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Solaris and the Dao: The Reception of Stanislaw Lem’s Novel in the Sinophone World



The most popular science fiction novel written by the Polish author Stanisław Lem, Solaris, was published in 1961. Although it was translated into English as early as 1970, the book was unknown to the Sinophone readers until 2003, when the first translation from English into Chinese was published, most probably following the popularity of the resounding Hollywood film adaptation from 2002. Still, Suolalisi Xing (which can be translated as ‘Solaris Star’) did not attract broader audiences in China or Taiwan, at least not until the third version of the novel, translated directly from Polish into Chinese, saw the light of day in 2010. The appearance of this translation coincided with the beginning of a New Golden Era of Chinese and Taiwanese science fiction, which undoubtedly had a significant influence on the positive re-reception of Solaris. In the paper, the author focuses on the philosophical aspect of Lem’s work and investigates which themes and concepts present in Solaris caught the imagination of Chinese-speaking readers. The author wants to show how this reception, while coming from a different historical, cultural, and linguistic background, can enrich our understanding of the novel and introduce a new way of looking at the important existential questions stated by the writer.
Poznaskie Studia Polonistyczne
Seria Literacka  ()
: ./pspsl...
Zoa Anna ybieralska
Philosophy department, Taiwan National Chengchi University
Solaris and the Dao:
eReceptionofStanislawLems Novel
intheSinophone orld
1. Stanisław Lem– underestimated Polish futurist
andhisimpact on science ction’s development
Science ction ( hereaer for brevity) is aparticular type of
prose narrative concerned principally with speculation about
the impact and possibilities of actual or imagined science upon
society or individuals. According to Britannica, the name itself
was popularized in the s by the American publisher Hugo
, one of the genre’s principal advocates [Sterling ].
Dao, translated dierently depending on the context (as“way”, “road”, “path”,
“speech” or “method”), is an essential, multifaceted philosophical concept present
in almost every school of thought throughout the history of Chinese philosophy.
Dao introduced in this article refers to the most profound, metaphysical meaning
of this term– an ultimate reality, the absolute, the source and core power of all
existence, the Cosmic Dao. is interpretation of Dao has been created by the
early Daoist thinkers like Laozi, Zhuangzi or Liezi.
All instances of “” in this paper stand for “science ction”, not “speculative
e Hugo Awards, given annually since  by the World Science Fiction Society,
are named aer Hugo Gernsback.
122   
Although some works, wrien in ancient and early modern times,
like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Aristophanes’s eClouds, omas
More’s Utopia or even Shakespeare’s e Tempest discussed topics
very similar to the themes common in today’s  (fantastical voy-
age, time travel, creation of anew perfect society or aprototype
of mad scientist story), they never tried to achieve scientic
and technological plausibility which is the crucial feature of this
modern genre. eIndustrial Revolution and the rapid devel
opment of technology aer the eighteenth century sparked the
imagination of estern intellectuals and writers, giving birth to
books and novels about future science and its possible impact
on human life. H. G.ells, Olaf Stapledon, and Jules Gabriel
Verne are conventionally regarded as fathers and virtuosos of
. ey were the rst to use an extraordinary setup of space
and time travels with implemented prophetic warnings, utopian
aspirations, and political agitations very oen extrapolated from
their contemporary reality. Inthe twentieth century, the genre
began to take shape and entered its “golden age” in the late s,
especially in the United States, where  authorship and reader-
ship were the largest at the time. Aer orld ar ,  became
more and more popular, and its fandom spread across the United
States. Inthe present time,  is not just aliterary genre anymore
but asubculture and part of alifestyle with countless -related
products like books, movies, television shows, computer games,
magazines, websites, paintings, comic books, collectible gurines,
etc. is rapid evolution and immense popularity, however, came
with ahigh price gained abad reputation in the literary
world. Today, many intellectual readers still criticize  litera-
ture for being stylistically primitive. Lack of allegories, symbols
or metaphors, with one-dimensional characters and excessive
emphasis on the plot rather than the linguistic seing labeled
books and novels of this genre as a“lower realm” of mainstream
literature for ordinary, not demanding consumers. Fortunately,
in the modern history of , we can still nd writers who showed
great virtuosity in their narrative style and whose books deal
with essential issues in avaluable way. One of them is the Polish
writer Stanisław Lem.
123   …
For almost every  fan Stanisław Lem needs no introduction.
Nevertheless, and because the author wants to address the broadest
audience possible aer all, an introduction and recognition of his
inuence on the modern literary world are in order. Stanisław Lem
was born in Lviv in  when the city was still part of the Second
Polish Republic. From avery young age, Stanisław was showing
an insatiable thirst for knowledge and incredible curiosity about
the world. Atrst, following in his father’s footsteps, he took up
medical studies at Lviv and Jagiellonian Universities, but failed to
take the nal exam on purpose in order to avoid the obligatory
career as amilitary doctor. Soon aer leaving the university, Lem
made his literary debut in  with several works of dierent
genres (among them was his rst  novel, e Man om Mars).
e rst book that he could publish under the Communist regime
in Poland was e Astronauts. Afew years later came the 
Gomułka’s thaw during which the censorship policy was not so
strict anymore. During this time, Lem became truly productive and
published seventeen books between  and , among which
we can nd the most recognizable positions like e Investigation
(), Memoirs Found in aBathtub (), Return om the Stars
(), Solaris (), e Invincible () and His Master’s Voice
(). Although aer the s he wrote fewer and fewer science
ction novels, he remained artistically active until his death on
March th, . Inthose years, Lem concentrated mostly on
non-ction or philosophical texts and essays, which appeared in
Polish magazines Tygodnik Powszechny, Odra, Przegld, and many
others. Following their popularity in Poland, his works have been
widely translated and very early (s) started to appear in est-
ern Europe: Germany, France and Italy. Inashort time, he became
one of the few non-Anglophone, Eastern block  authors who
received such wide recognition. However, even in his heyday, he
never had acachet on the American market and could not compete
with the “genres titans” like Isaac Asimov or Robert A.Heinlein.
Despite that, he was still quite inuential– according to arecent
estimate, his books have been translated into more than forty-ve
languages and sold almost  million copies. Stanisław Lem was
also repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Prize, and it is already
124   
common knowledge that he did not receive it only because “some-
one told the judges that he writes science ction.
