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Beginning with a discussion of Liang Qichao’s 1902 unfinished novel A Future History of New China, this article examines four twenty-first century science fiction works by Han Song, Liu Cixin, Chan Koonchung, and Hao Jingfang – arguing that each work uses a future-perfect narrative mode to comment on the present. In contrast to the conventional wisdom that one may learn from the past to improve conditions in the present, this article instead contends that one implication of these works is that a focus on the future can – somewhat paradoxically – inhibit the possibility of meaningful political reform in the present.

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Editor’s notes

Manuscript received on 1 February 2023. Accepted on 19 November 2023.


Full text document will be published online on December 2024.


New world orders
Rethinking governance
Cruel optimism

First lines


There is a long tradition in China of using the past to comment on the present (a practice sometimes referred to as 以古諷今 yigu fengjin, using the past to satirise the present, or 以古寓今 yigu yujin, using the past to allegorise the present). Typically, this process involves using discussions of historical incidents to reflect on contemporary concerns. A more recent twist, however, involves using the future to address present-day issues – either by presenting an idealised vision of the future to offer a contrast to the imperfect present, or by presenting a radically de-idealised vision of the future to illustrate what might happen if contemporary trends continue unchecked.

In a modern context, this practice of using the future to comment on the present can be traced back to a novel Liang Qichao 梁啟超 began serialising in 1902, which used a fictional vision of China’s future to reflect on the sociopolitical challenges facing the nation in what was then the present day. A pro...

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Bibliographical reference

Carlos Rojas, “Future Imperfect: Using the Future to Critique the Present”China Perspectives, 135 | 2023, 19-27.

Electronic reference

Carlos Rojas, “Future Imperfect: Using the Future to Critique the Present”China Perspectives [Online], 135 | 2023, Online since 01 December 2024, connection on 04 March 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Carlos Rojas

Carlos Rojas is Professor of Chinese cultural studies at Duke University, Durham NC, United States (

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The text and other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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