Tong Enzheng

Tagged: Author

(1935-1997) Chinese archaeologist, cultural anthropologist, museologist and author, whose twin careers of academia and sf writing occasionally entwined. As a historian he specialized in the ancient history of Sichuan, Tibetan archaeology, and discussion of a "southern Silk Road", from China to India in early times, writing many landmark works in the field, not listed below. His first sf story "Wuman Nian Yiqian de Keren" ["A Guest from 50,000 Years Ago"] (1959 Dadi) is, like all other Chinese genre work of the period, didactic Children's SF. However, it maintains a palpable sense of the joy that Tong himself took in his academic work, applying archaeological procedure to suggest that old Chinese Astronomy almanacs may have reported the arrival and subsequent orbital decay of a visiting Spaceship, which eventually fell as a "meteorite" during the Ming dynasty (see History in SF).

"Guxia Miwu" ["Dense Fog on the Ancient Gorge"] (1960 venue unknown) retells a 316 BCE battle in Fantasy-tinged terms, attracting great praise from readers for its evocation of an ancient, primeval China, unspoilt by man (see Lost Worlds). It led to Tong's brief enlistment as a screenwriter on an abortive movie adaptation, introducing him to the prospect of cross-media authorship. During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Tong became notorious in China for a paper criticizing the effect of cultural policies on the conduct of archaeology, effectively suggesting that "pure" science was being tainted by the interference of the Party. His refusal to be silent on this issue, and on many others, led to his branding as an "enemy of the people", and to persecution of both him and his family. Many of his old stories were dragged out and pilloried, particularly "Guxia Miwu", which was now claimed to be a veiled Satire in which the native Sichuanese state of Ba stood for the ousted Nationalists from the Chinese civil war, and the despoiling army of Qin was intended to represent the People's Liberation Army. He spent much of the period working in a cowshed.

"Shanhu Dao Shang de Siguang" (August 1978 Renmin Wenxue trans by "SFW" as "Death Ray on a Coral Island" in Science Fiction From China, anth 1989, ed Wu Dingbo and Patrick Murphy) represented the peak of Tong's popularity, a Technothriller in which a Mad Scientist is thwarted not only by Chinese heroes, but by a foreign-born Chinese protagonist, who has returned to the motherland in search of the fulfilment that cannot be his in the degenerate capitalist West. Understandably, this ticked a number of boxes with Party scrutineers, and was subsequently adapted by the Shanghai Film Studio into China's first sf film, Shanhu Dao Shang de Siguang (1980). Shortly before leaving to work in America, he also published "Shijie Shang Diyi ge Jiqiren zhi Si" (March 1982 Kexue Wenyi trans Wu Dingbo as "The Death of the World's First Robot" in Science Fiction From China, anth 1989, ed Wu Dingbo and Patrick Murphy). In the same manner as work by Wei Yahua in the same period, Tong uses the opportunity to discuss Isaac Asimov's Laws of Robotics as if they were scientific issues in real-world Cybernetics, suggesting that a fourth law, "A robot may not fall in love", should be added to the usual list. A tale purportedly from Chinese Mythology, it also bears the strong hallmarks of a creative soul, struggling to understand how his "king" can command him to entertain, and yet still somehow hate him for it.

Tong subsequently taught abroad at several American universities, where his signing of a pro-democracy petition in 1989 led to further censure. Despite briefly returning to China, he fled into self-imposed American exile in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square incident, and died while serving as the Luther Gregg Sullivan Fellow of the Art Department at Wesleyan University, which holds his papers. [JonC]

Tong Enzheng

born Ningxiang, Hunan, China: 27 August 1935

died Connecticut, USA: 20 April 1997

works (selected)

  • Guxia Miwu ["Dense Fog on the Ancient Gorge"] (Shanghai: Shoanian Ertong Chubanshe, 1960) [chap: pb/]
  • Shiqu de Jiyi ["Memory Loss"] (Shanghai: Shoanian Ertong Chubanshe, 1963) [chap: pb/]
  • Wuman Nian Yiqian de Keren ["A Guest from 50,000 Years Ago"] (Beijing: Renmin Wenxue Chubanshe, 1978) [coll: pb/]
  • Xueshan Modi ["The Magic Flute on the Snowy Mountain"] (Beijing: Renmin Wenxue Chubanshe, 1979) [coll: pb/]
  • Zuizong Konglong de Ren ["Those Who Chase Dinosaurs"] (Chengdu: Sichuan Shaonian Ertong Chubanshe, 1981) [coll: pb/]
  • Xiyou Xinji ["A New Journey to the West"] (Tianjin: New Budding Press, 1985) [pb/]
  • Tong Enzheng Wenji ["The Collected Tong Enzheng"] (Chongqing: Chongqing Chubanshe, 1998) [coll: in 3 volumes: pb/]

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