Aswe can see, Stanisław Lem was indeed aremarkable mind:
son of adoctor with amedical studies background, scientic
research assistant, polymath interested in cybernetics, articial
intelligence, genetic engineering, cosmology, cosmogony, astrology,
and philosophy. Hewas not just an excellent storyteller but also
asatirist, literary theorist, futurologist, and areal philosophical
gady. Both scientic and philosophical inquiries were constantly
present in his works. Asanovelist, Lem was far more interested in
actual and future intellectual problems of humanity than in their
literary expression in the form of ctional stories. For him, science
ction was not only asimple entertainment or ademonstration of
awriter’s linguistic artistry; itneeded to be driven by areal phil-
osophical curiosity about what is unknown. And this ferociously
learned novelist was aliving example of such curiosity– he was
writing to satisfy his insatiable inquisitiveness about the far future
of humankind and the cosmos. Nowonder his  writing carries
aheavy intellectual load, just as Bruce Sterling once wrote:
[…] for Lem science ction is a documented form of
thought-experiment: aspearhead of cognition. All else is sec-
ondary, and it is this singleness of aim that gives his work its
driving power. is is truly aliterature of ideas, dismissing the
heart as trivial, but piercing the skull like an ice pick.
Lem saw great potential in science ction. Novels and books
of this genre were not supposed to be limited to some narrative
paerns of primitive adventure literature. ith the help of rigorous
and believable descriptions of wonders created by future science,
 literature could work as aperfect example of philosophical
mind-experiment in anarrative form, showing us what it means
to be “human”. Lem himself admied that he began to write 
because “it deals with human beings as species (orrather, with all
Opinion expressed in  by an anonymous Philadelphia Inquirer critic.
Bruce Sterling is anoted cyber/ author and tech commentator.
125   …
possible species of intelligent beings, one of which happens to be
the human species.)” [Lem :]. at is why he was constantly
raising philosophical issues related to our human condition, such
as limits of human knowledge, the nature of consciousness and
knowledge acquisition (which both address the eld of epistemol-
ogy), or the moral responsibility of scientists and future explorers
of the universe (issues touched by moral philosophy). InLem’s
books, it is not the singular hero who is being questioned, it is
humanity overall. at is why his works can serve as asurvey of the
whole human species– people who, aer being put into extreme
situations, must face the limits and possibilities of their own nature
(this raises aquestion on the possibility of humans’ ontological
transcendence). Although Lem, for most of his life, remained
skeptical that miraculous possibilities of science could simply do
away with certain human limitations, he still kept being optimistic
about the inherent goodness of humanity. Aer all, he was aman
who strongly believed in old-fashioned cultural and intellectual
virtues and was very displeased whenever mass society or mass
culture undermined those values, especially in his beloved  eld.
Aer discovering that the world of American  in the second
half of the twentieth century consisted mainly of fantastic adven-
tures without ashred of scientic or philosophical seriousness,
Lem assigned himself amission of reforming the current state
of the genre. Hecould not stand the technical ignorance, literary
clumsiness, and sociological naïveté present in the novels of his
contemporaries. Heknew that if  wants to be regarded as aform
of higher literature and show its true potential, it needs to be crit-
icized. at is why he decided to write astudy of science ction
which was published in Poland in  as Fantastyka ifuturologia
(Science Fiction and Futurology; some parts were translated into
English in the magazine Science Fiction Studies in –, selected
material was translated in the single volume Microworlds: Writings
on Science Fiction and Fantasy in ). Besides arigorous investiga-
tion of the theoretical basis of , he introduced adetailed analysis
of many of its major topics and literary themes. Lem pointed out
that the vast majority of writers limited themselves to amonoto-
nous plot and unimaginative stories, which cannot successfully
126   
turn readers’ aention towards the direction in which the world,
in fact, was moving. Lem’s enormous disappointment with the
scientic ignorance of most American  writers, shaped in the
form of biting criticism, was the main reason for his excommuni-
cation from the Science Fiction riters Association. Even Philip
K.Dick, an object of Lem’s unreserved admiration whom he called
a“visionary among charlatans” wasn’t fond of the Polish writer and
called him acommunist spy. Although even today Stanisław Lem
is relatively unknown to American readers, he is still considered
among the greatest  writers of all time. Heremained true to him-
self and his ideals and never sought compromise with the crowd
or t into the niche of “pulp for the masses”– his ction stands
out as aunique example of aconglomerate of profound science,
cruel wit, philosophical perplexities, and cerebral outlook shaped
in aperverse, but logically perfect structure. And the best example
of his literary genius is the  novel Solaris.
2. Alien being and epistemological crisis of its human knower–
plot, themes, and the reception of Solaris in the West
Some people like to divide Lem’s literary work into two categories:
traditional  and dark allegorical tales. Solaris,
along with e
Invincible () or Tales of Pirx the Pilot (), belongs to the
rst group of stories, in which the main topics like the fantastic
reality, technological advancement, alien worlds and space travel
are enriched with non-imposing humor and philosophical depth.
All those stories are masterpieces of literature, but it was Solaris that
gained world-wide popularity– the book was wrien so engross-
ingly that its magnetism has not been lost to this day. Solaris was
published when Lem had already made aname for himself in
Poland and the Soviet Union.
Soon aer, it was translated into
French by Jean-Michel Jasiensko in , and this version served as
When referring to the book Solaris, italics are applied. Solaris as aname of the
planet is kept in roman.
Russian translation made by Dmitry Bruskin appeared soon aer the publication
of the book in Poland. Paradoxically, thanks to the negative opinion of the Soviet
critics, the novel quickly became acult classic in the .
127   …
the basis for Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox’s English translation
in . For many years it was the only English translation of Solaris
available on the market, one that the author himself was not very
fond of. Indeed, this signicantly decient sister of Solaris could
prevent English readers from understanding Lem’s vast creative
force. In, Bill Johnston, aprofessor at Indiana University, pro-
duced the rst Polish–English translation of the novel, available
only in adigital form as an audiobook or ebook. is version has
been praised for being able to convey Lem’s style, his Slavic humor,
and aention to detail. Itwas also warmly welcomed by Lem’s fam-
ily: “we are very content with Professor Johnston’s work, that seems
to have captured the spirit of the original” [Flood ]. Inspite
of its early imperfect translation, Solaris was still able to become
one of ’s most popular and inuential novels. Some may say that
it is owed to two well-known lm adaptations: the rst one was
made in  by Soviet director Andrey Tarkovsky and the second
one in  by American director Steven Soderbergh. Tarkovsky’s
movie, while oen called visionary, deep, vivid, and piercing, is
considered to be arather unfaithful adaptation of the novel; Lem
quarreled with the director about the script and badmouthed the
movie for the rest of his life. Soderbergh’s Solaris, produced by
James Cameron with Hollywood star George Clooney acting as
the protagonist, has been viewed mostly as atouching space love
story. Although this widely-panned recent remake veered away
from the novel’s central themes, Lem did nd some positive sites
of this adaptation: “e lm has aunique, overwhelming climate.
