Hugo Controversy Hits Mainstream News; A Chengdu Vice-Chair Comments in Social Media

By Ersatz Culture.

IN THE GUARDIAN.The Guardian’s report “Science fiction awards held in China under fire for excluding authors” includes quotes from Xiran Jay Zhao and Paul Weimer.

…No reason was given for the exclusions, which were only revealed on 20 January when the Hugo awards published the full nomination statistics for last year’s prize. Certain titles were listed as having been given votes, but were marked with an asterisk and the words “not eligible”, with no further details given….

…Concerns have been raised that the authors were targeted for political reasons, connected to the fact that the ruling Chinese Communist party exerts a tight control on all cultural events that take place inside its borders.

Dave McCarty, the head of the 2023 Hugo awards jury, wrote on Facebook: “Nobody has ordered me to do anything … There was no communication between the Hugo administration team and the Chinese government in any official manner.”

McCarty did not respond to a request from the Guardian for comment, but shared what he said was the official response from the awards administration team on Facebook: “After reviewing the constitution and the rules we must follow, the administration team determined those works/persons were not eligible.” He declined to elaborate on what the rules were.

“I can only guess to why I was excluded, but it probably has something to do with my critical comments about the Chinese government in the past,” said Xiran. “You would think that as a big, powerful country, China would be graceful about criticisms, but they in fact take it very personally, and doubly so when it’s from Chinese diaspora.”…

…In an Instagram post published on 22 January, Kuang wrote: “I wish to clarify that no reason for Babel’s ineligibility was given to me or my team. I did not decline a nomination, as no nomination was offered … I assume this was a matter of undesirability rather than ineligibility.”

Paul Weimer, a hobbyist sci-fi writer, discovered last week that he was excluded from the best fan writer category, despite receiving enough nominations to be shortlisted. “I had the highest of hopes for Chengdu,” said Weimer, who has been nominated for Hugos in previous years. “I thought it was amazing that a number of Chinese fans had got together to get this bid together.”

The organising committee of Chengdu Worldcon did not respond to requests for comment….

The Bookseller posts about the Hugo controversy; seemingly removes the post shortly afterwards

Around 1:20pm UK time on Wednesday, I noticed that the website of The Bookseller trade magazine had posted a piece about the Hugos, covering material that should already be very familiar to File 770 readers.

Perhaps more interestingly, by around an hour later, the post seemed to be no longer available, or shown on their homepage, instead presenting a visitor with a login prompt,  The Bookseller does operate a system where you can only read one article a month without creating a (paid) account, but the usual workaround of opening the link in an incognito window or clearing cookies did not work.  (As I write this up several hours later, a generic “topics” index page is instead returned.)

Fortunately, Google has a cached copy. (Click for larger image.)

Bizarre post from Chengdu Worldcon Vice-Chair and Hugo finalist/nominee La Zi

拉兹 (La Zi, aka Raz aka Lattsep) is – per his Weibo bio, as rendered by Google Translate – ‘Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Science Fiction World, Chief Editor of “Science Fiction World”‘.  (I think one of those is in reference to the general SFW company, and the other to the SFW print magazine.)  The Chengdu Worldcon site lists him as one of eleven Vice Chairs of the con.  He was co-editor of the Best Fanzine finalist 中文科幻学术速递 (Chinese Science Fiction Express), placed tenth in the Best Editor, Short Form nominations.  He also co-edited the 2022 bilingual Galaxy Awards 1 anthology, the English translations therein being the means by which the older Chinese stories “Color The World”, “Upstart”, “Turing Food Court”, “Fogong Temple Pagoda”, “Resurrection”, “Tongji Bridge” and “2039: Era of Brain Computer” appear in the Novelette and Short Story nominations lists, although only Resurrection was a finalist, with “Color the World” and “Fogong Temple Pagoda” both being marked as “Not eligible”.  (The former being excluded because the translation had previously appeared in a 2021 anthology; the issue with the latter is still unknown.)

His most recent Weibo post from Tuesday 23rd reads as follows:

烂事早晚发酵,我阻拦还被泼一身屎,搞得某人跟我断交。希望现在知道我为什么阻拦了,阻拦是因为看到了某些位子底下埋了雷,坐上去就是死路一条,却被背后传小话的小人污蔑为夺人名利。好意或许被栽赃,问心无愧便无所谓。

Google Translate renders the text as follows:

Sooner or later, the bad things started to get worse. I got shit thrown at me when I tried to stop him, which made someone break up with me. I hope I know now why I blocked it. I blocked it because I saw that there were mines under certain seats. Sitting on them meant you would die, but you were slandered by the villains who gossiped about you for taking fame and fortune. Good intentions may be framed, but it doesn’t matter if you have a clear conscience. 

If that makes “the rules we must follow” look like the model of clarity, bear in mind that of the six (as I write this up) user comments, three are variants of “what are you talking about?”, so it’s no more comprehensible to many Chinese users than those reading the translation.

Below is a screengrab of the post along with an alternative English translation from the Alibaba Cloud functionality built into Weibo.

