The vague correlation between the popularity of a literary genre and the age of human society becomes tangible when looking retrospectively at the rise and the decline of a particular generic form at a certain historical moment. Doubtlessly, science fiction has become one of the most popular genres of today's generation. No matter in terms of what disciplinary field our times is defined—information era, globalization, or the broad postmodernism—science fiction prevails worldwide. The rise of Chinese science fiction in recent years, in particular sci-fi realism, has been demonstrated by Chinese authors who have gained international recognition and an on-going heated discussion on Chinese social networks, raising questions about the origin of the genre of science fiction, which has long been believed to be exclusively Western. What is the original appearance of Chinese science fiction and in what way is it generically different from the ghost and fantasy stories in classical Chinese literature? As science fiction is widely accepted as a genre of popular culture emerging in the progress of modem civilization, is there any relation between it and the modem discourse of the nation state, and what is the role of Chinese science fiction in the discursive construction of Chinese modernity in the early twentieth century? Why has sci-fi realism, in particular, become an identifying writing style of Chinese science fiction and how is it related to its original emergence in late-Qing China, a particular historical moment when China was forced to embrace modem progress and was going through tremendous social transformation? Nathaniel Isaacson's Celestial Empire: The Emergence of Chinese Science Fiction seeks answers to these questions and further invokes critical thinking about the contemporary worldwide popularity of science fiction.
The Emergence of Chinese Science Fiction
An interdisciplinary investigation of early Chinese science fiction writing, Celestial Empire provides a geopolitical reading of the emergence of this particular genre in China at the turn of twentieth century. Isaacson believes the emergence of Chinese science fiction is not an isolated literary phenomenon but a geopolitical demonstration of Tani Barlow's "colonial modernity," a product overdetermined by the imperialist expansion of empire, the economic benefits from technological superiority in modem progress, and anxieties over cultural identity among the colonized. Colonial modernity is the historical convergence of the East and the West, of the European imperialist expansion and the struggles and anxieties it caused in the East, and of the confrontation and the negotiation between the colonized and its own past. Isaacson intends to map the emergence of early Chinese science fiction in the worldwide landscape of global power relations.
Isaacson starts his discussion of science fiction with the most controversial issue of whether or not it is a genre. In recent years, the notion of genre has been at the center of literary criticism, and the origins of particular genres have been discussed in the framework of post colonial critique. For example, in studies of melodrama in the East and the West, Zhang Zhen retraces the origin of Chinese melodrama and raises the question of whether melodrama, which had been widely believed to be an inherently Western category, actually has a history in the East that is parallel to its exclusively Western tradition. In his comparative study of the 1934 Chinese melodrama The Goddess, directed by Wu Yonggang and starring Ruan Lingyu, William Rothman points out that the excellent mastery of the classic Hollywood style and the particular genre of melodrama, combined with Wus own way of interpreting the genre culturally, indicate the international merit of melodrama and the mutual influence in the development of the early film industry between the East and the West.
The recognition of the emergence of science fiction is very similar to that of melodrama. As Isaacson mentions, a number of science fiction studies have shown difficulties in how to define science fiction as a genre. The previous absence of studies on early science fiction in the East has led to a continuous misunderstanding that the genre is exclusively Western and therefore defined by a linear history of development. Isaacson's communication with recent scholarly studies shows that a significant breakthrough of the genre problem of science fiction results from recent reconfigurations of science fiction which have shifted from the attempts to define a fixed object to understanding it as a cultural field in which "a convergence of media, genres, forms, or modes" has formed a selective tradition going beyond national borders in global exchange. That is to say, science fiction, rather than being recognized by a universal definition, has been regarded as a mode that depends on how it is read and interpreted culturally in certain historical and social contexts.
Isaacson's examination of early Chinese science fiction reveals that the role that science fiction played in the construction of Chinese modernity is closely associated with and highly similar to that of the vernacular; thus, the emergence of Chinese science fiction in the late Qing period is more politically instrumental than literally imaginative. For late-Qing intellectuals, the vernacular allowed literature to reach a wider range of audience so that literature could play a larger role in invoking public awareness of the national crisis at that particular historical moment. Even though it was minor in the landscape of popular culture, science fiction was seen by Chinese intellectuals as a new generic form that might contribute to an awakening of the masses and the consequent social change. This function was at the same time owing to the understanding and the interpretation of the term “science." In China at the turn of the twentieth century, with the importing of the Western ideas of evolution and social Darwinism, the West was viewed worldwide as the cutting edge of a universal progress of civilization. Science was regarded as a body of knowledge equivalent to an objective understanding of the material world, which was seen by many late-Qing Chinese intellectuals as a matter of historical fact and therefore of great significance in nation building. Science fiction, together with a number of literary genres, was believed to be and was used by Chinese intellectuals as a literary site to disseminate "knowledge." In this sense, the term, a combination of "science" and "fiction," became a perfect demonstration of an objective delineation of the material world and the literary imagination of the social status quo of China at the turn of the century.
