International Sci-Fi Awards Exclude Canadian Author in Apparent Bid to Not Offend Beijing

International Sci-Fi Awards Exclude Canadian Author in Apparent Bid to Not Offend Beijing
A policeman stands guard in front of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, southwestern China's Sichuan province, on July 26, 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Images)
Andrew Chen

An award-winning Canadian author is among participants inexplicably excluded from an international science-fiction award competition held in China. Internal emails among the award administrators suggest that the decision stemmed from concerns about offending the Chinese regime.

Xiran Zhao was disqualified from the 2023 Hugo Awards, despite having enough votes to secure a finalist spot in her category. In a statement posted on social media, she said that the administrators “refuse” to provide any explanation for her disqualification.

“What I feel about my exclusion is grave disappointment at the Hugo award admins for making no effort to resist the pressure to manipulate the ballots of what is supposed to be the most prestigious award in science-fiction and fantasy,” Xiran said in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.

“It’s unbelievable that they were willing to compile political dossiers on us without any push back.”

The Hugo Award, dedicated to science fiction and fantasy genres, is announced annually at the World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon. While governed by the rules of the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), each year’s Worldcon is independently organized by different entities.

Worldcon 2023, held from Oct. 18 to Oct. 22 in Chengdu City, Sichuan Province, faced criticism due to various irregularities, particularly the unexplained disqualification of Xiran and several other authors. These issues have surfaced months after the convention concluded.

Other authors or works disqualified from the Hugo Awards without reason include Rebecca Kuang’s “Babel” in the Best Novel category. Paul Weimer, a finalist in the “Best Fan Writer” category, was also inexplicably labelled “not eligible for nomination” in the ballot statistics released by Chengdu Worldcon.
The ballots were published after significant delays, raising additional concerns about irregularities, as reported by science fiction outlet File 770.

Chengdu WorldCon was hosted by the Chengdu Science Fiction Association, an organization under the Chengdu Association of Science and Technology, which is governed by the Chengdu Municipal Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Epoch Times reached out to Chengdu Worldcon and the WSFS for comment regarding the disqualifications but didn’t hear back.

‘Negatives of China’

The Chinese communist regime is known for silencing activists, critics, and religious and ethnic minorities, targeting various communities including Hongkongers, Tibetans, Uyghurs, Falun Gong practitioners, and the self-ruled democracy of Taiwan.
Internal emails from Chengdu Worldcon administrators, obtained by File 770, indicate that the decision to exclude these authors was likely due to a perceived need for “self-censorship” to avoid crossing red lines set by the Chinese regime.
In an email dated June 5, 2023, administrator Dave McCarty addressed his team, stating, “In addition to the regular technical review, as we [2023 Worldcon] are happening in China and the *laws* we operate under are different… we need to highlight anything of a sensitive political nature in the work.”

“It’s not necessary to read everything, but if the work focuses on China, taiwan, tibet, or other topics that may be an issue *in* China… that needs to be highlighted so that we can determine if it is safe to put it on the ballot (or) if the law will require us to make an administrative decision about it.”

When another administrator asked about specific criteria for flagging “other topics that may be an issue,” Mr. McCarty stated in a separate email on June 5, “At the moment, the best guidance I have is ’mentions of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, negatives of China.'” He added that, “I will try to get better guidance when I have a chance to dig into this deeper with the Chinese folks on the committee.”

Mr. McCarty has reportedly denied being under pressure from the Chinese regime in vetting the authors.

“Dave McCarty said that the Chinese government was not indirectly involved in the Hugo Awards ‘except insofar as the government says what the laws are in the country,’” reported File 770, citing a Feb. 4 interview with Mr. McCarty in Chicago.
Mr. McCarty didn’t respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.


The emails between the administrators also provided insights into the vetting process for the finalists.

An email from Diana Lacey, dated June 7, mentioned Xiran’s previous work, “Iron Widow,” which is described as retelling the rise of China’s only empress, Wu Zetian.

“I don’t know if that would be a negative in China. [Xiran] is also active on social media, described on Wikipedia as an ‘internet personality,’” Ms. Lacey wrote.

Xiran’s latest book, “Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor,” tells the story of a Chinese-American boy of Hui Muslim ethnicity. His mother fled China after the death of his father to escape a dangerous political situation.

In another email dated June 6, Ms. Kuang’s “Babel,” a New York Times No. 1 best seller, was mentioned for featuring “a lot about China.” The administrator noted that, being unfamiliar with Chinese politics, they “cannot say whether it would be viewed as ‘negatives of China.’”

Mr. Weimer was mentioned in a June 7 email titled “Fan Writer potential issues.” In the email, he was described as having “Traveled to Tibet and tweeted pictures and talked about food.” The administrators also vetted some of his past social media comments, particularly those mentioning “Hong Kong” and “Tiananmen Square.”

In response to his disqualification, Mr. Weimer has issued several statements on the social media platform X. In one post, he expressed anger and highlighted that he had travelled to Nepal, not Tibet.


File 770 investigators highlighted additional irregularities in Chengdu Worldcon, such as the unconventional selection of the Chinese city for the annual convention. The report raised concerns about the method and accounting of Chinese ballots, noting that a majority lacked the usual street address information of voters, using email addresses instead.
Amid increasing criticism, Worldcon Intellectual Property (WIP), a California non-profit holding the service marks of WSFS, including the “Hugo Award” mark, released a statement on Jan. 30, acknowledging and addressing concerns about the 2023 Hugo Awards process.

WIP said that it has taken several actions, including censuring or reprimanding Mr. McCarty and certain members of the 2023 Worldcon administration, as well as members of the WIP Board of Directors involved in Chengdu Worldcon. Mr. McCarty has resigned as director of WIP, according to the statement.

In a Jan. 25 statement to File 770, Chengdu Worldcon administrator Diana Lacey confirmed being “told to vet nominees for work focusing on China, Taiwan, Tibet, or other topics that may be an issue in China.”

“Understand that I signed up fully aware that there were going to be issues. I am not that naïve regarding the Chinese political system, but I wanted the Hugos to happen, and not have them completely crash and burn,” she wrote.

“Again, I am not making excuses. I sincerely apologize to my community.”

Kathy Han contributed to this report.