Filled with light, colors, stunning shots, music, impressive acting,
an economical use of special eects, clear narration” [Lem ].
But no maer how far those lm adaptations departed from the
original story, it is certainly not arguable that both Tarkovsky and
Soderbergh helped Lem become one of the most widely read
science ction writers in the world.
hat is so aractive in the story that made Solaris atimeless
masterpiece of ? e book’s central theme circles around adis-
tant planet surrounded by two suns and covered by amysterious
plasma-like surface which, given the lack of amore precise way
to describe it, everyone in the story calls “the Ocean”. Surpris-
128   
ingly, this enormous entity is the planet’s sole native inhabitant,
adeveloped form of life dissimilar to anything seen on Earth.
Finally, aer many years of fruitless space discoveries, humankind
found an extraterrestrial intelligence with which they may be able
to initiate rst contact. Ifonly the Ocean would not behave in an
unexpectable, irrational way, challenging the limits of ordinary
human knowledge. Following one hundred years of careful sci-
entic investigation, exploration and experiments, the enigmatic
appearance of Solaris’ Ocean– its substance, structure, intricate
paerns of behavior along with its unusual metamorphic creations
classied as “extensors”, “mimoids”, “symmetriads”, and “asymme-
triads”– was analyzed and described in thousands of volumes of
research literature. For all the massive amount of scholarly work
in “Solaristic studies”, no one managed to solve the mystery of
this nonhuman intelligence– the Ocean remained silent, either
undesirous or incapable of contacting humans. People could only
give countless interpretations of the Solaris phenomenon or derive
highly subjective hypotheses and narratives, but that only led to
tensions and erce discussions between scholars, which nally
resulted in the dawn of Solaristics. is is the point in the history
of Solaris’ exploration, where the story begins. Along with the
male protagonist, psychologist Kris Kelvin, we land on aspace
station close to Solaris’ orbit just to discover that “mission Solaris”
has nally reached abreakthrough. e Ocean lied the veil on
its secrets and started to communicate with the crew. Still, this
glimmer of hope came with an exceptionally high price– pushing
one scientist to amysterious suicide and bringing two others to
the verge of mental breakdown. e second day aer his arrival,
Kelvin becomes another victim of Ocean’s “friendliness” and must
confront his pain, fear, and guilt in the shape of acreature that
resembles his long-gone past lover, Harey. Aer discovering that
he was not the only one visited by an unexpected “guest”, Kelvin,
together with annoying cybernetic Snaut and proud physicist
Sartorius, is trying to guess what exactly those “phantoms” are and
what their connection with the Ocean covering Solaris is. Asthe
novel develops, the original investigation of an alien life turns into
aquest for understanding the true nature of humanity. Itappears
129   …
that the replica of human beings created by the Ocean is sourced
from the deepest memories, innermost thoughts, and forgoen
ideas submerged in the scientists’ subconsciousness and mysteri-
ously extracted by the massive and inscrutable alien being. hile
encountering adierent, far more advanced form of life, humans
are being exposed to the most intimate and vulnerable side of their
souls and must face the pain hidden inside it. Dothe shadows
of their past haunt Kelvin, Snaut and Sartorius? Are they able to
confront the biggest unknown? Can they accept the limits of their
reason and see the Ocean in adierent, nonrational way? ose are
the crucial questions that Lem tries to answer in his one-of-a-kind
masterpiece novel, areal drama on the limits of human cognition.
Lem said, while referring to Solaris in his memories, that it is
one of his rst novels that he can still acknowledge without shame
because it “incorporates cognitive problems in ction that do not
oversimplify the world” [Lem ]. Indeed, Solaris is one of the
most deeply philosophical works wrien by Lem, atrue intellectual
puzzle without the usual  crutches which dives deep into the
social and ideological underpinnings of science. Nowonder that
many estern scholars soon tried to elaborate on its philosophical
and psychological meaning in connection to the achievements of
science. e rst thing that comes to mind is the question of the
limits of human knowledge and cognition. Can humans really
understand an alien form of life? Aswe browse through the chron-
icles of Solaris exploration, we can see all of those highly-trained
researchers continually trying and continually failing to gure out
something that is beyond the reach of their knowledge. Inthis
history of active denial, frustration, and confusion, Lem shows
what is essential and also misleading about the human eort in
contacting other civilizations: our hubris, limited imagination,
and steadfast subjectivity. Inthe light of that, these one hundred
years of exploration, which at rst sight may appear so tedious and
pedantic, are turned into ajoke– we cannot escape the Kantian
“bubble” of the phenomenal world in which we are living. Lem’s
intent here is comical– humans didn’t gain any knowledge about
the Ocean, but it did not stop them from creating an entire science
of Solaristics. e constant metamorphosis of plasma causing
130   
various temporary growths or distortions so carefully classied by
the scientists “seems to suggest that we observe akind of rational
activity. Still, the meaning of this seemingly rational activity of the
Solarian Ocean is beyond the reach of human beings” [Lem ].
e miracle of the Ocean’s essence escapes humans’ aempts at
dening and understanding it: the researchers can only use met-
aphors or other standard classications and concepts to describe
the unknowable. is aempt to anthropomorphize the alien
other” can only turn the whole human endeavor into meaningless
busywork, simple observation, and cataloguing species instead of
gathering real, objective and true knowledge about them. Inthe
end, the Ocean itself is molded and reduced to amisleading, overly
simplistic human conception. Nowonder it cannot be understood.
is is exactly what the rst victim of the Ocean, Gibarian, said:
“we take o to the cosmos … ready for anything: solitude, hard-
ship, exhaustion … death. e’re proud of ourselves. But when
you think about it, our enthusiasms asham. edon’t want other
worlds. eonly want mirrors” [Lem :]. Lem is not only
askeptic questioning science’s ability to solve the mysteries of the
universe, he is also acynic who ridicules cosmic researchers by
comparing them to medieval knights on aquest for the assertion
of human domination over new galactic civilizations. ey seek,
yet they do not see, because their anthropocentric eyes are closed
to everything which is not human, which cannot be described
using human language and cannot be understood by human mind.
And those are the epistemological borders which human beings
in their limited condition cannot transgress.
