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    Chinese Sci-fi Author Sparks Work Ethics Debate

    Liu Cixin contests a 2015 interview in which the author said he finished much of his writing during work hours at a state-owned enterprise.

    A television interview from over three years ago is haunting one of China’s most distinguished sci-fi writers.

    Hugo Award-winning author Liu Cixin is at the center of an online debate on work ethics after the novelist admitted to doing personal work during office hours at a state-owned enterprise. In the November 2015 interview, the 55-year-old said he finished a lot of writing while working as an engineer at a remote power station in northern China’s Shanxi province.

    But on Tuesday, the writer told the state-run Global Times that there’s “no time to write while on duty,” while also admitting that on rare occasions he would write on his office computer. “As an engineer at a grassroots power station, there’s constant work. Where is the time to write?” he said.

    The author — winner of several international and domestic awards — is best known for his “The Three-Body Problem” trilogy. Liu’s recent popularity has attracted thousands of loyal readers in China and abroad, including former U.S. president Barack Obama. The film adaptation of Liu’s 2000 short story “The Wandering Earth” has been hailed as China’s answer to Hollywood sci-fi blockbusters and has set a new single-day box-office record for a Lunar New Year release on Feb. 5.

    However, many fans are now questioning Liu’s work ethic after screenshots of his past interview surfaced Monday, showing him saying one can “take advantage of extra time by writing at work.” The screenshots, which were first posted on the microblogging site Weibo, have since drawn significant attention. While some netizens have voiced their disappointment, others pointed to overstaffing issues and low efficiency at state-owned enterprises.

    “What you’ve said is certainly not a pervasive phenomenon — it cannot collectively represent those of us who work in electric companies,” said one user who disapproved of Liu’s remarks. “State-owned enterprises are fertile lands for cultivating world-class writers,” quipped another user.

    On Monday, China’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission also stepped in to address Liu’s comments on company culture at state-owned enterprises. Liu worked at the power station in Shanxi until 2014, two years after the company’s reforms.

    “Mr. Liu, the reason for deepening reforms is because of the overstaffing problem you’ve mentioned,” the commission said in a Weibo post. “Those reforms have proven to be successful, so the enterprises can focus on development and you can dedicate yourself to writing novels.”

    Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

    (Header image: Liu Cixin attends the Asia-Pacific Science Fiction Convention 2018 in Beijing, May 19, 2018. IC)