We NEED To Talk About Chengdu: An Opinion
By Chris M. Barkley: For many, many months, I have shied away from commenting on the Chengdu Worldcon, with the exception of reporting any news of the latest updates from the Committee itself, which, as many of you reading this are obviously aware, have been few and far between. I have been following their story from a distance, both physically and emotionally, since their committee won the bid at DisCon 3 in December 2021.
Speaking for myself, I have been feeling pessimistic about the prospects of the Chengdu Worldcon for quite a while now. And as time has passed and we draw closer towards the start of the convention, I find myself awash in feelings of anxiety and dread.
So much so that I feel an urgent need to speak right now about this situation.
Make no mistake about it; each and every Worldcon has had its own set of setbacks, schedule changes, programming nightmares, committee shuffles and personality conflicts. Some have been better run than others and, to my knowledge, there have been no perfectly run Worldcons. I’ve attended thirty-one in various capacities since 1977 so I have an intimate and personal knowledge of how difficult it is to plan and execute all of these non-profit, volunteer affairs.
And knowing that there were several Chengdu bid members shadowing Worldcon committee and staffers for many years this past decade, I did not envy them facing these high risk challenges.
Complicating and confounding the situation even further is the geopolitical tensions between the United States and the PRC.
Among the many burning unanswered questions I have to ask is to what extent the local, provincial and/or the upper echelons of PRC’s government are involved with the Worldcon? Because that is what numerous commentators were afraid of happening during the campaign between Winnipeg and Chengdu leading up to the Site Selection election at DisCon III.
Do they see the Worldcon as a possible propaganda coup or as a political nuisance? Is it possible that they are completely indifferent? No one knows.
On February 18th, I was greeted with an email in my inbox from the Committee announcing the news that the 2023 Hugo Award nomination web page was completing its beta testing and should be open to eligible members by the end of the month.
This is a pleasant piece of news from a Worldcon Committee that has been plagued by membership and payment problems, a troublesome author guest of honor and an intermittent stream of information from the convention runners. This, along with a never ending stream of criticism from fans (mainly based in the United States) about a World Science Fiction Convention being held in the People’s Republic of China.
Whether or not the Chengdu bid won fairly will be a point of contention (and fodder for fannish historians) for many years to come and right now it’s entirely moot. The Chengdu bid won through an open and democratic process. And whether any of us like it or not, as of today, the 81st World Science Fiction Convention is going to be held there.
As divisive as the results have been, I did hold out hope that there was a possibility that a Worldcon being hosted in the largest country in Asia might offer a chance to narrow the cultural gap between eastern and western fans.
But alas, it seems to me that the opposite is coming true.
Unfortunately, in the absence of regular updates from the Chengdu Committee,
It creates a space where rumors, conspiracy theories and outright lies may grow and prosper.
I and a legion of fans were taken by surprise when the Chengdu Committee announced a change of dates last month from August to October with a change of venues and hotels as well. In a recent exchange between myself and a prominent fan from North America, they expressed more than a bit of exasperation when they wrote:
This just sort-of sprang out of nowhere (I literally found out via the Facebook announcement being sent to me). That doesn’t mean that some communication didn’t happen somewhere, but it was very much a surprise to most (if not all) of us as far as I know. The Chengdu committee has not told us a whole lot in general (they mostly just post panda pictures and things like that on their Facebook page), but they aren’t required to tell us very much.
I am very curious as to what Ben Yalow (the American on the convention committee) knew and when he knew it regarding this, as he is on this committee and did not tell us anything as far as I know (which is a surprise, as he has been involved in Worldcon things for longer than many of us have been alive).
Another North American fan with contacts in the PRC conveyed to me the anxiety that they heard from other fans in China:
For your reference and you can quote me anonymously on this, the atmosphere seems dire as if there’s no hope for the convention. One of them straight up said “Chinese fandom will be the laughing stock of the world for decades”. There is definitely a lot of resentment that the “floating Worldcon committee” did not come in to help them like they do every Worldcon and every single one of them chalks that up to racism. So, basically, lots of spite for their own fandom but way more for “Western” fandom which they think abandoned them fully.
I can only say that I find these last two comments incredibly distressing. And so should you. Because those sentiments are not what fandom is supposed to represent.
There are legions of fans in the PRC who are just as avid and passionate about their love of fantasy and sf as in their various forms and venues. They have been seeking to be accepted and welcomed by us in the West as their peers and equals for decades. They have been pursuing a Worldcon bid over the past decade in order to show us how enthusiastic they were at the prospect.
In my estimation, the members of the Chengdu Committee have not served their supporting and attending members very well. They have been engulfed in numerous controversies and faux pas, the aforementioned troublesome guest of honor, the various missteps involving taking payments from overseas and memberships, the lack of any regularly scheduled Progress Reports from the committee and most recently, the change of dates of the convention from August to October.
And conversely, western fandom, collectively, hasn’t exactly made it easy for them. It is my opinion that fans in the west who have been shouting the loudest about the Chengdu Worldcon bear some of the responsibility for reacting too negatively towards the Chengdu Committee and Chinese fans. They see our protests and lack of support as positive proof of the racist intentions towards them and we haven’t done enough to persuade them otherwise.
What we have to do is be more cognizant of the fact that the sf fans in the People’s Republic of China are human beings, too.