Aswe can see, the real obstacle standing in the way to solving
the “mystery of Solaris” is not the planet itself, but the people and
their problem with self-identity. is is another philosophical topic
that Lem ponders in his book. Above, we mentioned the uninching
subjectivity and lack of proper self-identity as the cause of humans’
inability to initiate contact with extraterrestrial life. Initial space
exploration turns into asearch for identity, where the scientic
gaze must be turned inward before turning it outward [Helford
:]. ecan see it in the change of Kelvin’s behavior– from
acondent and objective scientist to aman with adestabilized
131   …
self-condence, searching for anew idea of self-integrity. Solaris
provides Kelvin and other researchers with mirrors through which
their human mind is exposed and challenged. at is why it seems
to know more about humans than they know about themselves.
Snaut at some point realized it and said: “Itmight be worth our
while to stay. e’re unlikely to learn anything about it, but about
ourselves […]” [Lem :]. Asit was said before, space trave-
lers were searching for mirrors in which they could nd their own
image. And it happens that Solaris gave them precisely what they
needed. e Ocean makes people realize that they are fragmented,
complex beings who need to rst understand themselves before
trying to understand alien forms of life. Some researchers see in
Lem’s prose traces of Hegelianism [Helford : –]. How
the Ocean constructs the “phi-creatures” can make us wonder if
the self is asocially constituted concept. Ifbeing fully aware of
ourselves means that we need others to refer to ourselves through
them, this implies that only social relationships can determine us.
ithout them, we are no one because the way in which others see
us inuences our self-denition. For Hegel, selood could not be
determined in pure isolation; itcannot be reached through pure
Cartesian retrospection. emutually create each other. eneed
others to look at our inner selves, just like we need mirrors to see our
faces. Harey is aperfect example of Hegelian self-identity problem:
she is aconscious subject who struggles to know who she is and can
know about herself only through memories, opinions, experiences
of the real Harey derived from Kelvin’s mind. Harey’s idea of the
self belongs to Kelvin’s memory, therefore it is not her own. She
can remain the way she is only while being close to him; otherwise,
she starts to act unpredictably and dangerously. Even though we
can see that she aempts to break free from Kelvin’s conceptual
scheme by distancing herself from him. Isit possible? For Hegel, the
answer would be no– aquest for “being-for-itself ” as an opposite to
“being-for-other” is doomed to failure. ecan only achieve freedom
in the way of independent self-reection or realization of the fact
that there is no ultimate independence from others. is revelation
may inuence Harey’s nal decision– by destroying herself, she
thinks, she can reach the ultimate sense of freedom.
132   
Aside from those two topics, there are afew other directions
of scholarly analysis of the novel. Elyce Rae Helford, for example,
examines Solaris characters according to Jung’s psychoanalysis and
gender metaphorization of space travel [Helford : –].
Alice Jardine in Gynesis: Congurations of Woman and Modernity
uses theself-created concept of gynesis to show its implications
in the behavior of Solaris stations crew. Others try to solve the
mind–body problem raised in the novel– if Oceans act of cop-
ying one’s mind (memories, personality traits and, indeed, every
psychological feature of human beings) can mean that its creation
is actually areal human, same as the original? Ascan be shown,
the popularity of Solaris in the Anglophone  world sparked
the interest of scholars to investigate the philosophical topics
introduced in the book. Specialists in the elds of ontology, epis-
temology, moral philosophy, phenomenology, and historiosophy
found many stimulating themes to elaborate on, which helped the
 genre be seen in amore serious light– as another way to spark
the philosophical curiosity of the universe and human role in it.
is, however, has been described by people coming from aspecic
cultural background, commonly known as the estern one. But,
as soon as Lem’s book was translated to non-estern languages,
the Eurocentric reception and interpretation of the novel were put
in question, especially by its Sinophone readers.
3. Vicious circle of approval and censorship– turbulent history
of SF in the Sinophone world
For along time, the Anglophone writers and readers played the
main part in the historical scene of science ction. Today the
Aterm coined by Alice Jardin as part of her aempt to bring together certain
post-structuralist ideas with those of feminist criticism in her book Gynesis:
Congurations of Woman and Modernity (). Etymologically, it should mean
Hereaer, for authors from People’s Republic of China (China), his or her Chi-
nese names are wrien in the simplied characters (last name rst) and Roma-
nized using the Pinyin transliteration. For authors from the Republic of China
(Taiwan), his or her Chinese names are wrien in the traditional characters (last
133   …
genre is not limited to the Anglosphere anymore– it has become
agenuinely cosmopolitan type, thanks to the hard work of trans-
lators around the world. Still, English remains the lingua anca
of , and the writers from non-English-speaking countries need
to be at least translated into English if they want to make aname
for themselves in the community. Inthe rst and second part, we
already discussed the case of Lems popularity as dependent on
good-quality English translations. Before analyzing the reception
of Lem’s works in the Sinophone world, we should rst gain an
overall idea about  literature absorption and development in
China and Taiwan.
estern science ction (inChinese kexue huanxiang oen
abbreviated to kehuan)
appeared in China in the late years of the
ing dynasty– the rst novels translated into classical Chinese
were Jules Verne’s ATwo-Year Vacation (Liang ichao’s translation
from English), From the Earth to the Moon and Journey to the Centre
of the Earth (LuXun’s translation from Japanese). Atthat time, the
early estern  works served as atool to move the imagination
of Chinese people and initiate new ideas about the technological
progress of the Chinese society. Aer the collapse of the ing
dynasty, following the May th Movement in , the Chinese
language went through asignicant transformation. anks to the
growing popularity of wrien vernacular Chinese (baihuawen),
books and periodicals became more accessible and comprehensible
to common people, which tremendously inuenced the genre of
science ction. China’s earliest purely literary magazine– Story
Forest (Xiaoshuo lin) started translating and publishing estern
 as well as some stories wrien by the Chinese authors. Aer
name rst) and Romanized using the Wide-Giles transliteration. e same rule
applies to publishing houses. Citations made by the blog authors are Romanized
using the Pinyin transliteration.
 “InChinese, as in many other languages, «science ction» is translated into
aterm more closely equivalent to «science fantasy», which seems to many of
its hearers to be oxymoronic and inherently pejorative” [Stableford :].
 Unfortunately, the scope of this paper does not include the story of domestic
Chinese or Taiwanese science ction. e author can only refer to the few Chi-
nese and Taiwanese  writers most popular in the West.
134   
the establishment of the People’s Republic of China,  literature
from the Soviet block became virtually the only one available in
mainland China, and it gained ahuge popularity among Chinese
readers. Itwas also the time when “the father of Chinese science-c-
tion” Zheng enguang started his literary career. During the years
of the Cultural Revolution (–), literature was labeled
adangerous weapon of the bourgeois and intellectuals, hence
science ction disappeared for over ten years. In, following
the spirit of the “spring of science” proclaimed by the State Coun-
cil, the magazine Scientic Literature (Kexue Wenyi) was founded
and began to publish translated and original pieces of  novels.
