What Did We Learn About the Chengdu Worldcon During Chicon 8?

Chengdu Worldcon co-chair Ben Yalow provided some updated information in response to questions posed during the Future Worldcons panel on September 2. With him on the platform were the Vice-Chair, and the Chair of the Chengdu Science Fiction Society (the business entity behind the convention). Yalow fielded most of the questions.  

COVID. Asked “Will we we need to quarantine two weeks to enter China,” Yalow noted that Chengdu had recently gone back into lockdown, and prior to that there had been periods when a 14-day quarantine was in effect, but ultimately he could only say, “Tell me what the pandemic is going to be a year from now and I will tell you what the quarantine situation will be.”

CHENGDU WORLDCON FINANCIAL ISSUES. Several basic questions people have tried to ask on the Chengdu Worldcon Facebook page in recent months – “Why haven’t I heard from the committee since you won?”, “Why isn’t there more information on the website”, “When can I buy a new membership?” – at first seem to be about different topics, however, the answers all come back to the committee’s trouble in figuring out how to open accounts in the U.S. where they can hold their money and do credit card transactions. That is affecting how memberships are being handled, delaying the installation of a new website, and keeping new people from joining.

When Chengdu won the 2023 site selection vote last December, it was reported that 2,915 valid votes were cast, and a further 917 tokens were sold for which no matching ballots were received. According to DisCon III, they are still holding $180,253.50 of site selection fees in escrow for the winner. 

However, the Chengdu Worldcon committee’s financial report to the Chicon 8 Business Meeting showed they are only counting 1,305 domestic (Chinese) memberships. An accounting footnote says: “Until the voting fees are transferred, we are not showing those memberships in the totals. However, everyone who purchased an advance supporting membership in Chengdu (voting token at DisCon III), or who voted at DisCon III, is already a full attending member, with all WSFS rights of Chengdu Worldcon 2023.”

At the Future Worldcons panel Yalow said they have been trying to find workarounds for the restrictions on sending money to China. He did not explain what those restrictions are. Right now the funds are in an account held by a US tax-exempt entity, the corporation that ran DisCon III. And the plan is for the money to be transferred to a new Wyoming (U.S.) corporation.  

Yalow told the audience, “We have finished setting up the corporation. We received our certificate of incorporation about a week ago.” They now have to pass corporate resolutions, open corporate bank accounts, and apply to credit card companies to take credit card purchases of memberships. “We believe this process should take a few more weeks.”

An entirely new website is being developed to handle the transactions. He said the beta version is ready.

“Until we are able to deal with the credit card situation we can’t turn on those functions in the website. We don’t know for sure, but probably within the next few weeks.”

He also said they have found a way to pair with WeChat, which works in China but most people “here” don’t have it.

PROGRESS REPORTS. Yalow said there was a draft of Progress Report #1 being worked on that he thought would be ready “within another few days.” All of their Progress Reports will be published electronically.

VENUE. Asked about the cost of hotel rooms at the Chengdu Worldcon’s venue, Yalow said they would cost “a few hundred dollars at the headquarters hotel.” There are cheaper places around the city, and the convention location is on the mass transit system (and much of the signage there is bilingual).

VIRTUAL WORLDCON. Yalow said there will be fully virtual memberships. They have not yet taken a platform and until they have one in place they won’t know how different or similar the experience will be (presumably a comparison to what it has been in past virtual Worldcon presentations). Yalow said there are “substantial limits on what technology will and won’t allow, but we will do our best to work around those.”

SERGEY LUKIANENKO. Someone asked will they retain Sergey Lukianenko as a guest of honor. “Yes,” was Yalow’s one-word answer.

The question was probably asked with awareness of the resolution before the Business Meeting condemning “Sergey Lukianenko’s appalling utterances, calling Ukrainians Nazis and encouraging an illegal invasion of Ukraine.” The day following the Future Worldcons panel, the WSFS Business Meeting voted to adopt the resolution.

Update 09/06/2022: The new Chengdu Worldcon website launched today. See “New Chengdu Worldcon Website Is Up”.

30 thoughts on “What Did We Learn About the Chengdu Worldcon During Chicon 8?

  1. Last para typo alert: “condemining”.
    Might be amusing to speculate what this would mean if it were a word. I mean, technically it is a word, just not one with a meaning yet.

