front cover and the printed pages are all made of slim, graceful, and sturdy synthesized paper.

I opened it carefully. The foreword read: “Originally, there were no roads on the earth. Roads were all made by humans.” I took out my notebook and quickly wrote down these words.

In the book it said: “Hundreds of thousands of years ago, there used to be an ocean here. Then, more than ten thousand years ago, due to the change of the earth’s crust, this place turned into a desert. One thousand years ago, the ancient Chinese people worked hard and dug ditches with their own hands, so river water spread out, and an oasis emerged from the desert. This is where the people started farming…

… more than a hundred years ago, the people used wisdom and physical labor and through hard struggle they triumphed over nature, created the world, and created the glorious Future…” I was totally immersed in my reading. The sudden sound of a ringtone coming out of Little Tiger’s pocket made me jump with surprise.

Little Tiger pulled his small videophone out of his pocket. I looked and only saw Little Tiger’s mum on the little screen. Teacher Yang said: “Hello, Hello, Little Tiger, where are you? Where are you? Come home quickly, we are waiting for you to have lunch…”

The three of us hurried out of the room. Just as we reached the door, the TV on the table made a sound: “Dear readers, we kindly ask you to put the books back in order before you go!” Oh dear! The three of us had been too impatient, so we turned around hastily and put the books back in good order. At that moment, two lines of red characters appeared on the screen: “Thank you, goodbye!”

I had to leave Future City, and honestly, I really hated to go. Little Tiger’s entire family came along to the rocket aircraft station to send me off. At the rocket aircraft station, there were gigantic, pointed, silvery rockets every fifty meters, standing there vertically.

We arrived at the rocket launching pad 3018, and the commander of the rocket launching pad gave me a space suit. It was really thick, so I imagined that it would be impossible to lift my legs once I put it on. Yet, once I had put it on, it was not heavy at all.

The commander opened the cabin of the rocket aircraft and let me sit down on a chair in the cockpit. He told me: “This rocket is automatically controlled by an electronic computer. It will land accurately at your destination. After take-off, you won’t have to worry about anything, all you have to do is fasten your seatbelt tightly.”

The commander took out a big tube of “toothpaste” and a rubber bag, and put them into a drawer next to my seat. He told me: “Here is something to eat and some boiled water. This rubber bag transmits electricity, and after it has been electrified, it can be used to keep the water warm.

Little Tiger, and Little Swallow came inside the aircraft’s cabin and kept on badgering me: “Little Smarty, you must come back again and visit us!” I answered: “Of course! Of course! You also have to come to my place and visit me!”

DING, DING, DING – that was the signal for take-off. Little Tiger and Little Swallow left hastily and closed the cabin door. “Goodbye, Goodbye!” I saw Little Tiger and the others waving their hands at me again and again. I also heaved up my hand awkwardly and bid farewell to everyone.

With a rumble, the rocket took off. After a while I felt like moving around a bit. BANG! I had floated upward and the Plexiglas hood on my head bumped against the ceiling of the cabin. As it turned out, when the rocket flew around the globe, the gravity of the earth and the centrifugal force of the rocket were offset, and everything started to turn light as a feather.

Before leaving, the commander had reminded me, but stupid me I was talking to Little Tiger and Little Swallow and forgot to tie myself onto the chair of the aircraft. Now, I was hanging from the ceiling and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Dear kids, if you had seen me back then, you surely would have split your sides with laughter.

Later, when I had crawled back into my seat with great difficulty, I firmly fastened the seat belt. I was feeling a little hungry, and casually pulled the drawer open to take out the “toothpaste” and the rubber bag. It turned out that there was cake batter and jam inside the “toothpaste.” I opened the glass hood and leisurely sucked it out.

I also wanted to open the rubber bag to drink some water, but whatever I did, the water would not come out. I realized that the water had no weight; even with the opening of the bag pointing downward, it would not run out. I became anxious and tried my best to toss it out. Eventually the water from inside the bag was floating in mid-air like soap bubbles.

So there would be no water for me to drink. I looked far into the distance outside the window. The sky was pitch dark like the long deep winter, and the stars were like mischievously-blinking eyes. A golden, round ball was hanging above my head–the sun. A silver, round ball was next to me–the moon. And below my feet there was a giant, light blue round ball–the earth.

I flew on and on, and slowly started dozing off… BANG–I was suddenly woken up from my dreams by a loud sound. The rocket had already landed automatically. I opened the cabin door, and before my eyes lay a familiar emerald green meadow. The sound of the flowing river echoed in the distance. It was indeed the place where I had got lost three days earlier.

I quickly stepped out of the rocket. The clear moonlight lit up the small path crossing the fields. I could easily recognize the direction, and I walked toward the guesthouse. At this moment, there was a loud rumble behind me. I turned my head and all I could see was the rocket number ‘3018’ that automatically flew back in the direction of Future City.

I came back to the guesthouse, walked into my room, turned on the lamp, and found the “treasure” there–my camera was lying neatly on the table. It turned out that the thing I hastily stuffed into my bag that one night was not my camera, but a small water bottle.

I immediately sat down, I wrote and wrote, and finished the book Little Smarty Travels to the Future in one go. Dear kids, it’s a pity I forgot to take the “treasure” with me this time. That is why I don’t have a single photograph of Future City. Next time I go there, I will definitely take some pictures and show them to you.

NOTES:

[1] The translation is based on the lianhuanhua 连环画 edition published in 1980 by Liaoning meishu chubanshe.