They have demonstrated that they are no less enthusiastic than we are in their love of genre fiction. Their fandom has grown in leaps and bounds over the past twenty years. Sure, we despise their autocratic form of government. But we need to temper those feelings and recognize that the fans in China are neither uniform nor monolithic in their political beliefs as some of us have made them out to be.
My point here is that all sides NEED to do better.
Everyone involved is under a lot of pressure right now, both personally, socially and lately, as I mentioned earlier, geopolitically, as well.
We all need to step back and reassess what has happened and what we’re going to do in the weeks and months leading up to the 81st World Science Fiction Convention. If the Chengdu Worldcon fails, it is a collective and total failure for fandom all over the world.
I am urging all parties involved to get together and figure this out before it’s too late.
Openly. Honestly. Transparently.
What fandom (and I include my fellow fans in China and elsewhere as well) needs to do are two vital things:
A) We ALL need to know what’s going on with the Chengdu Worldcon. We need regular progress reports and information on potential travel and or visa restrictions, convention venues and hotels.
B) What can we (meaning ALL of us) do to ensure that the Chengdu Worldcon is a successful endeavor? Because if this convention fails, we all fail.
Because, let’s face it, being judgmental, expressing suspicions, rumors, prejudice and outright hate aren’t working very well for us right now.
The main problem with the Chengdu Worldcon is that we are all being ill informed as to what is happening. And no solution can be formulated without more information.
As of this post, there are 239 days before the scheduled start of the 81st World Science Fiction Convention. And what we do in this dwindling amount of time will affect every World Science Fiction Convention that follows in its wake.
Let’s not waste any more time.
It has been a long time since I went to a Worldcon, but given my absolutely happy memories of LonCon 3/Worldcon 72 on my doorstep… This set of opinions feels strong, and I hope people listen.
Yes, there are large geopolitical shadows over all this, and it makes for some very sticky situations. I for one don’t feel comfortable even contemplating getting membership due to the GoH situation, for instance…
For lot of people, the amount of room to shake hands and reach out is… severely limited. However, we are not politicians. We are fans. Let the politicians do what they will, it’d be nice if we all find a way to reach out across the murky terrain, shake hands as firmly as the situation lets us, and share all the joy and success we can.
The amount of room I have to move, given the politicians, the state of the world, is only really to say this isn’t about racial bigotry, this isn’t about cultural imperialism. I have a translated copy of the Water Margin on my shelf and love to see it there, I too enjoyed Three-body Problem, I am very much looking forward to discovering the next amazing work from China that I’ll enjoy and admire. And I really hope that Worldconners with more experience and pull than I do find a way to make more room for other fans to share and enjoy SFF.
I was interested in going to Chengdu, they lost me with their con presences garnering support for the bid. Those didn’t look and sound like by fans for fans to me, but like by government for PR options. They offered all inclusive sponsored trips to Chengdu in the lead up among other things. And those didn’t sound like options for people who couldn’t afford to go there like fanfunds but like trying to find people with clout to give them a good reputation.
So I’m actually surprised that there seems to have been a perception that this would be a fan con instead the PR con it now openly sounds like and what it sounded like to me from the beginning.
I can feel sympathy for any real fans in China who feel put out by developments, but circumstances are circumstances. However, if their real hope was that the Western SMOFs were going to do most of the heavy lifting, that was truly optimistic under the best case scenario for this event; never mind a world where we’re experiencing a series of mutually reinforcing shocks.
Considering that I see an aging pool of expertise amongst con-runners, which is not being replaced, I wonder about the viability of traditional SF conventions in the United States.
I’m glad to be out of the con-running business, though I tip my hat to those who march forward with the great work.
I think there was always a sense that this event was going to be more akin to a Comic Con, and that was accepted as a necessary reality, considering the dearth of con-running experience on the ground. My question has become whether this bid was always just a front for those building the exhibition center where the event is now going to be held.
I admit that it never crossed my mind to attend — and that has absolutely nothing to do with Chinese politics. Yes, I admit that their politics make me nervous, but the reasons I did not sign up were money and travel. I often don’t get to WorldCon, largely due to long distances, and have only been to 2 outside the country, and only 1 overseas.
So I’d have made the same decision, if the WorldCon were planned for Venice (and, oh, how my heart aches to see Venice someday.) But my heart aches to see some things in China, too (the Stone Forest, the Hidden City, etc.) If I’d had the money — and by the money I mean the money to fly first class on such a long trip — I’d have shrugged off the politics.
I agree with Chris’ remarks completely. While I admit their GOH choice unnerves me, I, too, feel strongly that the pros & fans associated w/Chengdu deserve our support — they are still our people, & we should wish them well, & do what we can to support them in their adventure. The fact that their WorldCon may turn out to be more of an adventure than most should only motivate us to double-down on our support. And Chengdu was voted in legally. Badmouthing it in retrospect sounds suspiciously like a bunch of sore losers.
That said — the operative words are, “do what we can.” Barring resisting the temptation to bad-mouth everyone involved, which I think (or at least hope) I am already doing, I don’t quite know how I’m supposed to help.
As one of the organizers of the Chengdu committe.This article is both a spur and an encouragement for us. and I apologize for our previous mistakes and lack of communication. Communication and mutual participation are the most important parts we have learned from participating in previous conventions?