Science ction regained its popularity, and apart from the years
–, when the genre was labeled as “spiritual pollution” and
prohibited for political reasons, it grew only stronger with time.
In Scientic Literature changed its name to Science Fiction
World (Kehuan Shijie), and by the mid-s, it reached apeak
circulation of about , [Kun ]. Atthe time, China not
only had adeep understanding of foreign science ction novels
but also gave rise to its own stars, like Liu Cixin, Han Song, ang
Jinkang, Xing He, ian Lifang and HeXi. 
InTaiwan, aer the island was ceded to the Republic of China
in  and came under the rule of the Kuomintang party, in order
to reduce the inuence of Japanese culture among the masses, the
government pursued apolicy of sinication. is contributed to the
rapid development of Chinese-language literature, among which
science ction played an important role. Itis widely accepted that
the rst Taiwanese  story was Chang Hsiao-Feng’s  novel
Pandora. is short story inuenced the works of Huang Hai or
Chang Shi-Kuo, the two most recognized literary  writers until
. Since the late s, popular science or futurology magazines
(like Tomorrow’s World, e Cosmic Science, Youth Science) were
sprouting, promoting local writings and western  introductions.
Atthat time, translated works (mostly western  retranslated
 Readers especially interested in the development of contemporary Chinese
science ction can browse Ken Liu’s anthology Broken Stars: Contemporary Chi-
nese Science Fiction in Translation.
135   …
from Japanese) were far more inuential than the Taiwanese 
stories due to their availability and lack of proper copyright law and
despite the low quality of their translation. e most well-known
estern writers were Isaac Asimov, Philip K.Dick, and Arthur
C.Clarke. Others couldn’t break through the language barrier,
biases or simply lack of information and poor introduction made
by local promoters of the genre. e years  to  are gener-
ally approved to be called a“golden age of Taiwanese ” [ong
:], when new local writers, like Lin Yao-de gained popularity.
e translation boom, on the other hand, was slowly fading– aside
from the reprinted versions of the classics like Mary Shelley’s
Frankenstein or Verne’s novels, only afew new authors such as
Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. ells, and Aldous Huxley were
introduced to the Taiwanese readers. Inthe mid-s science ction
literature fell into decline mostly because of the lack of support
from its readers. Asfor translated works in this period, both Kurt
Vonnegut Jr.’s and Michael Crichton’s complete works were adapted
for the Taiwanese audience, but they sold very poorly, mostly due
to the lack of media exposure. Atthe beginning of the twenty-rst
century,  development in Taiwan entered anew period, slowly
reclaiming its former popularity. e Internet has become awide
scene for aboom of young, amateur authors writing new, mixed
 subgenres. Nevertheless, the tastes of the readers were and still
are directed by apopular-science scholar and  genre leader in
Taiwan, Yeh Li-Hua. hen it comes to estern  selection, Yeh
was astrong advocate of the work by Ray Bradbury or Robert
A.Heinlein (especially his young adult science ction novels).
Other translations until this day are still very rare, usually because
of nancial misunderstandings between publishers and translators.
Today, due to the rising popularity of local authors, foreign
science ction in China and Taiwan is experiencing asmall setback.
Translated science ction books do not sell very well, not only
because of their limited quantity, but also because of low marketing
aention and questionable translation quality. Nevertheless, there
are still various editions of earlier classics available in Chinese,
including books by Jules Gabriel Verne, H. G. ells, Edwin Abbo,
Neal Stephenson, Cordwainer Smith, Isaac Asimov, A.Heinlein,
136   
Philip K.Dick, GeorgeR. R. Martin, UrsulaK.LeGuin or Kurt
VonnegutJr. Recent science ction bestsellers such as Suzanne
Collins’s eHunger Games, Richard K.Morgan’s Altered Carbon,
Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, Andy eir’s e Martian, Je
Vandermeer’s Annihilation, etc. are also present and selling quite
well, probably because people connect them with their popular
Hollywood movie adaptations. Young adult science ction adven
ture novels gained quite an audience– in the bookstores, we can
nd works wrien by Veronica Roth, Patrick Ness, Alexandra
Bracken, Neal Shusterman or illiam Gibson [Bokelai ].
Generally, the most popular and oen-read authors in China and
Taiwan are Robert A.Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimow, Philip
K.Dick, Ursula K.LeGuin, Ted Chiang, David Mitchell, Kurt
Vonnegut Jr., Anthony Burgess, Hugh Howey, Dan Simmons and
Paolo Bacigalupi [Danjialin ].
Aswe can see, all the mentioned authors are American. ere
are only afew British writers like Neil Gaiman, James P.Hogan
or Mark Hodder who are recognizable among Sinophone read-
ers. Still, science ction from non-English-speaking countries is
areal rarity on the Chinese-speaking market– we can nd only
single, selectively translated books by German Frank Schätzing
(e Swarm), Canadian Mahew Mather (Cyberstorm), Russian
Sergey Lukyanenko (e Genome) or French Yannick Monget
(Gaïa). Luckily, Stanisław Lem has not been le behind, and two
titles from his oeuvre: Solaris and APerfect Vacuum, are available
in the Chinese language.
4. e Ocean as an ultimate reality– Chinese translations and
the reception of Solaris in the Sinophone world
Stanisław Lem, known as Sitanisiwafu Laimu (mainland China)
or Shitannisilao Laimu (Taiwan), was introduced to the Chinese
readers in  when the rst translation of Solaris (Suolalisi Xing)
appeared in the bookstores. Itwas published by Sichuan Science
Technology Publishing House (Sichuan Keji Chubanshe) together
with Gene Brewer’s novel K-Pax (K xingyike) as part of the series
dedicated to “orld Science Fiction Masters” (Shijie Kehuan
137   …
Dashi Congshu). Although Lem’s debut in the People’s Republic
of China was the Chinese version of the infamous English trans-
lation, not long aer, in , the prestigious Commercial Press
(Shangwu Yinshuguan) published acompetitive translation, from
the German edition of Solaris (Suolalisi Xing). ecan easily guess
that the rst version appeared just aer Soderberghs movie release,
using its popularity. But the emergence of the other translation of
the not so famous non-English novel, made in such ashort time
and by amajor publishing company, is quite astonishing. Asif
that wasn’t enough, ve years later, athird version, in traditional
Chinese characters, appeared under the name Suolalisi Xing pub-
lished by the Taiwanese Muses Publishing House (Miusi Chu-
ban Youxian Gongsi). is time, the book was translated from the
original by the renowned professor from Beijing Foreign Studies
University (Beijing Waiguoyu Daxue) Zhao Gang. In, Zhao
Gang’s translation was republished in simplied Chinese by China’s
mainland Huacheng Publishing House (Huacheng Chubanshe),
under the same title. Perplexed by this situation, one of Chinese
readers recently made aprofound comparative analysis of those
three versions and posted it on Douban Dushu (Douban reading
books), one of the leading book markets on the Chinese Internet
[ei ]. Inhis opinion, the reason that the second version
appeared is that the rst edition was pirated. But still, the second
translation was commissioned by apublishing house which only
very rarely releases science ction books– sadly, this question
remains unsolved. Later on, the author tries to compare all three
editions in dierent categories: book cover project, printing style,
readability, and nally, the quality of translation. Inhis ultimate
verdict, the newest version translated directly from Polish is the
best one, although the translator sometimes could not avoid falling
into the trap of being too precise, giving up the rich literary avor
which the Chinese language has to oer. Insome parts, the rst
edition, wrien in accordance with the English translation of the
book, can be much more appealing to the reader, even if it is not
adirect match with Lem’s original novel.
