SFF Authors Release Open Letter Condemning China as Host of 2023 Worldcon

Publishers Weekly today drew attention to an Open Letter signed by over 80 authors calling for the revocation of the choice of Chengdu, China as 2023 Worldcon host: “Speculative Fiction Community Condemns China Hosting 2023 WorldCon Awards”. (The full text of the Open Letter appears at the end of the post.)

The Justice For All Canada site announced the letter on March 2 in its post “80+ Global Science-Fiction Fantasy Authors Condemn China Hosting the 2023 WorldCon Awards In An Open Letter”.

In the midst of the Ukraine invasion, threats to Taiwan, and Uyghur genocide, over 80 award-winning and bestselling writers from across the world as well as Uyghur human rights groups have condemned China’s right to host the 2023 WorldCon awards in an open letter.

The joint letter is addressed to the WorldCon committee and voters, bringing together a coalition of global science-fiction and fantasy writers to condemn the WorldCon committee for allowing Chengdu, China to bid for the 81st World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon) – a bid that they won.

The letter calls on the literary community to appeal to the committee and community in charge of allocating the honour of hosting the world’s most prestigious science-fiction fantasy awards, requesting them to relocate the 2023 event out of China. The author signatories, many of whom are New York Times bestselling authors and Hugo award winners, include members of the WorldCon community. 

WorldCon community members vote on which country’s bid will win the right to host the Con. The vote was taken at DisCon III, the 2021 Worldcon in Washington DC on December 18, 2021. The four bidders were France, United States, Canada, and China. Despite the Chinese government’s ongoing genocide against Uyghur and Turkic Muslim minorities in the Uyghur region (Xinjiang), the bid was won by Chengdu. Prominent signatories include Hugo winners, nominees and bestsellers Angie Thomas, N.K. Jemisin, G. Willow Wilson, S.A. Chakraborty, Zoraida Córdova, Tochi Onyebuchi, Ausma Zehanat Khan, Jeannette Ng, Tracy Deonn, Roseanne Brown, Usman T. Malik, and famous Uyghur writers like Tahir Hamut Izgil.

The people who crafted the letter are Sarah Mughal Rana, a Muslim writer and social outreach member of Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, and Dr. Ausma Khan, author of The Khorasan Archives quartet.

Rana told File 770 today, “It was our idea because we both are Muslim SFF writers but it was also done with Uyghurs who cannot be named for safety reasons. I lived in China, I also work for the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project – so this letter was made also in collaboration with most of the listed Uyghur rights groups that signed the letter to put their perspective, fact-check, and prioritize their opinions.”

The Publishers Weekly article is the effective debut of letter. Rana says she circulated it to potential signers through email and DMs and kept it under wraps until she had enough support from published writers. “I did not publicize the letter until Publishers Weekly wrote their article. …Justice for All Canada offered to publish the news release so journalists would be aware of this letter.”

A copy of the Open Letter has not yet been emailed to the Chengdu committee. Rana indicates she did previously reach out to them to discuss the bid and raise issues about the guests of honor: “I emailed Chengdu my complaints about the guests of honour and did not hear back. I tried to facilitate a discussion and am hoping they reply.” In February the Chengdu committee acknowledged another person’s tweeted complaint about guest of honor Lukianenko, so the potential exists for them to reply.

The Open Letter is not the only step the organizers have in mind. Rana says:

To be frank, I am completely aware that the bids happen via democratic vote. But my objective with the letter is to condemn the bid [the selection of Chengdu] and to draw attention and awareness about the horrific on-going Uyghur genocide — the worst in modern times. Other steps have been taken. I met with Worldcon 2022 to ensure there are plans to avoid Islamophobic rhetoric and to create a safe space for Muslims and Turkic peoples. I also am working on a constitutional amendment. At the very least, I hope for a boycott and for people to be educated on these matters so they do not gaslight and shutdown Muslim voices again. The last discussion about Chengdu’s bid, Muslims were gaslit and accused of being racist, and Western-centric.

The rules governing Worldcons and site selection presently only provide for replacing a seated Worldcon if it is “unable to perform its duties,” therefore the Open Letter’s call for “revoking the 2023 site allocation bid to Chengdu, China” sounds aspirational. File 770 asked Rana if they have advisors about Worldcon governance. She says:

Yes we do. We are aware of the process. We consulted a number of individuals who are part of Worldcon’s organizing teams or were chairs of the business meetings. We know that a bid cannot be revoked. But our purpose is more symbolic than that. We hope this shows the broken-nature of how bids are carried out with regards to human rights crises. Moreover, this emphasizes that 1. bids can be awarded during concentration camps and genocide, and 2. there is no way to undo this.

This is why we have plans to propose a constitutional amendment regardless of Chengdu happening. Any amendment that is passed takes two years through two host cities, so this does not affect Chengdu. We hope to introduce an amendment where bidding cities do not qualify if an on-going genocide is being carried out that is recognized by either an independent verified tribunal or international human rights organizations. Even though this would not affect Chengdu; Chengdu is an example of the broken nature of these bids and how they do not take into account marginalized, persecuted populations.

The full text of the “Open Letter to WorldCon Committee to revoke Chengdu Bid 2023” follows the jump.

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