When running a worldcon that is exactly we were familiar before in a completely new place, the communication gaps and misunderstandings with various groups and organizations were beyond our previous expectations.
But we are also constantly learning, making progress, and adapting. we released a press release and will update preparation information more frequently in the future, providing more accurate conference services. Many people of the community have attended more conventions than we have, so we hope you can give us feedback through email on how we can improve. This is our greatest support and the driving force for us to continuously improve during these 200-plus days. Thank you and please forgive my non-standard English.
At the end of the day, a concom is responsible for how it works and how it communicates to it’s possible pool of attendees.
I have no issues with fans in China wanting a larger presence on the fannish stage.
But, the utter lack of the most basic transparency from the concom is all on them.
In my case, just the cost made my attending very unlikely, and the case of the Two Michaels nailed that slight possibility firmly shut.
And yes, we do need new procedures to prevent such fiascos from taking place again. If a seated US or UK Worldcon had done (In many cases, NOT done) the things this one has, fandom would be just as concerned. Rightly so.
It’s fascinating that fans in China somehow feel Chengdu was abandoned by the floating worldcon committee/long time volunteers. Because I know quite a few people who have been on ten or more worldcon concoms who reached out to Chengdu — early, and often — to ask what they needed and offer theit expertise.
And the response was crickets. Or to say everything was handled, they certainly didn’t need more help.
It looks like an inexperienced concom in a challenging city to put on a con in had a certain amount of plan, basically wrote off communication to non-Chinese fans as an optional extra, had zero practical interest in copying strategies that had worked in the past for other cons, and are still managing to convey to their local attendees that the main shortcoming was international fen?
If you lock us out, you don’t get to complain we didn’t show up to help.
And simply because of the transnational setting, it’s not possible to do a fly-in wholesale takeover as has been known to occur now and then in the past (even if they wanted us to, which it’s far from clear that they would). Contracts, the entire legal framework, and so much more is already in place in ways even experienced US conrunners have basically zero context for.
Thanks for this post. I’m not really connected with in-person fandom any more. And maybe Anglophone fen have been very good about translating all communications for Anglophone-run cons into Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Hebrew, and all the other languages spoken by sf/f fan communities around the world. But mostly it seems like Anglophone fen tacitly assume that everyone else in the world needs to speak English, while we don’t need to speak any other languages. Thus, when Anglophone fen complain about the lack of English-language communications from Chengdu, it doesn’t sound good… or at least, not what I’d hope for from sf/f fen, who I’d like to think would place a high value on cross-cultural competence (I mean, that’s what first contact stories are all about, after all).
I feel like there’s a parallel here with the slow progress in-person U.S. fandom has made around welcoming non-white people. One of the reasons I Drifted Away From It All (that’s dafia, not gafia or fafia) many years ago was because of how white sf fandom was, and how unaware most fen seemed to be about how white they were. It seems like fandom has made some progress in becoming less white since the last time I attended a con back c. 2012. Similarly, it would be nice if fandom finally realized that the Anglophone world isn’t the center of the universe.
Sorry to sound like a cranky old man. Oh wait, I am a cranky old man.
Elliott Mason on February 21, 2023 at 9:19 am said:
Sadly, this is not exclusively a Chengdu issue. I haven’t volunteered to work on Worldcons a lot but, usually the only times I get a prompt follow-up or response at all after expressing interest in volunteering is when I’m friends with someone on senior staff who can poke people about it. For those who see no issue with this I assure you this is a bug and not a feature.
I am, frankly, in my waning days of Worldcon attendance. My first worldcon was 1963, when I was 17, and I am a lot older and more infirm now. Although I have the money to attend, my inclination to make a quip about Tianenmen Square programming would disappear me into some re-education camp or far worse situation.
So I’m not going, not planning on ever going to a convention in a country where the rule of law is what the rulers say it is.
I just wish the committee knew what it was doing, and could make the convention happen for those interested in attending a convention on the far side of the world.
And for all those who had been planning to attend, but then found yourselves having to scrap previously set vacation dates and travel because the con unexpectedly moved the dates, you have my greatest sympathies.
Respectfully, one part of the larger problem is that this is not clearly the case. There were multiple memberships purchased with a few credit cards. As a result, we cannot be assured that a “one person/one vote” democratic process produced the winner. Counting of the site ballots indicated multiple votes without an individual name as well as instances of a single address being used for multiple accounts.
Yes, the challenges of using a credit card to purchase a membership from within China are likely a significant part of that issue. It still would have been appropriate to address the issue prior to votes being cast.
Let’s replace “being judgemental” with “having standards”. When standard expectations about communications are not met, suspicions and rumors are all that are left.
And I have only seen people bending over backward to specifically acknowledge and appreciate Chinese fandom. Prejudice and outright hate aren’t really significant features of the discussion.
A monarch’s neck should always have a noose around it. It keeps him upright. – The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
I believe more than anything else that derailed this convention from the get-go was the Covid procedures. I know I didn’t choose to go to Chengdu Worldcon because I didn’t know what the protocol was going to be for arrival and departure to China/US. I can’t afford a 3-week quarantine or even a 1-week quarantine either in China OR the US.
@ Joy Huang,
Speaking as someone who has absolutely nothing to contribute, I was touched and heartened by your message.