Chinese readers have been exposed to the most famous novel
wrien by the “Polish science ction king” through two important
138   
channels: cinema and literature. Inmost cases, it was either Tark-
ovsky’s or Soderbergh’s adaptation that made  fans in mainland
China and Taiwan familiar with Solaris. Even if both pictures failed
to reect the deep philosophical meaning of the book or didn’t
show all the examples of the confrontation between science and
human nature wrapped in Lem’s unique cynical sense of humor,
they were an important window to Lem’s popularity in the Sino-
phone world. ey helped anew group of readers acknowledge
that Lem was, at some point, the most popular  writer outside
the Anglophone world and his impact on the development of the
genre was of great importance. Inashort article included in the 
and  versions of the book, an established scholar from National
Tsinghua University Liu Ruey-Hua agreed that alm adaptation of
anovel is always atwo-edged sword: “without the [Soderbergh’s]
movie, maybe only afew people would know about Lem’s novel;
having seen the movie, it is possibly even harder to have acomplete
picture of the book. is view is especially important when we
think about the ending of the novel: “Lem’s book oers us acon-
clusion without aclimax, and both adaptations by abandoning
this idea lose the reective value which was present in the original
Nevertheless, Liu still tries to nd aspace in which the two
movies and the novel can interact and complement each other to
help the readers understand the essential parts of the whole story.
For example, the movies can oer us amore developed picture of
the characters and solve the riddle behind their way of thinking
and behavior, which is the key to Chinese readers’ understanding
of the typical estern style of thinking about subjectivity.
Onthe Chinese and Taiwanese Internet, we can nd several
opinions on Lem’s novel and its adaptations wrien by  fans
in the form of ablog post. e majority of them rst saw one of
two movies (like coolchet [Coolchet ], Imagination Abyss
 Translated from the original statement: “Meiyou dianying de paishe, Lem de xia-
oshuokeneng hen shao ren hui zhidao, you le dianying, que keneng geng nan zhidao
xiaoshuo de quan mao”[Liu :].
 Translated from the original statement: “Lem de xiaoshuo zhong de feichang chaoshi
de jieju– keneng gaibian que sangshi le yuanzuo de liu gei duzhe sikao de yuwei.” [Liu
139   
[]), but there were at least two (Yang Yu-Chi [Yang ] and
Elish []) who started with the novel. All of them agree that
the movies do not give truth to the real story created by Lem, but
they can assist in understanding some of the complexities present
in the book. Coolchet and Elish appreciated the artistic value of
Tarkovsky’s picture (seeing it as aresponse to Kubrick’s Space
Odyssey ) and Yau, being himself afan of Avatar, respected
Camerons creative oversight in the production of Solaris. But even
if both lms are quite impressive by themselves, in comparison to
the book they look very poor. Imagination Abyss says that Soder-
bergh’s movie gives a“shallow outcome” and Yang Yu-Chi vents
his frustration more directly by saying that “aer watching this
movie Ijust wanted to roll over on the ground: this is not Solaris! …
Once again Iwitnessed the irreplaceability of novels” [Yang ].
Aside from acomparison with lm adaptations, what do the
blog writers discuss in their book reviews? Let’s start with their
rst impression while reading the book. Here, many readers share
the view expressed by Shane, in which he is surprised by the thrill-
er-like character of the book, where: “you are not prepared to be
scared out of your wits, but the tense atmosphere soaks gradually
into your consciousness, making you feel insecure or even nau-
seous. e overall lack of optimism about humans’ future in
ascientically advanced world so visible in Lem’s narrative can add
to the frightening experience, which normally does not happen in
books of this genre. at brings us to another topic discussed by
Sinophone readers– the contrast between the limitless universe
and the limited power of human cognition. Even though we know
that complete knowledge of the cosmos will always and forever be
beyond our reach, we still strive to push the limits of our cogni-
tion. is is the complicated human nature represented by Lem’s
characters and recognized by Chinese and Taiwanese readers. at
is why Danjialin, for example, agrees with Lem that it would be
too optimistic to believe that within our limited power, we can
 Translated from the original statement: “Bushi suishi zhunbei rang ren he podan
de yunniang, er shi zhijie yi lu qianfu zai yishi li, rang ren da cong xindi gandao bu
shufu, shenzhi zuo ou.” [Shane ].
140   
communicate with alien beings, even in the future, even with the
support of highly advanced technology [Danjialin ]. Coolchat
believes that as long as we are using our perspective only, we won’t
be able to explore other worlds [Coolchet ].
Human nature is atopic very familiar to Chinese literature
and philosophy, which is why so many bloggers were interested
in the concept of “phantoms” as humans-not-humans. Danjialin
observes that the beings created by the Ocean are just like originals
and can do nothing more than act as the originals [Danjialin ].
Hewonders if the Phi-creatures are personications of thoughts,
memories, and feelings; ofeverything which makes us the way we
are, yet still they cannot be called “humans”, then what does it mean
to be “human”? Coolchat tries to nd an answer to this question
by saying that maybe Harey has become areal human when, out
of love, she decided to sacrice herself for Kelvins sake?
