“Fiction, as a literary form, is the best vehicle of heterotopia that offers us a different perspective of understanding the reality,” said Mr Chan Koon-chung at his seminar “From Utopia to Uchronia” at Lingnan University on 3 April.
Invited by the Department of Chinese, Mr Chan, a renowned Hong Kong writer, publisher and cultural critic, shared with Lingnan students and staff the concepts of utopia, dystopia, uchronia and heterotopia, which are important genres of fiction that enable an alternative understanding of the reality. He also provided a list of representative works such as Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888), William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four (1949) and Chris Roberson’s Celestial Empire.
“Utopian fiction paints a rosy picture of the future, while dystopian fiction does the opposite. Uchronian fiction provides imaginations of what if history had taken another course of development,” Mr Chan explained. “In contrast, the concept of heterotopia is more difficult to grasp. Compared with the three concepts mentioned earlier, which offer a one-size-fits-all perspective, heterotopia is more micro-focused. It is a unique combination of trivial details that ends up with a weird, twisted representation of reality.”
Despite their differences, Mr Chan opined that all these types of fiction are meant to address problems of reality, and even offer creative solutions. They also inspire readers to rethink the nature of reality as they know of, how it is shaped or fabricated, and how real it can be. “These literary works challenge our view of reality and history, and remind us that both can be manipulated and highly selective,” Mr Chan added.
Born in Shanghai in 1952 and grew up in Hong Kong, Mr Chan has lived in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China before he moved to Beijing several years ago. His novels The Fat Years (2009) and The Bare Truth about Champa (2013), depicting various aspects of Chinese society during its “fat years” with critical and parodic overtones, have stirred fervent responses in the Chinese literary circles. Mr Chan was Author of the Year of Hong Kong Book Fair 2013.