I have always felt that fandom is a loving tribe and you and I (and anybody else that raises their hand) are sisters (Excuse me, siblings). Sometimes when we don’t hear from you for awhile, we worry you don’t share that view. But clearly you do. I wish you a happy, prosperous, memorable for a lifetime WorldCon.
“We NEED To Talk About Chengdu: An Opinion”
“We don’t talk about Chengdu, no, no!”
Thank you Chris, as always, you are a voice of wisdom and kindness.
Too often we refer to people of a nation as a monolithic block. China has many provinces with very different and very long histories. There are multiple ethnicities in China that, too many of us, including me, lazily, ignorantly, and repeatedly refer to as “Chinese”. We have to remember that China is a totalitarian state, and the fans there have to be careful. We should be kind and assume they are doing all they can.
I voted for Chengdu, but they made so many mistakes I find it impossible to imagine they will run a good event for foreigners, which is what they need to do to be a true Worldcon. Their PR at 6 months out needs to be full of advice about travel and accomodation. But we learn nothing about visas, covid is not mentioned, and no date or mechanism is promised for hotel booking. We don’t even get the document proof-read.
And the PR desperately needed some light piece on Chinese fan activity to give humanity to the process, to give fannish flavour.
This isn’t a matter of forgiving past mistakes, they keep occuring, and either the organisers can’t see them, or worryingly, they can but aren’t allowed to address them
Ah, I see why they don’t mention visas. It looks like as if the last update on Jan 8 no tourist (L) visas are being issued, the other option, an F visa for study tours, doesn’t really apply. It took me 10 minutes to find out this. I’d rather the organisers were honest about this kind of thing
To that end, I noticed that the overwhelming majority of hotel rooms are at least 3km (most being a bit over 5km) from the venue. I’m not planning on going to Chengdu (if nothing else, it’s just not within my budget this year) but if I were, I would be very curious as to transportation options between the hotels and the venue. Google Transit was unhelpful when I looked.
(In 2021 I stayed at the Days Inn, about 3km from the Omni Shoreham. For me, that was about a half-hour walk, which is still long enough that quite often I just used the Metro. And I don’t have any relevant accessibility needs.)
I’m still disappointed that there’s no Fan Guest of Honor. It’s not too late to add one!
“ And I have only seen people bending over backward to specifically acknowledge and appreciate Chinese fandom. ”
Well, that is interesting, because I have definitely seen people alleging that the whole thing is a government propaganda ploy, that votes were bought, etc. That’s not a fantastic way to acknowledge and appreciate.
I think it is possible to constructively comment on Chengdu without making the false assertion that all Western fans have responded in an exemplary way.
Neither of which are the least bit racist. Nor are they out of line when dealing with a dictatorial government that is currently engaging in a pogrom and has a history of engaging in gross propaganda.
The answers you get from literature depend on the questions you pose. – Margaret Atwood
I did see Visa information in PR1. There were URLs with links to a variety of visa offices in a variety of countries.
Originally, I was disappointed that the easy to get to Canada bid lost but thought, gee, I have wanted to go to China, I could make trip of it. Then COVID happened and I decided not to go. The extreme site relocation seemed like bait and switch. The original site was a large hotel that could accommodate all of us then it switched to a not yet built site. This was with no transparency. (Most Worldcons open their hotel registration process in January)
I then found out that Google maps and Google earth are forbidden by China so I cannot even look at what construction has been accomplished at the site. (The United States forbids certain sites, for example such as Groom Lake AFB.) China could do the same for sensitive sites but no, opaqueness should be their middle name.
I had never heard that a small number of credit cards purchased the voting memberships but then again, the SF clubs could be doing that because of the difficulties fans may have in using their credit cards. (not necessarily a conspiracy but could be)
Now China may be sending munitions to Russia. If they are, the United States and them are going to be rather testy for a long while. I don’t know if that affects fans wanting to go or not.
I looked it up and tourist visas, at least in the United States are being issued.
https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/International-Travel-Country-Information-Pages/China.html has China at as one of 4 level 3 “Reconsider Travel” countries. which is better than the 2 level 4 “Do Not Travel” countries I suppose. If the British FCO said this, I would not go there as a tourist.
https://www.chinadiscovery.com/chinese-visa/china-tourist-visa.html says tourist visas are on hold as of 2 days ago
https://www.chinadiscovery.com/chinese-visa/china-tourist-visa.html says tourist visas are suspended as of 2 days ago.
https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/china-travel-advisory.html has China as one of 5 “Reconsider Travel countries”. Thats better than the 2 “Do not Travel” ones I suppose.
US State Department says “Reconsider travel”, big tour company update 3 days ago says no tourist visas being issued.
That a PR1 was ‘issued’ is news to me and reading the comments here was the first I, a putative member, had heard about this.
(I say putative member as I did vote on site selection for 2023)
Thank you Chris M. Barkley for being a voice of Reason in a desert of emotion. –Not that everybody was contributing to the drought, but Chris, you have written a reasoned article and articulated an awful lot and in a clear way.
Link to Chengdu’s PR1:
I looked and they said visas were being issued. But on further examination, only for certain purposes which do not include tourism. Isn’t that grand.
Sorry for the delay. Dealing with a non-trivial power outage in our area.
There is one item that has come up in various discussions that I think is worthy of further consideration. Payment.
Several folks (myself included) have noted the unusual manner of purchasing memberships that was used. One of the reasons for going that route was that there wasn’t an easy method for purchasing memberships via the usual payment methods used in China.