China cracks down on publishing of false data

On Monday, Reuters (via MSN) published a short piece entitled “China vows to punish officials for falsifying economic data“.  Selected paragraphs from the story:

BEIJING, Jan 22 (Reuters) – China will investigate and punish officials for falsifying economic data, the National Bureau of Statistics said on Monday, amid scepticism about the reliability of Chinese data….

“Statistical fraud is the biggest corruption in the field of statistics, which seriously violates the statistics law, seriously affects the quality of statistical data, obstructing and even misleading macro decision-making,” the official said…

There has long been scepticism about the reliability of Chinese data, especially as the government has sought to defuse market concerns about a protracted slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.

33 thoughts on “Hugo Controversy Hits Mainstream News; A Chengdu Vice-Chair Comments in Social Media

  1. I found the ChatGPT translation a bit clearer:

    Bad things will ferment sooner or later. When I tried to stop it, I ended up being splashed with excrement, leading to someone cutting ties with me. I hope now you understand why I tried to intervene. I did so because I saw there were traps set under certain positions. Taking those positions would be a dead end, but I was slandered by people spreading rumors behind my back, accusing me of trying to steal others’ fame and fortune. Good intentions might be framed, but if your conscience is clear, it doesn’t matter.

    I saw this subtweet from La Zi get reblogged with the Hugos controversy hashtag by the account reporting most of the Hugos drama on Weibo, but I didn’t even realize the Chengdu Worldcon site lists La Zi as one the Vice Chairs of the con!!? There seems to be a lot of drama behind the scenes.

  2. I went to The Bookseller website (which I’ve never visited before) and looked under ‘News’, but I also found no trace of the article about the Hugos.

  3. Sounds like La Zi objected to whatever was going on. Now he hopes his objections are understandable. All still very vague.

  4. If that makes “the rules we must follow” look like the model of clarity, bear in mind that of the six (as I write this up) user comments, three are variants of “what are you talking about?”, so it’s no more comprehensible to many Chinese users than those reading the translation.

    The confusion of those commenters likely stems from them being out of the loop and not realizing La Zi is subtweeting (subweiboing?) about the Hugos controversy. The language of the post itself is vague, as subtweets often are, but I don’t find it confusing. This is how I’d translate it:

    The shit was bound to hit the fan sooner or later. I tried to prevent it from happening but got totally crapped on, and then a certain someone cut ties with me. Hope you know now why I tried to prevent it—because I saw that some positions were booby-trapped and exploded if you took them—but small-minded gossips slandered me behind my back as trying to steal others’ thunder. Your good intentions might get your name dragged through the mud, but it doesn’t matter as long as your own conscience is clear.

    I totally understand that this is a personal blog and you don’t have easy access to human translators, but watching machine translations botch all the Chinese content has been pretty painful as someone who speaks Chinese. If you need someone to do quick translations related to Chengdu HugosGate, feel free to contact me.

  5. I think I got called a hobbyist because I said I don’t make a living doing SF.

    But as Cat noted, I am probably more than just a hobbyist, eh?

  6. I would suggest taking up pomelo’s offer. Their translation of La Zi’s message is decidedly less “bizarre” as it’s been characterized here (and the continued use of Google Translate for Chinese has been painful, not going to lie).

  7. I’ve never heard hobbyist used when referring to our writers / reviewers / artists / podcasters / whatevers on either side of the pond, so it isn’t a British thing either.

    I read a fair amount of news from over there and it doesn’t seem to be a common term in the mainstream press there either when referring to those either where amateur is more often used if anything at all is used.

  8. To be fair, for a large number of people “fan writer” probably means “author of fanfiction” which is an even worse description.

  9. When we received the information that for unknown reasons the venue that china used to win the bid was no longer available, a red flag should have been raised.
    When word reached us that the new venue hadn’t even been built yet, a bevy of red flags should’ve been flying.
    And when word reached most if us that ALL chinese memberships were posted fron 1 (ONE!!) chinese mainland post office, the flamiing red flags should have buned down the bid. With thechinese government known to be intent on suppression of ethnic minorities, mass incarceration of LGBTQA+ citizens & targeting foreign nationals who work there & need & use medication prescibed by doctors in their home countries–those were enough red flags to keep my family from even considering a trip there.
    My family or parts of it have been to many Wordcons out of the U.S. on 4 continents. We’d have loved to have been to others, but heath & finances prevented more. Nevertheless, china, russia, saudi arabia & uganda woud NEVER have been on our goto wishlist!

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  10. I honestly feel like the thing with all the memberships being posted from one office speaks more to an organized collection process from a fan group gathering membership info and money from all over the country to process them en masse instead of demanding that a whole bunch of random Chinese people try to write the right address in English and I assume mail $50 (a lot of money in RMB) to possibly nowhere if they get the address wrong, than a government conspiracy to commit fraud using this sci fi convention.

    The impression I’m getting from Chinese Weibo is that a lot of Chinese SFF fans were involved in and passionate about the Chengdu bid and did a lot of work to make it happen. I looked into Weibo because I wanted to see what the conversation was like there, and the impression I got is that Chinese fans are furious about this cockup and really depressed and embarrassed that it’s undone all of the work they’ve tried to do to make the homegrown Chinese SFF scene legitimate in the eyes of the world. Along with legitimate critiques of the culture and politics in China there’s some real “chain of suspicion” thinking coming from Western fans, and that bums me out for what appears to be a passionate group of Chinese sci fi hobbyists, much like us here.