Tracing the early history of science fiction in late imperial China, Isaacson sets out his study from Said's critique of Orientalism, which he believes has theoretically framed the thematically constitutive correlation between science fiction and the imperial empire, as a specific embodiment of the discursive link between literature and nation building. Isaacson firmly believes that the colonial project is inherently embedded in the generic value of science fiction. On the one hand, science fiction serves the empire through its unique narratives that mirror the ambition of imperial conquest, which in turn means understanding the exotic encounters in science fiction as "the imaginary horizons of imperial expansion,"and the empire as "the imaginary political horizon of science fiction."  On the other hand, the colonial project led to a worldwide embrace of capitalism at the turn of the twentieth century, which produced a growing population who received modem education and formed a reading public, and further gave rise to mass production and mass consumption. In other words, science fiction is derived from and serves the dominant discourse of empire and colonialism, namely in disciplinary terms, capitalist relations of production for Marxism, patriarchy for feminism, and heterosexuality for queer studies.
If the colonial project is primarily a dialectic confrontation between the Western powers and the targets of their imperialist ambition, Isaacson's study indicates that, on the side of the colonized, science fiction is a genre with the potential to code the message of an underlying antiEuropean ethnocentrism. Isaacson asserts the thematic role of colonialism and imperialism in the emergence of early Chinese science fiction. Chinese authors rendered anxieties and concerns over the negotiation between the traditional and the modem through the imaginative coordinates of utopia-dystopia. The (in)capability of catching up with the West at the price of losing one's own cultural identity was the tum-of-the-century dilemma caused by European expansion that perplexed Chinese intellectuals, who searched and debated for solutions. In Isaacsons examination of early Chinese science fiction, the political reality一China's semi-colonial status一shaped the thematic space of early Chinese science fiction, which should be understood as being under the influence of colonialism and imperialism.
However, Isaacson's reading of the influence of colonialism and imperialism on the emergence of the genre of science fiction is far more complicated than a simple dichotomy between the colonizer and the colonized. He believes early science fiction should be understood as a discursive site of the emerging global relations of power. Colonialism is not simply a case of European imperialism producing Orientalism and its counterpart of Occidentalism, but a web-like structure of power relations, each of which is productive and affects the reconfiguration of itself others, and the relations between them. Isaacson points out that, in the case of the emergence of Chinese science fiction, the thematic concerns reflected in late-Qing science fiction narratives are not so much a dialectical opposition between the West and China as a confrontation between China and its own past in a new emerging map of global powers, in which the center of the world shifted from the "central kingdom" in China s longstanding historical imagination to Europe, an aggregation of colonial powers that both geographically and ideologically reshaped the worldwide imagination of human society into a universality of modem progress. That is to say, it is not simply the cultural collision between the West and the East at this particular historical moment of European colonial expansion that led to China's epistemological crisis; it is, rather, the internal crisis brought about by colonialism and imperialism which caused chaotic instability in the political and social scene as well as the acceptance and advocacy by the Qing court and intellectual circles of the slogan: "Chinese learning as essence, Western learning as the application."  By saying this, Isaacson not only incorporates science fiction, a genre in popular literature, into the framework of the modem nation-state system, but also indicates that an emerging alternative modem subject identity, formed in the Chinese cognitive system and cultural tradition, was interrupted to meet the universal Western modernity brought about by European colonial expansion in complicity with the worldwide embrace of capitalism.
To illuminate the influence of colonialism and imperialism on early Chinese science fiction, Isaacson first goes back to the generic theme in Lu Xun's early essays and his translations of Western science fiction. He points out two significant contributions of Lu Xun's early works in the history of modem Chinese literature, which have been fairly ignored, compared to his world-renowned fictional work, A Madmans Diary, the landmark of the start of modem Chinese literature that establishes his role as the father of modem Chinese literature. First, Lu Xun served an introductive role in the emergence of Chinese science fiction. He introduced the French science fiction work, From the Earth to the Moon to the Chinese audience, based on its English translation. Second, the adoption of colloquial language in his translations of science fiction and in his early essays in the late Qing period in order to reach a wider audience had already shown an instrumental concern for the writing style of Chinese literature. This argument might be a substantial response to the critical voice that modem Chinese literature starts from a narrative borrowed from the West in the May Fourth period.
Different from Lu Xun's deep lament of the impotency of the Qing court and the intellectuals it produced to contend with Western modem civilization, Wu Jianrens New Story of the Stone provides a utopian solution for the modem dilemma of late-Qing China. The novel is widely accepted as a popular piece of social fiction, and Isaacson identifies it as science fiction in terms of its thematic focus and the utopian space portrayed in the second half of the book. The Realm of Civilization is a typical imaginative utopia that is at the same time not any particular place in the world and separate from the rest of the world. More importantly, the novel thematically renders the political and cultural crisis brought about by foreign incursion, sharing the most important characteristic with late-Qing science fiction. Isaacson points out that what makes Baoyu feel estrangement is the semi-colonial China where he awakens rather than the Realm of Civilization, a place that is not simply a replacement based on European modernity, but "a return to the social utopia of Confucian antiquity",combined with "a place of modernist transcendence."  That means that the author in fact reaffirms China's indigenous culture through the utopian fantasy. Late-Qing science fiction shares remarkable similarities in themes, for example, anxieties about foreign incursion and China's semi-colonial status, political instability, social inequality, and internal moral crisis. All these themes, Isaacson believes, not only reflect the influence of European colonialism and imperialism, but have also been crystalized into an overdetermination of China's crisis in the late Qing period and indicate the simultaneous confrontations between China and Europe, and between China and its own past, with the latter as the radical factor. For example, Isaacson believes Baoyu's peril in The New Story of the Stone is an allegory for China's crisis, which is at once overdetermined but "more the result of an internal deterioration of moral order than the threat of foreign invaders."