It might be useful if the WSFS were to maintain a payment framework that would permit people to purchase memberships regardless of their location.
Details? I don’t have them. I do know there are plenty of options for setting up such a system.
In past discussions, there has been a preference towards maintaining each WorldCon as a unique entity with plenty of autonomy. Maybe it is time to think about the WSFS providing such a payment service with the side benefit that the WSFS could improve the ability to know that each membership does indeed reflect a unique member.
By not having such a system in place, we may have let our fellow fans in China down.
I do not fear computers. I fear the lack of them. – Isaac Asimov*
[the tagline came up randomly, but with our power outage, it sure hits home.]
There has been much reportage and discussion in File770 regarding the Chengdu 2023 Worldcon including a recent substantive post by Chris M. Barkley.
This was an interesting post and thanks to Chris for pulling it together and thanks to Mike for posting it.
Also, having read the comments that followed that article, I have to say I have much sympathy for the majority of them and some understanding for the rest.
Regarding the article itself, if I may, I raise a few points of my own (bold italic quotes below are from the original post)…
The Chengdu bid won through an open and democratic process.
I have no problem with this (other than some questions – including those echoed in a comment – that have previously been raised but alas for which I do not have access to the necessary information to answer, including whether or not there was a block vote by a body of Chinese fen with no experience/participating knowledge of Worldcons?). However, I do have a big problem with Chengdu winning on a specific slate of specific venue, hotels and dates and then, having won on the basis of that slate, casting it all to the winds with their changing every one of these. Chengdu may have won in a (possibly) democratic process but they most evidently abandoned their manifesto, so effectively raising a finger to site-selection voters of whatever nationality and the democratic process too: we, the electorate, are not getting what was voted on. This at the most this invalidates the democratic process and at least is disrespectful to site selection voters. And Chengdu expects support after that?!
Among the many burning unanswered questions I have to ask is to what extent the local, provincial and/or the upper echelons of PRC’s government are involved with the Worldcon?
1) No major international-level event in China gets the go-ahead without governmental approval.
2) There were various signs of state oversight. One of the most telling is that at a past SMOFcon they announced that the (former) venue would have full internet access and not the limited access normal Chinese citizens get. This could not happen without governmental approval and permission.
3) Some aspects of related funding seemed a tad generous without state support. (See also Sonia’s comment to this post.)
4) Special visa arrangements are solely the gift of the authorities.
A troublesome author guest of honour
“A” troublesome Guest of Honour???? (‘A’ singular?!) So Ukrainian invasion trumps Uyghur imprisonment and forced ‘re-education’…? A very western perspective.
Make no mistake, there are concerns with at least two of the GoHs and arguably a worry that any other who would wish to share a stage with them… But I guess that’s down to folks’ own personal ethical stance: people differ, I accept that and that not everyone will share such concerns (or even mine): that’s socio-biodiversity for you.
This is not in anyway racism as was alluded to elsewhere in the original article: “They see our protests and lack of support as positive proof of the racist intentions towards them“.
It is my opinion that fans in the west who have been shouting the loudest about the Chengdu Worldcon bear some of the responsibility for reacting too negatively towards the Chengdu Committee and Chinese fans.
There is a lot conflated in this package here, especially as the Chengdu Committee are not the same as the main body of Chinese fans and doubly so as the latter (fans) do not seem (as I perceive it) to have had a meaningful say (if any?) in how or what the former (the committee) do and some of this I’ll tackle later: this article is too long to have unnecessary duplication.
However, for now, what does “too negatively” mean? As far as I can see, most of the criticism appears to be justified. I know we are young ones – bachelor folk, crazy, mad and wild-eyed – but don’t blame the folk on the anarchistic (volunteer, order out of chaos organised) Worldcon coach who shout “look out, Cliff!” and then the bus crashes through the billboard of Cliff Richard to fall down the precipice beyond.
(Phew, that was close.)
Sometimes folk cry ‘wolf’ because there really is a wolf, and not for Machiavellian purposes or out of bigotry…
They see our protests and lack of support as positive proof of the racist intentions towards them
Do they really? Well, as per the article’s snippet quotes, clearly some in China’s fandom seem to, but is racism really the case?
If the Chengdu committee and those close to them do want a scapegoat, then they and the local authorities can use racism as one if they want to. There’d be no surprise there. Of course, if they do, some local fans will fall for that; others will not.
There is definitely a lot of resentment that the “floating Worldcon committee” did not come in to help them like they do every Worldcon and every single one of them chalks that up to racism.
This assumes that the “floating Worldcon committee” did not reach out. Perhaps they did; perhaps they didn’t. Some such as Eliott suggest that they had had reach out.
If the local fans do have such resentment then they might want to consider it as being born a possible misperception. The floating ‘Worldcon committee’ as such contains folk that are mainly N. American and Western European based. The fact is that most Worldcons are held in N. America and Western Europe and so they both have a large domestic volunteer force from this pool on which to draw. Nonetheless, Japan ran a successful first Japanese Worldcon but did not need as much overseas assistance as other first-time Worldcon hosting nations as its organisers regularly ran local large conventions of their own. Is this true of the Chengdu committee? If not then there’s your problem: inexperience and a lack of large-scale conrunning let alone Worldcon knowledge by the Chengdu team; not racism by those outside of China!