  11. The impression I’m getting from Chinese Weibo is that a lot of Chinese SFF fans were involved in and passionate about the Chengdu bid and did a lot of work to make it happen. I looked into Weibo because I wanted to see what the conversation was like there, and the impression I got is that Chinese fans are furious about this cockup and really depressed and embarrassed that it’s undone all of the work they’ve tried to do to make the homegrown Chinese SFF scene legitimate in the eyes of the world.

    That is also my impression. As some of the Chinese fans have said here, a lot of them were cheated out of the chance to attend by the change in dates, and this debacle is doubly heartbreaking for them.
    I have the feeling that the only way the WorldCon could happen in China, given the scale and the lack of fannish experience, was through corporate sponsorships, and so producing a very different beast than a Western fan-run convention. I think a lot of what we are seeing is a group of people who had a financial interest in organising the con and didn’t care as much as unpaid volunteers would about fannish reputation.

    And Dave “what rule, Dave?” McCarthy.

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  13. @Pomelo:

    Thanks for the offer re. translations – how can I get in touch with you?

    TBH, I’ve felt pretty uncomfortable that it was me doing all the Chengdu-related writeups, as my Chinese language skills and cultural knowledge – both generally and for the SF scene there – are way too poor to properly do them justice. However, it seemed no-one else was stepping up to do something that I felt needed to be done.

    There certainly have been Chinese fans posting here over the past couple of years, but I felt that the information they were going out of their way to bring us wasn’t being given the attention it deserved. Even now, I see comments in various places about how Worldcons are fan-run and that we shouldn’t be hard on volunteers, and I think to myself, do these people not know who Chengdu Business Daily are, and their relationship to the con?!? That was raised years ago in comments (and I think posts?) years ago.

    I will note one thing re. getting better translations; using machine translation is very fast, and enables stuff to be reported in a timely manner on what after all is a news site. Proper translators are of course vastly superior, but need more time, and that’s before you factor in things like people having other priorities, being in different time zones, etc. I think I’ve always tried to (a) indicate how something was translated; (b) when I’ve tweaked things manually and (c) linked to the source so that people could in theory get a better translation. (The recently posted quotes from random users didn’t link to the sources for privacy reasons, but I did include the original text to compensate for that.)

  14. What it appears to come down to is the choice between “A) We can take this action to save the Trademark from being abandoned or B) We can do nothing and let the Trademark be abandoned”

    The downside to choice A is that some fans will be angry at you.
    The downside to choice B is abandoning the Hugo Award trademark.

    How is this even a debate?

  15. Even now, I see comments in various places about how Worldcons are fan-run and that we shouldn’t be hard on volunteers, and I think to myself, do these people not know who Chengdu Business Daily are, and their relationship to the con?!? That was raised years ago in comments (and I think posts?) years ago.

    I was indeed aware that the people who were willing and enthusiastic about running a fan-run event were, it seems? Muscled out of the way. But there wasn’t much that we could do about it, could we? Getting any kind of info or indeed response from this committee was nigh on impossible. And the Western liaisons, who were there to overcome these difficulties, could not or would not help.

  16. Putting my “on the ground con-ops volunteer” hat on, anyone who said “we shouldn’t be hard on volunteers, they’re not professional fire fighters, and can’t be expected to understand the importance of fire exits” would get a very stern talking to.

  17. I, too, thank pomelo for their translation (which would be best updated into the main body post, BTW) and their offer for the future, but I think Doctor Science should go and ask around anyway.

    Obviously, this is not a matter than could, and should, rely just on a single person. To be honest, I had thought for some time that if the File 770 community can’t find a human volunteer at least for the most important translations, there’s little hope of wider world(con) understanding.

  18. So La Zi’s post isn’t publicly available anymore, and it’s unclear what happened there. Adao Lee’s SFF WeChat group was also discussing the Hugos when it got nuked (most likely due to someone in the group reporting it to WeChat and WeChat moderators deciding to delete the group).

    @Doctor Science: Sure, I’ll comment on that post with translations that I think the current version doesn’t quite get right. And I agree with @Jan Vanek jr that it would be nice if there’s more than one human translator working on this. I certainly don’t claim to be the only source of truth.

    @John S / ErsatzCulture: I sent you a DM on the ex-bird site but I have no idea if that feature still works. And to be clear, I didn’t mean my previous comment to be a dig at you or anyone trying to figure out what the Chinese SFF community is saying—I appreciate that you stepped up and tried your best (including researching slang), and imperfect translations are usually much better than nothing.

  19. @pomelo, @ErsatzCulture: I already have another volunteer translator, I’m pretty sure I can get more. Should we set up a group to collect, collate, compare, discuss translations? It could be:
    – a community on Dreamwidth (pro: stable; can be locked/unlocked; site owners are v pugnacious about privacy)
    – a discord channel (pro: may be familiar to more people)
    – somewhere else??

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