BEIJING, Dec. 15 — The landing of China’s first moon rover on the lunar surface on Sunday morning has had the nation’s sci-fi writers cheering for fiction’s gradual unfolding into reality.
Chinese legend has it that Chang’e, the wife of a gallant archer, flew to the moon and resided in a lunar palace after drinking a medicine of longevity. The lunar goddess is said to have a jade rabbit as her companion.
That inspired the name of China’s moon rover, which emerged from the Chang’e-3 probe that soft-landed on the lunar surface late on Saturday.
While China has yet to land its own countryman on the moon, the Jade Rabbit brings the country a step closer to realizing a collective and romantic Chinese aspiration to explore the natural satellite.
Liu Cixin, one of China’s most celebrated sci-fi writers, said the most fantastic thing about this mission is seeing images captured and relayed to Earth by the Jade Rabbit rover.
“The entire landing process was executed without human intervention. It’s quite extraordinary that everything went smoothly,” said the computer engineer-turned writer, who was invited to watch the launch of the Chang’e probe at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center earlier this month.
In one of his sci-fi stories, Liu imagined a moon installed with solar panels, transferring energy back to the resource-tapped Mother Earth.
“But the real moon landing has better stories to tell than does science fiction,” he said.
The Chang’e-3 probe’s Saturday landing on the moon’s Bay of Rainbows came almost a decade after China announced its lunar probe initiative.
That initiative was launched on par with China’s growing scientific and technological prowess and has also provided opportunities to bring nearly a century of endless imagination about the moon to reality.
And China’s home-grown sci-fi stories have become a major driver of that imagination over the past 100 years.
In 1903, Chinese literary titan Lu Xun translated Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon” and proclaimed that the advancement of the Chinese nation begins in science fiction.
A year later, the nation’s first modern science fiction work, “Lunar Colony,” marked the beginning of generations of Chinese sci-fi writers’ lingering enchantment to the moon.
In “Lunar Colony,” a rebel against the late Qing Dynasty flew to the moon with his wife after a failed attempt to assassinate senior officials in the court.
According to Beijing-based sci-fi writer Fei Dao, the moon in the novel is no longer the residence of an ancient goddess, but a utopia for the rebels.
In some other stories of the same period, the moon became a place of great discoveries and a newfound land to address explosive population growth on Earth.
With the Jade Rabbit now roaming the moon, sending back images and data to help Chinese scientists better understand the satellite, many sci-fi writers say it marks a shift in how Chinese view themselves in the Universe.
“I think everything will look differently when a Chinese looks at Earth from the moon,” said Chen Qiufan. “I expect that day to come.”
Zhao Yang, an associate researcher with China Science and Technology Museum, added, “If humans are to build a museum of mankind’s lunar probe history, China’s first space vehicle to land on a celestial body other than the Earth will definitely have an important place in it.
“The Jade Rabbit rover and the Chang’e-3 probe could even stay where they are now and be sealed in glass for future moon tourists to admire.”
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Backgrounder: Timeline of China’s lunar program
Special Report: China’s lunar explorations
Graphics: Launch procedure of Chang’e-3 lunar probe
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