Yes, most Worldcons rely on some support from members of the Worldcon community beyond the host nation, but equally most Worldcons rely on the host nation committee to get the fundamental basics right. If the basics are not put in place by the host nation organisers then the Worldcon community outside of the host nation cannot be expected to bear any responsibility. And without the basics in place, what can the Worldcon community outside of the host nation meaningfully do to salvage matters especially at such a late stage?
Further, the ‘floating Worldcon Committee‘ is not in anyway synonymous with ‘non-Chinese Worldcon participants’, which is how the phrase can be easily interpreted.
Not all past Worldcon participants go every year to the Worldcon wherever it is held in the World. Just because such people do not help out with a non-native Worldcon, or even attend one, does not make them racist! You could argue that suggesting that they are is racist in itself, not to mention highly offensive!
I myself have multiple (note – plural) concerns with the Chengdu Worldcon, but race is simply not in the mix.
First up, as a Brit with Hong Kong acquaintances (and a college friend whose parents worked in Hong Kong and who spent many years there), I have been dismayed and alarmed at how Hong Kong has been treated since its return from my own nation to the PRC. Second, there is China’s hostile actions against Taiwan as well as UN recognised Japanese territories and others. Third, there is the Orwellian surveillance nature of 21st century China. Then there is racism by the PCR against their own ethnic minorities, notably the Uyghurs. For all these reasons, and others (including the GoHs), I would have difficulty in wanting to attend this event let alone begin to support it.
I consider myself (rightly or wrongly) part of the SF Worldcon community as I have been to several Worldcons since I entered fandom in the late 1970s, not to mention been on the programme of half a dozen or so, as well as keeping an eye on Worldcons I have not attended. It is therefore somewhat disturbing (if not hurtful) to be told that members of the Worldcon community who do not support a foreign Worldcon do so because they are considered racist! If you really want to alienate such members of the Worldcon community then that is a good way to go about it.
The bottom line is that while I have been to several Worldcons I have been absent from more Worldcons than those I attended in the four decades or so I have been in fandom: this does not make me less interested in Worldcons or part of that community. Other reasons for not going to and supporting the majority of Worldcons include the simple fact of my being able to attend three or four home-nation two or three-day conventions for the cost of attending one five-day Worldcon plus an extra tourist day or two. (If I’ve outlaid the travel overhead I am going to make the most of it. (By the way this tourist dimension is something the con’s visa package does not seem to allow.) This opportunity-cost factor is similar to that raised by Michaele Jordan.
Yet another reason for not attending distant Worldcons concerns the fossil-carbon air-miles involved. This is why despite having attended several Worldcons, I have only ever attended one Worldcon in N. America and one in the southern hemisphere, all the rest were my home continent European starting in 1979. Those that know me will be aware that fossil carbon release is a genuine issue for me. I try to keep my fossil carbon emissions low (almost half of the average western European) and so think carefully about considering whether to attend an overseas Worldcon, and if I do decide to go, I plan very, very carefully. (My 2010 inter-hemispheric trip to the Australian Worldcon saw me also take in the New Zealand natcon – something SF² Concatenation had been encouraging – as well as two science engagements in New Zealand plus a biological field trip, and two science engagements in Australia as well as attending a reception for an arts symposium on climate change. I wring as much out of attending a distant Worldcon as I can for the fossil burden it engenders. A Worldcon that keeps chopping and changing simply is not on the cards for me, other issues notwithstanding.)
So, all in all, even if Chengdu had been perfectly presented up to now, no way would I go! This, though, does not disbar me from being interested in how it all pans out as well as other Worldcon matters. Nor does it make me – or others who are not going or supporting Chengdu – racist!
Having said that, I would be interested in considering attending at least a half-properly run Chinese Worldcon, as I would like to learn more about Chinese SF and culture (and even see what Chinese food is like compared to that we get here in Briti Cit from the largely ex-pat Hong Kong Chinese community). Here a Taiwan Worldcon would be a possibility: it has very respectably high position on freedom and democracy indices and a low one on corruption indices (see below). My distinct preference for a putative Taiwan Worldcon over one in the People’s Republic does not make me racist: both countries are populated by Chinese.
What we have to do is be more cognizant of the fact that the sf fans in the People’s Republic of China are human beings, too.
Who is saying that they aren’t?
If the Chengdu Worldcon fails, it is a collective and total failure for fandom all over the world.
Not really. SF fandom across the World is far, far, far bigger than Worldcon fandom by orders of magnitude: this is a very Worldcon SMOF-centric perspective of SF fandom.
Having said that WSFS seriously needs to at least meaningfully consider taking firm steps to ensure that only countries higher up on the freedom indices and low on the corruption indices (there are various indices that could be used) are eligible for site selection if they are to avoid controversy and engender more support. (This discussion has been had elsewhere in File770 since the site selection for 2023 took place.)
Perhaps the Worldcon-running community might take note of some of the discussion taking place across the way in the science symposium-running community? For example, concerning the safety of LGBTQAI+ participants and thinking about in which nations international symposia should be held. If a nation is deemed as not safe, then hold the event in a neighbouring nation with a strong programme contribution from the ‘unsafe’ nation. Just a thought from the world of science symposia.
I am urging all parties involved to get together and figure this out before it’s too late.
