Monday, January 2, 2017
Short Fiction Month: Folding Beijing - Hao Jingfang
Some time into the future the vast metropolis of Beijing is divided into three spaces. Its inhabitants are strictly separated from each other by The Change, a daily event that hand over the city to the next group of inhabitants. Lao Dao is a waste processor in the Third Space. He is middle aged and resigned to the fact that he will never amount to anything more. One day he finds a call for help from a man in Second Space among the rubbish he is sorting through. It is an opportunity to at least give a young girl he knows a chance at a good education. Lao Dao sets out to explore parts of the city he is not allowed to enter.
The science fictional concept in the story is how the infrastructure of the city is adapted to society's needs. A visual representation of the structure of society, and the huge economic unfairness (especially considering the socialist ideal of equality and public ownership of the means of production) this system enables. Hao illustrates this in another way as well. We meet characters with vastly different ambitions (or lack thereof) in life. Lao Dao himself is perhaps not satisfied, but resigned to his station, while those at the top try to maintain the status quo. The character in Second Space is looking up and thinks he can make it all the way to the top. The trampled masses, the hopeful middle-class and the wealthy few, each kept in their place by a system that separates them rigorously. In the end we could say that the only one who gains a really new perspective on the situation is Lao Dao. He appears a bit defeated but in the end his deep-seated humanity will endear him to the reader.
I ended up quite liking Folding Beijing. It is a story that grows on you as it progresses, and one that addresses a social and economic problem that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later, and is certainly not confined to China. Definitely a story worth reading.
Title: Folding Beijing
Author: Hao Jingfang
Translation: Ken Liu
Originally published: Uncanny Magazine, Issue Two, January-February 2015
Read in: Invisible Planets, edited by Ken Liu
Story length: novelette, approximately 16,000 words
Awards: Hugo Award winner, Sturgeon Award nominated
Available online: Uncanny Magazine