Although the mystery of the Phi-creatures is what sparks the
interests of and opens debates between reviewers online, many see
the real beauty of the book in another original idea– the study of
Solaristics. Elish admits that readers used to adventurous  novels
and focused mostly on the plot of the story would be disappointed
with long and monotonous descriptions of historical explorations.
is part can be “dry” in his opinion, but “this dryness comes not
from the bad style of writing, but it serves as asmokescreen, to
lead to an epiphany about the main theme of the book, and in this,
the interminable beauty of [Lem’s] work can be captured. For
Danjialin, Lem is atrue erudite: the parts describing the history
of Solaris mission can speak to the hearts of hard  fans, but his
mastermind shows in the ostracised element of the scholarship–
the Apocrypha [Danjialin ]. ose unocial, underexplained,
and overlooked phenomena described by the researchers are the
most valuable, the most important discovery in the whole study
because they present achallenge to human reason and show why
the entire exploration went in the wrong direction. AsJacky puts it,
 Translated from the original statement: “Zhe zhong gan bing bu shi yinwei xie de
buhao, er gai shuo jiu shi yao zhe yang cai neng duiqi chu xiaoshuo zuihou de poti yu
wujin de mei.” [Elish ].
141   …
“Facing this planet, facing this mystery, facing those «fake» loved
ones, facing all this science in decline, we can only feel heavy, we
can only feel empty.
Overall, the bloggers summarize their reading experience as
positive, although it came with asad and heavy load (Danjialin).
Some admit that the whole book presents achallenge to  readers,
spoiled by the light, adventurous space novels, where science and
technology are just acolorful addition (Coolchat). But even if not
built for the philosophical depths of this work, they still enjoyed
reading it and wanted to share their opinion. Shane [] calls
Lem the most signicant  author in history. Imagination Abyss
says that “Solaris gave her an intense reading experience which
lead to ashocking journey into the deepest part of her soul” and
for that, Lem should be awarded aNobel Prize.
Aside from personal blogs, there is atop-rated channel on
YouTube called Huanhai Hangxing
(loosely translated as Journey
rough the Fantasy Sea), which has been, since the beginning of
, providing its viewers with analysis and interpretation of dif-
ferent  works. Two ten-minute episodes published on January
and 
,  are dedicated to Lem’s Solaris, and both are titled
Another way to interpret life in the Universe (Dui Yuzhou Shengming
de Ling YiZhong Jiedu). e rst video has reached ahigh viewing
gure of ,; more than , users have viewed the second
. Inboth parts, the narrator tells the story in line with the book
but from the third-person perspective, adding apersonal interpre-
tation of the plot. Inthe background, there are scenes from the 
movie and some random cuts from other  lms. Each episode
ends with afriendly suggestion that it will be more entertaining if
the viewers read the book rather than just watch the explanation
 Translated from the original statement: “Miandui zhe zhe ge xingqiu, miandui
zhe zhe ge mituan, miandui zhe zhe ge jiaqinren, miandui zhe moluo de kexue, zhide
chenzhong, zhide kongxu.”[ Jacky ].
 Translated from the original statement: “Suolali xing wei wo dailai le yi ci hen
shenke de yuedu tiyan, yi ci feichang zhenhan de zixing zhilü.” [Imagination Abyss
 Huanhai Hangxin– science ction (n.d.) Home [YouTube Channel] hps://mhry
 Retrieved on ...
142   
given in this short video. Browsing through the comments section
below each episode, we can discover many dierent opinions about
Lem’s novel. Some may nd the plot boring and won’t recommend
it for future reading. Others admit that Lem was agenius who
went further than just scratching the surface of the genre. Hence
they believe that Solaris is amust-read classic. ecan also nd
several people discussing dierences between the book and two
lm adaptations. Still, the most interesting comments are those in
which the viewers reveal their reections on the message conveyed
by the story. e user Distant Moon (Yue Zai Yua n) is convinced
that the “original spirit” or soul must be eternal [Distant ].
Ameizi from Hot Springs Village (Wenquancun Ameizi) believes
that the future direction of science is mysticism [Hot Springs Vil-
lage ]. Aer seeing both parts, the user goahis points out that
when we encounter aquestion to which science cannot nd any
answers, we need to turn our faces to philosophy [Goahis ].
Heis fascinated by the Ocean, this god-like, powerful, and silent
creature, whose knowledge cannot be measured by any human
standards. Itdoes not want to establish any contact with humans
because it already knows everything about them. Goahis sees in
the Ocean aperfect state of cosmic harmony, something which
in Chinese philosophy has been called a“unity between Heaven
and Man” (tian ren heyi), astate in which any words, descriptions,
and concepts are futile, acondition in which one can only remain
silent. Haifeng Liu agrees with this opinion and makes another ref-
erence to the traditional Chinese way of thinking– the concept of
the “Dao of Heaven” (Tiandao) introduced in the Book of Changes
(Yijing). Itis interesting to see how Sinophone  fans approach
Lem’s Ocean: from their perspective, it is no dierent than the idea
of the Cosmic Dao, coming from their original philosophical line
of thought– Daoism. hile being ultimate and absolute, Dao can
never be experienced by our senses and can never be expressed
in our language. Its description can only be used as ametaphor
for what is forever unknowable and ineable. Dao giving birth to
all things under Heaven is pure creation itself, it constitutes one
 One of the oldest Chinese classics, amystical divination text, believed to have
the answers to every question in the universe.
143  …
ow of continuity that will never cease to exist. Itexceeds our
imagination, seems to be unreachable, yet it is fundamental to our
existence. Itis omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. Given
the description above, no wonder that the main object of scientic
investigation in the novel appears to be another metaphor of the
ancient Chinese idea of the ultimate reality.
ehave already seen that for abook wrien by anon-An-
glophone writer, Solaris, to some extent, became atrendy novel
among science ction fans in China and Taiwan. Even if the novel
stands out from the majority of works typical of the genre, and
even if it was wrien by an author coming from adierent cultural
background, this highly scientic story with its psychological and
philosophical depths did win the hearts of Sinophone readers. is
positive reception given by the  community sparked interest of
many scholars dealing mostly with world literature studies and
inspired them to write articles about Lem’s insightful narrative
style. One of them– ashort review by Liu Ruey-Hua included
in the recent translation of the book was already mentioned at
the beginning of this section. Together with abrief comparison
between the original story and its adaptation, Liu shares his reec-
tions on the nature of communication and mutual understanding
coming with it. For him, the main characters in the book are not
trying to communicate with an alien being from another planet
but with the “unfamiliar” hidden in their subconsciousness. is
makes us ponder: what does it actually mean for us to be human?
For Liu, Solaris can help us understand the nature of this question
and show adirection of our search for an answer:
hat is Solaris? Maybe it is something that you had lost along
time ago. Maybe it is something you have been longing for for
along time. Maybe you have no idea what it is that you desire,
and Solaris is the place in which you can nd it. Everyone
should have their own Solaris. ealso want to know where
exactly this Solaris is, but the biggest question is, if one day
you nd it, what will you do next?