In addition to the thematical focus, Isaacson indicates that late-Qing science fiction shows a striking similarity in its metaphorical tropes, for example, with the metaphors of a sick body and cannibalism. Many of these metaphors that appeared in late-Qing science fiction narratives were later adopted by the May Fourth literature. By saying this, Isaacson again invokes a rethinking of the May Fourth literature, which has been questioned as involving narratives largely borrowed from the West, in terms of both theme and fonn; moreover, he affirms and underlines the indigenous Chinese literary heritage and identifies science fiction as a functional site upon which the literary tradition can be approached, incorporating the popular genre into the discursive construction of the nation-state system. Considering the thematic and metaphorical significance in the wider landscape of Chinese science fiction, the shared similarities of late-Qing science fiction一thematically conveying anxieties about the crisis of Chinese society in metaphors so that the whole story has become an allegory of the nation at a certain historical moment—in fact, may also reveal the original shape of Chinese sci-fi realism, an identifying characteristic that has won an international reputation for contemporary Chinese science fiction. As Isaacson indicates, "in its early incarnation, Chinese SF was far from utopian."
In Isaacson's study, the identifying characteristics in terms of thematical focus and metaphorical tropes of early Chinese science fiction narratives are also comprehensively expressed in China's first science fiction work, Tales of the Moon Colony by Huangjiang Diaosou. More importantly, sharing a similar motif of foreign incursion and metaphors of cannibalism and a sick body with other late-Qing science fiction, the novel epitomizes and foregrounds colonial modernity, another substantially constitutive feature of late-Qing science fiction that is thematically related to the influence of Exiropean imperialist expansion. Meanwhile, it also enables the theoretical function that incorporates the genre into the project of the modem nation-state. Many late-Qing science fiction narratives, such as The New Story of the Stone, are set in the city of Shanghai at the turn of the twentieth century. It has been widely believed that Shanghai was born to be a modern city in the mid-nineteenth century, as a treaty port. It was in Shanghai that the English word "modern" entered into the Chinese vocabulary as a transliteration. The treaty port period is also when Shanghai's cosmopolitan and metropolitan culture一the core spirit of Shanghai-style culture―was constructed. The city of Shanghai is therefore expected to provide a material experience of modernity. Isaacsons examination of late-Qing science fiction illustrates that the image of Shanghai, just like its real constitutive role in the construction of Chinese modernity, becomes the central space of the imaginative utopia, where economic nationalism is negotiated with the subjective legacy of cultural identity. In this typical space of colonial modernity, the presence of the West is usually material rather than ideological. What really concerned late-Qing intellectuals was not the physical presence of foreign powers, but the extent to which the material superiority brought about by the foreign presence could be negotiated, at the risk of losing one's own subject identity.
Expanding the utopian space beyond the cosmopolitan Shanghai into Asia, the West, the earth, and the moon, Tales of the Moon Colony thematically centers on foreign incursion and technological superiority一the two significant elements that constitute colonial modernity, Isaacson believes that the novel reflects late-Qing intellectual understanding and thinking about social Darwinism, which set the foundation fbr a dialectical opposition between East and West, presenting the latter as modem, civilized, and established. In favor of the rule of social Darwinism which places everything onto the evolutionary scale, the novel further complicates this dialectic opposition with the "hierarchical ordering of power relationships,"  which finally shapes a whole new geopolitical map of the world. It is in this sense that Isaacson designates colonialism and global capitalism as simultaneously the driving forces and the thematic allegories of science fiction; his study draws attention to the role that late-Qing authors and intellectuals played in understanding and interpreting those Western terms in an epistemological rupture as China was expected to stagger into a positioned future at this particular historical moment of global capitalism brought about by European colonial expansion.
 Zhen Zhang, "Transplanting Melodrama: Observations on the Emergence of Early Chinese Narrative Film,"in A Companion to Chinese Cinema, ed. Yingjin Zhang (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 26.
 William Rothman, The "I" of the Camera (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 55-56.
 Nathaniel Isaacson, Celestial Empire: The Emergence of Chinese Science Fiction (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2017), 29-30.
 Ibid, 34-35.
 Ibid, 40.
 Ibid, 74.
 Ibid, 67-72.
 Ibid, 68-9.
 Ibid, 100.
 Xudong Zhang, "Shanghai Nostalgia: Postrevolutionary Allegories in Wang Anyi's Literary Production in the 1990s,"Positions 8, no.2 (2000): 354.
 Isaacson, Celestial Empire: The Emergence of Chinese Science Fiction, 102.