Monday, April 11, 2011

China Goes Totalitarian about Time Travel

I've been fortunate about my books in China - at this point, seven have been translated into Chinese, and are available to students, scholars, and the general public in the People's Republic of China.  In fact, seven is the largest number of my books translated into any language.  The runner-up for my translations is Polish, at five.  But unlike the Chinese translations, two of my Polish translations have been of my science fiction.  China, in contrast, has only translated my nonfiction.   I've always wondered and felt a little bad about this, but a story in The New Yorker last week may provide a piece of an answer.

It's the kind of story that you don't know whether to laugh or cry about - in fact, Richard Brody in The New Yorker says when he first heard about it, he thought the report was an "Onion-style joke".  My friend Barna Donovan wrote on my Facebook wall about it last week, and my first thought was that he had come upon some April Fool's joke.   But it's apparently no joke at all.

The Chinese government is banning time travel movies.  They think “the producers and writers are treating the serious history in a frivolous way" (see the ChinaHush web site).  Aside from the fact that most time travel stories have a philosophic thread which is about as serious as it gets - how can you go back in time and change the past, when that very change will create a future in which you will not be aware of what you wanted to change (see my Enjoyable Trouble with Time Travel for more) - and aside from the great likelihood that, due to such paradoxes, time travel is manifestly impossible, there is a sad, grievous lesson in the Chinese government's ban:

Why can't they let their people decide on their own what movies to see?  Why must a government treat its own people as if they were very little children, and the government the parents, with a responsibility to keep them from unworthy information? 

It is easy to forget that there are still differences in this world between open and closed societies, between democracies which assume its citizens are usually rational adults, usually able to make their own decisions, and totalitarian states which try to regulate every aspect of their peoples' lives.  It is easy to forget that that's why we have a First Amendment in this country, in case even our own government forgets.

I hope the Chinese government reconsiders its decision, and allows its people to come more fully, unimpeded, into the present and the future.

In the meantime, I can't resist wondering if, as per my 1995 novelette, made into a 2002 movie, the Universe itself isn't somehow at work here ... [joke ... but here's the movie]





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