Science fiction is not just an art form or a genre of literature but a business, too. Chinese companies and local governments are making big investments in it because they believe there is huge and growing demand for stories that spark the imagination.
Growth of the mobile internet in China is the key. People want to watch science fiction short videos on their phones, and many games are based on science fiction stories. The market for virtual reality alone is expected to be worth 55 billion yuan (.3 billion) a year by 2020, according to Bloomberg. The Motion Picture Association of America estimates that China will surpass the US as the world's largest movie market this year. All those forms of media need content.
In an interview with National Business Daily, Jiang Lin, internet director of Science Fiction World magazine, said: "China boasts abundant sci-fi intellectual property works to develop derivative products like internet drama, TV series, films and games. I hope China Science Fiction City (which is to be built in Chengdu) can cultivate fertile soil for these products to take root and grow."
Entrepreneurs and venture capitalists see vast potential.
For example, the Future Affairs Administration, a private startup company established in Beijing last year, has already raised 10 million yuan of angel investment. During the A round of financing, the administration raised dozens of millions in total and established Three Body Cosmos, a subsidiary company that focuses on developing stories related to The Three Body Problem trilogy.
Ji Shaoting, the administration's founder and chief executive, says that at the beginning it got a percentage from selling stories.
"But that is like crushing the aspirations of the poor writers. They are not making a lot. I later realized it's better if we get the good stories and also participate in the movie part. We can get percentages of the movie project or the TV series, so we can be kinder to our writers. We want to help our writers and protect them. I want to help them get more money, and then they can have time to write more stories."
The administration also employs people who can help to make movies, she says.
"We don't make movies, but give them advice and ideas. The other part of the team is editors, because we have to talk to writers. ... Last year we talked to writers more than movie makers because we have to grow the bank of our IP. We talked to foreign writers, Chinese writers, new writers and people who want to be writers. So we are building up an education system of Chinese writers."
In that sense the administration is similar to an agent, she says.
"It is a little bit complicated, but that's how things work in China. Because over the past few decades there was no Chinese science fiction industry, but just words. If we want to make it an industry we have to do many things in the whole industrial chain. In the US you have thousands of science fiction writers who have been published, but in China there are fewer than 100 Chinese science fiction writers, and the fans only know the names of 20.
So we really need more science fiction writers. Many of the science fiction movies from America made a lot of money in China."
Feng Huawei, founder of Chinese investment company, Smallville Capital, and a major investor in FAA, defined the project as part of the growing "imagination industry".
"The development of technology that includes mobile information provides us access to more devices that serve our needs, as well as spreading ideas. Imagination as the source of content production, diversity and innovation, is of more value now. We are looking for a combination of high-quality science fiction works with other industries, such as movie, animation, education, travel, real estate and other cultural businesses. We also wish to have more people involved in the production and innovation of high-quality science fiction content by supporting development."
For 10 years Ji was a reporter with Xinhua News Agency, where the science fiction writer and Xinhua executive Han Song became a mentor. She cried when she left Xinhua, but science fiction is her passion, she says.
"I started reading science fiction when I was 9 years old. Through high school and college there were few people who were interested in it, so I was really lonely."
However, in 2007 she attended a science fiction conference in Chengdu and "felt I was not lonely anymore".
"I felt I had found the science fiction family."