  2. Is this the culmination of Ben’s long and admired history of activity in fandom, to be a puppet for not one but two authoritarian states? The committee members in China have every excuse for not doing anything that would upset the government; they have their livelihood and their families to think about. Ben Yalow doesn’t. He didn’t have to lend the convention the legitimacy of his name. He didn’t have to try to block the resolution condemning Russian apologist Lukianenko as GoH.

    There’s nothing left to do but boycott the convention — and by boycott, I don’t mean just not attending. I mean saying, wherever it’s appropriate, that a Worldcon under the control of a government that monitors what people say and punishes wrongthink is a travesty.

  3. @Gary-

    I believe there is a good chance the Chengdu event will collapse under its own weight. With the release of the UN Report last week, the Uyghur issue will only become more prominent. It cannot be ignored by the Fandom.

    China can save face by citing Covid.

  4. Chinese authoritarianism and human rights abuses were already an issue. But it seems like the organizers are having trouble doing basic things?

  5. I suspect that the Chengdu event will be such a nightmare of mismanagement and bureaucratic bullying, that China may end up ‘disappearing’ it, leaving any fan who tried to go there and help work on the problem (which might end up including our beloved if occasionally misguided Ben) may also ‘disappear’. Please friends, if you are so committed to the tradition on Worldcon, that you are determined to join, do so virtually. Do not go there!

  6. It is excellent for the Chengdu crew to be leading the way figuring out how to be a Worldcon in a country that does not have infrastructure, currency, transactions, etc, that are well or completely merged with the English-Speaking/NATO/etc parts of the world. Other bids should pay attention and already be thinking about technicalities like needing to have legal/financial entities elsewhere. Honestly, I think this is the strongest argument I have seen so far for having WSFS be fully incorporated as an international non-profit.

    I see no reason to castigate Ben for helping them try to navigate these challenges. They ARE the seated Worldcon. They WILL be hosting next year’s Hugo Awards and Site Selection. If I had the time and energy I might join the committee too. That would not mean I support authoritarian government, oppression, etc, any more than paying taxes and living in the US means I think we should be incarcerating millions in for-profit prisons before they have their day in court or in the immigration office. It would just mean I support the fans there and believe the word WORLD in WORLDCON should be more than just talk.

  7. Anne Gray: After reading earlier this year Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s eye opening post about his trouble with Amazon and receiving payments in Nigeria from international sales, when I listened to Yalow’s brief remarks I could see a thematic connection there.

  8. they have found a way to pair with WeChat

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WeChat

    User activity on WeChat is analyzed, tracked and shared with Chinese authorities upon request as part of the mass surveillance network in China. WeChat censors politically sensitive topics in China. Data transmitted by accounts registered outside China is surveilled, analyzed and used to build up censorship algorithms in China.

  9. I left Chicago with significantly more confidence that Chengdu will at least host a minimum viable Worldcon (well, assuming that there’s no COVID order that prevents a Business Meeting from occurring) than I did when I flew in, so that’s something. It even has a new website that appears to have at least some way of registering, although its system is currently refusing to send me a login link. (It did send to my Gmail; I’ll do a spam dive after I have caught up on sleep.)

    That being said, it really bothered me that nobody seemed willing to deliver a substantive defense of Lukianenko as the GoH. The response at the Future Worldcons panel was one word and the arguments against at the Business Meeting were procedural in nature. Shouldn’t it be fairly easy to speak in defense of a person you believe should be honored?

  10. Realistically Chengdu will run a convention. They run conventions 10x larger than any Worldcon every year and should have no issues with the mechanics of the con.

    Between Ben Yallow, Dave McCarty et Al I can’t see how they can’t fulfill the operational requirements of the constitution either.

    As somebody else said after this weekend I feel they are more likely to pull this off. However, I’ll also say this and would have done at the business meeting if we had to have longer debate. It is not on us to fight this. They are the Worldcon. They will succeed or fail on their own terms not ours.

  11. I’m trying to keep my cool on this issue, but I want to respond to Anne Gray about the issue of payments, currency, transactions… China is by far the most advanced economy on Earth when it comes to digital transactions. As far the infrastructure, they have built major stock exchanges from thin air in ~ 20 years. It’s preposterous to imagine that this is a situation of a “struggling” undeveloped nation, rather any obstacles here are 100% due to the PRC’s draconian internal regulations. A parallel issue is WeChat, which is even more pervasive and BigBrother than Google, if that is even possible. In March, Steve Davidson told the honest truth. I am enormously proud of the sfnal community for treating cons, their organizers, backers and participants with thoughtful analysis and pointed debates. May it ever be so!