Leaving aside that I have already made the case above for “all parties” associated with Worldcon do not have, let alone are obliged to support every non-home-grown Worldcon, the assumption here is “before it’s too late“.
Let’s face it. The horses have bolted, but do feel free to shut the stable door.
The other thing to keep in mind is that all parties involved presumably includes Chinese grassroots fandom who have registered for the event. However, here we have to remember that they have lived their entire lives under those who do not tolerate the questioning and the holding to account of those in power. Nor are those in power used to being criticised, let alone welcome criticism as possibly being constructive. So how likely is it that Chinese grass roots fandom will, or even can, meaningfully engage with the Chengdu committee let alone the Worldcon community elsewhere?
So, good luck. I genuinely wish the article’ssentiment well, but fear for it being rather unrealistic.
A) We ALL need to know what’s going on with the Chengdu Worldcon.
Totally 100% agree. But I don’t for a minute think we will get the information let alone in appropriate detail and in time (if there is any ‘in time’ left?). You can but hope they, the Chengdu organisers, prove me wrong.
B) What can we (meaning ALL of us) do to ensure that the Chengdu Worldcon is a successful endeavor?
Well, given the problems with ‘A’, answering ‘B’ becomes just a tad difficult.
Because, let’s face it, being judgmental, expressing suspicions, rumours, prejudice and outright hate aren’t working very well for us right now.
Totally 100% agree, but there is a world of difference between being judgemental (especially on the evidence) as well as expressing suspicions (I would say ‘concerns’) and that of rumours, prejudice and outright hate.
The rumours come about because of the lack of information. (And that’s down to Chengdu as Andre Lieven opined.)
I have not noted an overwhelming tone of prejudice and outright hate in the N. American and European fandoms’ discussions over Chengdu concerns. Maybe I have been missing something? (Maybe I don’t move in those fannish circles: I have not been to a Worldcon since before CoVID.) If I haven’t been missing anything, I am not sure inventing problems that aren’t really there, let alone at the core of the real problems Chengdu self-evidently have, is a help. Nor is conflating totally separate issues.
Yes, bigots exist (always have, probably always will, and yes they should be challenged) but are these supposed folk active in Worldcon-running circles? Are they folk with sound practical experience of running Worldcons? If they are not, then they are neither likely to help Chengdu nor have the experience to do so. Conversely, if they are active in Worldcon-running circles then those in these forums need to tackle any bigotry and this needs to be kept quite separate from actually helping this particular Worldcon at this time.
And what we do in this dwindling amount of time will affect every World Science Fiction Convention that follows in its wake.
Sorry, IMHO this is simply hyperbole. If Chengdu is a success, it will be a success. If it is a failure then it will be a failure. And if the worst does come to the worst, some lessons may be learned (others won’t – that’s humanity for you), but that will not in itself detrimentally affect every World Science Fiction Convention that follows in its wake.
Let’s keep things calm and keep a sense of perspective.
Last, something on the post overall…
Following the fall of the Iron Curtain across Europe in 1989/1990, for over a decade I was actively involved, along with a few generous and explorative fans, in east-west fanac helping organise events both in western and eastern Europe and in bringing fans from one to the other as well as vice-versa. I am acutely aware that here there is a line that needs careful treading between wanting to help and being seen as imposing ‘western’ values.
This last I have encountered elsewhere other than east-west European fanac. When I was at the 2010 Australian Worldcon some local fans I got chatting with complained bitterly as to how so many US fans were running the event. I had to as gently as possible point out that that was because there was a lack of Australian fan volunteers let alone Australian fans with Worldcon experience. They accepted that explanation but clearly felt that that Worldcon was not their own. I can but imagine such perceptions being more enhanced with China as the socio-political, not to mention cultural, differences are greater…
The uncomfortable thought that we might perhaps have to consider is that the Chengdu organisers have the right to do things the way they want to even if some of us disagree with that. As such, commensurately they have the right to fail, irrespective of whether we want them to or not. Sorry if this sounds a bit Darwinian (comes with my bioscience territory).
Otherwise, this article is an interesting, and possibly useful (in sparking discussion), piece.
You may have gathered that my views here are not entirely in line with that of the original post. Please, please note that I do not offer my thoughts as a counter to the original post; just a different perspective. I do this to help provide a spectrum of thought.
If something is to be done, then it has to be done in a carefully considered way, albeit faster than some may like, as time is now so short.
The racism accusation is silly in as much as many of us attended the Japanese Worldcon and enjoyed it. I opposed the bid because having a literary convention in a country known for its censorship is not a good idea. Also I had other problems with China. I had thought if it won, I would go to China as I have never been to China and would find it a great excuse for a further visit beyond the convention. China is not issuing tourist visas to Americans right now. It looks like Canadians may be able to get tourist visas so when I say Americans I mean USAdians. So, how would the USAadians on the floating Worldcon committee even be able to go there to help out?
Dann665 on February 24, 2023 at 6:40 am said:
It might, but that would require WSFS to have more permanent infrastructure than it has, and historically the people who make the decisions about that (the attendees of the WSFS Business Meeting) are strongly opposed to any sort of centralization or permanent infrastructure such as you suggest. Even the bits that are practically unavoidable (the WSFS MPC/Worldcon Intellectual Property) are opposed by some regular attendees, who can often be mobilized to attend Business Meetings by the cry of “WSFS Inc.! To the barricades!”
