"Paul Levinson's It's Real Life is a page-turning exploration into that multiverse known as rock and roll. But it is much more than a marvelous adventure narrated by a master storyteller...it is also an exquisite meditation on the very nature of alternate history." -- Jack Dann, The Fiction Writer's Guide to Alternate History

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]

10-min podcast on this subject

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Anonymous said...

Come on Paul, to be fair, this is the Han Chinese we're talking about, they value and respect and honor their history, .. unlike Americans, I guess because a history filled with slavery against Blacks and genocide against Natives is too painful and not politically correct to mention these days.

So it's understandable these stupid time travel movies piss off the Chinese. What religion is to the West, culture is to the Chinese. Weren't millions of Catholics pissed off when the Da Vinci Code came out, because it was 'inaccurate' about the 'fact' of Jesus having a wife?

Paul Levinson said...

You're missing the point: not liking something, even intensely disliking a kind of movie or any other kind of popular culture, is not the problem - not for the Chinese government or the Chinese people.

The problem is preventing people from seeing the disliked genre - that's why it's so important that the First Amendment be followed (which it often is not in the US). But at least we have a First Amendment, which can provide a rallying point forth for those who respect and desire freedom.

Speaking of which, I'd say most American are proud of most of our history - such as our beating the Nazis and helping to bring down the Soviet Union - despite the awful things you mention.

Anonymous said...

I find it funny when someone tries to point out something China has done on the internet the astroturfers immediately chime in with a chorus of "OH YEAH WELL YOUR HISTORY AND CULTURE IS _GARBAGE_ UNLIKE MINE". As if it completely excuses every decision that happens or ever will happen ever again.

I'm wondering how long it is going to take for people to wake up and realize that pointing out that the kettle is slightly dark doesn't excuse the fact that they are swimming in a sea of black ink.

Nimbus said...

Not sure where to post this. The link from the podcast page lead me to this page. I am commenting on the podcast "say goodby to nuclear energy" You bring up how dangerous current nuclear generation is. Are you aware of pebble bed reactors and mini nukes? They have few if any of the problems of the current crop of reactors. They are warm reactors that can not melt down. I think these are the future. No need to give up nuclear. Instead we need to convert to this better design.

Paul Levinson said...

Apologies, nim-bus - I put the wrong link on my podcast page - the right one is this - http://paullevinson.blogspot.com/2011/03/time-to-say-goodbye-to-nuclear-energy.html - and I've corrected the link on the podcast page.

But as long as we're here - the problem I have with nuclear fission energy, as I indicated, is what can happen when things go very wrong. Since ever a radically safer kind of reaction cannot be 100% perfect - no technology ever is - I'm still in favor of leaving nuclear, in favor of energy sources which don't carry the long-lasting dangers of nuclear contamination.