The novelette features a love story set in a future Beijing divided into zones, with each zone restricted to a certain social class. The city’s zones are physically moved around every 24 hours to give each space access to the outside world. A Third Space sanitation worker is hired by a student in the Second Space to bring a love letter to a girl in the First Space — the upper class. To achieve his quest, and get paid a handsome sum, Lao Dao must navigate the Change — the compaction and rotation of the city’s spaces.
Uncanny Magazine published an English translation of Hao’s story by Ken Liu, who also translated The Three-Body Problem, a first-contact novel by Chinese author Liú Cíxīn 刘慈欣 which won a Hugo award last year.
The Chinese text of Folding Beijing is available online, as well.
Hao, who has been writing fiction since she was a teenager, has a bachelors degree in physics and a doctoral degree in economics and management from Beijing’s Tsinghua University. She’s now working as a researcher at the China Development Research Foundation in Beijing.
In an interview with Uncanny Magazine, Hao said she wanted to focus on the personal relationships of the people trapped in the social system she imagines, rather than the social system itself.
I chose to write this way because I wanted to reflect on our reality. The lives of the vast majority of people play out like stories full of ups and downs, but few ask how these stories reveal the structure of the world. Most people care only about the details of their individual lives: family, love, power, and wealth, and few examine the framework of the world as a whole. The structure of the real world, of course, is also unfair and unjust, like the world in the story, and in fact the real social pyramid may be even more extreme than the one portrayed in my tale. Only someone who can take the perspective of a reader of the world, standing apart from the emotional experience of individuals, can perceive this structural framework. I wanted to reveal this perspective.
And, what do we do with this revelation? I wasn’t trying to answer this question. Any informed observer can tell that in a rapidly developing society like contemporary China, disparities of wealth and status are growing wider, faster, but no one has a good solution to the problem. During the last century, multiple attempts at creating fairer, more equal societies stalled. Putting aside the benefits and harms of socialism for the moment, even in the most free and democratic country, the Occupy Wall Street movement ended up accomplishing very little. I think it means a more profound problem is present in the human condition, hinting at an eternal dilemma that will always be with us. A short story can’t resolve such questions.
Beijing is a megacity whose scale defies the imagination of many. In this city, individual existence is easily engulfed by the world’s forbidding structure. I just wanted to show that.
Here’s Hao and translator Ken Liu at the Xingyun Awards in 2014, from her Sina Weibo.
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