Note that I’m not saying that this can’t be done. I’m saying that it would require those people who take part in the legislative process — the attendees of the Business Meeting — to support it. I’m willing to draft legislation for anyone who wants to tackle this.
I’m not trying to be as relentlessly negative as some people here seem to think that I am. I’m trying to realistically explain the process so that those people who really think it should change and are willing to help do something about it can do so. I just don’t want anyone trying to do so think that it’s all sunshine and lolipops and all you have to do is say, “Change things my way” and it happens. Changing the direction of WSFS is like changing the course of a supertanker. So don’t intepret my comments as trying to shut off all discussion. If there’s sufficient interest by people who are sufficiently interested in trying to make changes happen, then it certainly can be done. The length of recent years’ WSFS business meetings shows that there are people willing to put in that spadework, even if they aren’t necessarily able to convince enough people to vote for their proposals.
Thank you. I’ve read your many posts and responses over the years regarding WSFS processes with great interest and appreciation.
I understood that the challenges to such a change were significant. As you know far better than I do, no change is ever created unless it is first proposed and discussed.
Your consistent responses to all of these suggestions are appreciated.
Your sentence ……..However, if their real hope was that the Western SMOFs were going to do most of the heavy lifting ….. ties directly into your later sentence ……. Considering that I see an aging pool of expertise amongst con-runners, which is not being replaced, I wonder about the viability of traditional SF conventions in the United States.
Having attended several Nasfics I can tell you that the SMOFs have been horrible at training up the next group of Con Organizers. The Chinese did not realize this. They actually believed the BS those “SMOFs” spewed.
Help You we Will……… (NOT!)
At a con, I was attending this very topic came up. The existing con runners are perceived as being gate keepers only letting their friends in. This has resulted in very few young people helping with actual con running.
I have been attending SF cons for 40 years and never could figure out how to break in. Volunteering alone was not enough. I usually ended up doing gofer type duties which, while valuable, didn’t lead to any higher positions.
Shrike58: if their real hope was that the Western SMOFs were going to do most of the heavy lifting, that was truly optimistic under the best case scenario for this event; never mind a world where we’re experiencing a series of mutually reinforcing shocks.
Considering that I see an aging pool of expertise amongst con-runners, which is not being replaced, I wonder about the viability of traditional SF conventions in the United States.
The issue of the viability of traditional SF conventions in the US is a separate one, and it’s the not the issue with the Chengdu bid.
There was never any possibility of Western fans being able to come in and do the “heavy lifting” for the Chengdu Worldcon.
How many of us are able to even get a visa for that country? Certainly my comments on social media about the Uyghurs and Hong Kong would keep me from getting in.
How many of us would be willing to get stuck indefinitely in that country due to Covid lockdowns or unwittingly committing political infractions, knowing that we could lose our jobs if that happened? Given that no one would be able to take in anything but burner devices due to the government’s policy of accessing (and compromising) them at the border, there is no possibility that people like me could take in devices which would enable them to work remotely. (If I even tried that, my employer would fire me — and for good cause.)
I am baffled that Chinese SFF fans involved with the Chengdu bid would have ever thought that Western fans would be able to come in en masse and run the con for them. Surely they are not so naive as to not understand the roadblocks which would make that an unrealistic possibility for most Western fans.
The Chinese fans behind the bid had to have known that they were going to need to do their own heavy lifting. It’s incredible to think they might have believed otherwise.
And now it’s become obvious that it was indeed the Chinese government which was truly behind the bid, and which was just using the Chinese fans to achieve their own propaganda goals. The date and location have been changed without those fans’ input, to something that most of them will not even be able to attend.
A lot of us pointed out up front that this is what would happen… and surprise, surprise, this is exactly what happened.
I do feel some sympathy for the Chinese fans, because I believe that their desire to host a Worldcon was genuine. But I also think that they had to know how things work in their country, and that what has eventuated is what should have been expected (a bunch of us who don’t even live there knew what would happen — surely they must have, as well).
What this fiasco has made clear is that the WSFS Constitution needs to make provision for putting a stop to it when a Worldcon is hijacked in this way. I don’t want to re-start discussions of how that could be made possible — that’s something that needs to be dealt with separately from here.
But from the moment the Site Selection vote was co-opted by thousands of votes of dubious integrity, this has all been outside the control of WSFS and Western fans.
What needs to happen now are serious discussions of how to prevent this sort of fiasco from ever happening again.
And I really hope that all those SMOFS who accepted free vacations from the government of China and participated in enabling this fiasco will do some serious soul-searching about the culpability they bear for doing so.
When I am going on international travel (beyond North America, traveling to Canada from the USA is not a real big deal) I usually secure my hotel reservations as early as feasible and get my flight tickets. I would never start this process without knowing that I had a visa in hand (most places I have gone to issue visas at customs, UK and Egypt come to mind) Bhutan has to be done through a travel agency so our visas were obtained for us. I had to work to get a visa to go to Russia but I had plenty of time to do this. But China needs a visa and they are not available. I have heard this applies to Canadians also. By this time, if I was going, I should have plane tickets, a hotel room and a visa. The way this is going, this is impossible right now.
I guess fans are on their own to reserve the hotels. I noticed that there are no internet links and certainly no one is running a housing service.