  12. Daveon: Spot on. People (including me sometimes) tend not to realize Chengdu’s conrunning… raw power, let’s say. It’s the international dimension, including communication, that may give them (and everybody else) trouble.

  13. Someone asked will they retain Sergey Lukianenko as a guest of honor. “Yes,” was Yalow’s one-word answer.

    If I was a non-Chinese SMOF working on the Chengdu Worldcon, the last place you would find me is at a microphone taking questions about the convention.

    I can understand why some SMOFs are helping Chengdu with the challenges of putting on the con. But putting yourself into a position where you are speaking for their decisions — particularly those with international political implications — is a bad idea.

  14. The phrase “the business entity behind the convention” feels weirdly corporate-dystopian to me. I know it shouldn’t – the WSFS can be described as a business entity, after all – but this particular circumstance, it does, and there it is.

    “condemining” – not to be confused with “condimining,” the process by which we get the very best mustard.

  15. I will not put WeChat on my phone or for that matter TicToc. I used to work for the Federal Government and had a security clearance. We were advised to stay off of those platforms.

    Another thing, Cheng Du, I mean the city, cannot catch a break. Not are they under a severe COVID lockdown but just had an earthquake. I don’t think they took much damage but it was strongly felt.

    Until the travel warnings from the US State Department return to the normal things you read about countries such as China, arbitrary detentions, lack of rule of law and not the more stringent warnings I am presently reading about arbitrary COVID lockdowns, I would not make any plans to got there.

  16. Mm, I should –interest declaration here– say that I was invited in late 2018 (after Helsinki Worldcon) and along with a senior Korean SF lady, to a seminar with “Science Fiction World” (SFW) in Chengdu. Inter alia they wanted to talk about their bid for a Worldcon and originally –despite my saying just don’t do that– there were going to go up against Chicago 2022!! (In the end and with the collapse of both Memphis and N/Orleans bids for 2023 , esp noted at Dublin 2019, they went for (and got in 2021 year) 2023. In China/Chengdu, the SFW staff and their hospitality were wonderful. Not so the PRC Govt. Despite a valid SFW invite and Chinese visa in my Irish passport, I was interrogated at Chengdu arrivals for ~ 1 hr and was fingerprinted. Also –and with hindsight : I’m glad I didn’t bring them– I left at home my laptop and my mobile phone. Tried in the Chengdu hotel to use the desktop (remember the Gt Fire Wall of China). Tried bbc(dot)co(dot)uk. It changes overseas to bbc(dot)com and the screen kept coming and going. But –remember my nationality– I then tried rte(dot)ie(stroke) news and got through to Irish TV straightaway!! They carry intl news-just like most other (western) TV stations. (Bet that has now been blocked!) So if traveling there warning: your laptop and or mobile phone may be compromised!! Also NB the licence plates there: most are white figures on a pale blue background. But there are also western style ones and red –not pale blue–ones (the “PLA” and the “Party” respectively). My SFW driver told me no one –not even the Police stops any of those -“wheels within wheels”! best wishes.

  17. Dave Lally: When you advised them not to bid against Chicago, were you thinking they would be taking on an opponent with insurmountable vote support? Or did you think Chicago would get blown away — as in hindsight we can see would have happened if Chengdu turned out the same number of votes against the 517 that Chicago got in the 2020 balloting for the 2022 Worldcon site?

  18. I would hazard a guess that Chicago would better understand this voting thing and how it works.

  19. Actually I was astounded when –at Chengdu– they originally said they were going to go up (in 2020 for 2022) against battle-hardened Chicago!! (Talk about new inexperienced minnows against the well honed, 7 previous Worldcons-done-and-dusted Illinois people!!) In the end, they changed to 2021 for 2023 (and said so to me at Dublin/2019). But thereat (and in my home town to boot) –as we all now know– N/Orleans collapsed and so did Memphis-thus giving Chengdu a clear run. [ Oh and talking of future Worldcons, and with the UK£ tanking here, all Cons / SF events here in UK –for US$ holders– are becoming good value!! So Glasgow 2024 (and also the London Science Museum SF Exhibition on from now till April 2023) are looking good value!! Again slight interest declaration here: I’m a mega-supporter of Glasgow! ] best wishes..

  20. Pingback: Chengdu Worldcon Update | File 770

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