[Introduction: Anna Smith Spark organized the Open Letter To The World Science Fiction Society about the Saudi Arabia Worldcon bid. File 770 asked if she had plans to address other bids, such as the Worldcon bid for Chengdu, China in 2023 (which now has only Memphis TN as competition, the Nice, France bid having folded last week). She has written this guest post in response.]
By Anna Smith Spark: I am very happy to do this again next year for Chengdu if it falls to me. What is taking place in Xinjiang is genocide. The oppression in Hong Kong is shocking.
I say this great sadness. Chinese history, literature, art, science and technology is and has been truly world-changing; Chinese SFF is superb in its scope and quality; Chinese cities are some of the most dynamic places in the world. On a personal note, I am myself quarter-Chinese. My first response to the Chengdu was breathless excitement and a desire to attend right now.
It’s also important also to stress that the immediate safety concerns for fandom attendees at a Chinese con are not in any way the same as those I raised about the Saudi bid. LGTBQ+ identity is not illegal in China (although I do recognise that discrimination does take place); women are not discriminated against in law; Israeli passport holders would be legally able to enter the country. Acceptance of the Saudi bid sent a signal to fandom that was entirely unacceptable, namely that a celebration of our genre could conceivably take place that by default excluded many of us from attending. This would not be the case for Chinese event – although it would be for any future Russian or Hungarian bid. The idea that a Chinese venue would not be ‘safe’ for western fans indeed links straight into a racist discourse about the far east which I find deeply troubling.
However the human rights abuses in China being perpetrated against the Uyghurs, members of Falun Gong, and political dissidents are appalling. The idea of a con taking place against a backdrop of the forced sterilization of women from an ethnic minority is … unspeakable. As a woman and as a human being, I would find such a juxtaposition abhorrent. Unless there is a significant change in Chinese policy in the next year, I oppose the Chengdu bid.
I wanted to make the letter about the Saudi Arabian bid specifically. The issue was urgent given the vote is taking place now. I am ashamed to say I knew nothing about it until Saturday morning my time, and had two days at most to get this done. My experience of political campaigning has also taught me that a single-item specific campaign targeted on what is happening now is more effective and hard hitting. Either the nuances of the particular issues raised by the Saudi bid would have been obscured in a general, woolly statement about WorldCons in general, or the letter would have got far too long to have any effect. Campaigns are also more effective if they are close to the voting dates – by next year a campaign about the Chinese bid raised now would probably be forgotten.
There is obviously an issue around western fandom (I may be quarter-Chinese but to all practical purposes I’m classically white privileged) making a blanket condemnation of the only two non-western countries’ bids. By only looking at the Saudi bid I was able to ask Muslim friends to help me review the letter, and had the space to make very clear that we were not at all opposed to an Arabic or Islamic Worldcon and could see many positives about the Saudi bid. Islam and Arabic culture are two of the great pillars of science and world literature, a Worldcon in a Muslim country to celebrate this would be a glorious thing to see.
It is hugely depressing that both of the only two current non-western bids do raise problems. I agonised over writing the letter, I feel very conflicted because I would love to see us celebrating a truly world-wide fandom. Simply not at the cost of litwashing a staggering abuse of human rights.
Some people have of course raised the issue of the US itself as a venue if certain things occur … although as Worldcon is a US con that gets mentally torturous …
The intersection of fandom and human rights awareness will only get more complex in the future. There are so many issues we need to address properly now, not on an ad hoc basis as we go along. Like the best SFF books, it’s complicated and we need to step up. A row every few years really isn’t the answer (also I’d collapse from exhaustion). Serious thought about how we as a diverse, world-wide community go forward together is. If you’ll forgive the ghastly grammar of that last sentence.
I would also add, to those who point out that I ‘don’t understand the process’ – no, I don’t. I don’t understand anything about it. I looked at the Worldcon and WSFS websites and found nothing I could make sense of. If the process isn’t transparent to an outsider, isn’t open to challenge – it’s not fit for purpose and it’s blatantly discriminatory. If the process is that there is no process … uh …. And to those who say ‘it would have lost the vote anyway’ – I’ve heard that before, I think?