 Translated from the original statement: “Solaris shi shenme? Keneng ni cengjing
shiqu de. Keneng ni bing bu zhidao ziji xiangwang shenme, que zai Solaris shang keyi
144   
e rst edition of the book, translated from English, has been
reviewed by another notable expert– Yan u, aChinese science
ction scholar and professor at Beijing Normal University. Yan
believes that the primary purpose of science ction literature is
not to show us the innite possibilities of science or predict our
future but to bring us into astate of wonder, to help us create aphil
osophical sphere in our lives, where we can think from dierent
perspectives about our life just right now.
And this is precisely the
purpose that Solaris fullls. Yan uappreciates Lem’s profound
thinking and his characteristic Eastern European humor with satir-
ical content. Hends it impressive how, by combining dierent
literary forms (scientic treatise, medical research report, folk story,
myth or fairy tale), the Polish author can not only vividly describe
humorous and sometimes absurd situations but also deeply reect
on the meaning of our lives. Nowonder that Stanisław Lem has
been called Borges of the Space Age.
Following so many positive opinions on Lem’s masterpiece,
several academics from mainland China wrote articles in which
they analyze the main themes of Solaris against theories and con-
cepts popular in literature and philosophy. ang Ruirui, for exam-
ple, believes that Solaris introduces an important posthumanist
aspect [ang :]. Inlight of this revelation, we need to
criticize human nature and redene it so that we can nally let go
of our anthropocentric worldview. Heargues that Lem is humor-
ously blaming aone-sided human perspective, our urge to create
denitions and norms applicable to everything under the sun. e
belief in causality, in binary distinctions in ethics, falls apart when
zhaodao. Mei ge ren yinggai dou you ziji de Solaris, women ye xu hen xiang zhidao
zhe ge Solaris zai nali, zhenzheng de nanti shi, ruguo you yi tian ni nadao le Solaris,
ni zenme ban?”[Liu :].
 Translated from the original statement: “Zhuyao gongneng shi ta de xiangxing,
shi ta tigong gei renmen dui xianshi jinxing duo jiaodu fansi de zhexue kongjian.”,
published as an opinion aached to Stanislaw Lem’s [:] Solaris (Suolali
 e so-called “Space Age” is generally considered to have begun in , with
the launch of the rst satellite Sputnik  into space, and continues till the present
day. Itis an era that encompasses out-of-Earth exploration, space technology, the
space race, and any cultural development inuenced by these events.
145   …
humans encounter abeing which is thinking and acting following
dierent, if any, criteria. is makes the Ocean and the “guests”
something which can be called “Totally Other” (wanquan tazhe),
aposthumanist object that exceeds our belief in humanism and
escapes the familiar dichotomy of good and evil, right and wrong
[ang :]. Byencountering adierent form of life, to
which none of the norms created by humans can apply, we can
nally reect on the nature of morality. is reection can lead
to areal “ethical turn” (lunli zhuanxing), making space for anew,
nonhuman-centered, code of conduct where the agent is no longer
only ahuman being. is “ethical turn” is achange that the pro-
tagonist of the novel experiences himself. Aer afutile aempt to
understand the nature of Solaris with the use of the “knowledge”
gathered in Solaristic archives or by various experiments made
on its creations, Kelvin changes his subjective mode of cognition
into anonhuman form of understanding. For ang Ruirui, Lem’s
example of anew cognitive state is very similar to Rosi Braidoi’s
idea of “nomadic subjectivity.
Another scholar, Chen Dan, tried to prove that Lem’s skep-
ticism towards the anthropocentric nature of human cognition
can deconstruct autopian imagination typical of the science c-
tion genre. Employing aliterary strategy called by Chen “double
inscription”, Lem turns the limitations of the utopian ideal into
an allegory and criticizes its merits. According to Chen, dierent
lines of the narrative– one describing the one hundred years of
Solaristic exploration, one building an atmosphere of an action
thriller, and one telling aromantic love story– which are frequently
interchangeable in the book, create an overall satirical eect in
which the human concept of utopia becomes alaughable fantasy.
Everything can be brought down to abinary opposition between
the human “self ” (subject) and alien “other” (object). is antago-
nism is the cause of all the paradoxes present in the book: rational
science versus irrational object of science, imperfect human beings
versus phantoms created from cherished human memories, our
 Readers interested in this topic can check Braidoi’s Nomadic eory. e Portable
Rosi Braidoi [Braidoi ].
146   
need to express everything through language versus phenomena
always escaping our cognition, thus naming, abilities, etc. [Chen
:]. Knowledge, language, reason, imagination, ethical
norms– everything that humans see as universal becomes empty
concepts when exposed to an object which itself is something above
our idea of objectivity. Chen believes that Lem could agree with
Jacques Lacan’s theory of asplit subject [Chen :]. Inthis
case, the only possible way for humans to initiate real communica-
tion with the alien “other” is to abandon the subject-object dichot-
omy. But whether it can be done, and how, is adierent question.
5. Afar ahead mind in afar away world–
Stanisław Lem, an astonishingly well-read physician with acurious
mind naturally drawn to science and philosophy, was and still is
the only internationally acclaimed Polish-language science ction
novelist. Atthe peak of his popularity (end of the s and early
s), Lem was the most widely read non-English-language 
writer, and until today, een years aer his death, he is still con-
sidered atrue master of the genre. is Polish  king remains an
author who can, in an interesting way and by the use of an original
literary form, transmit to us an essential message about life, human-
kind, and the world we create. Rather than storyline reworks, he
put his trust into the reective ability of the reader. e topics
that he was raising more than forty years ago in his books have
become increasingly current today, not only because many of his
visions of the future, like scientic development or our addiction
to technology, became real in the present time. Lem’s books are
realistic also because they touch on the ontological, epistemolog-
ical, phenomenological, and ethical problems that we need to face
here and now in this highly-advanced, globalized, and complicated
world. And when it comes to the deep, insightful, philosophical,
and still up-to-date novel, there is no beer example than Lem’s
best and most important work– Solaris.
ehave already seen that this short story about seeking contact
with the massive and inscrutable alien being has captivated the
147   …
hearts and minds of science ction fans around the world. Andrey
Tarkovsky’s and Steven Soderbergh’s lm adaptations certainly
contributed to Solaris’ global success and popularized this story
among readers of dierent ages, genders, cultures, and beliefs. e
book’s reputation grew even stronger with the support of estern
scholars of literature and philosophy, who tried to elaborate on
Solaris’ philosophical and psychological meaning in connection
to the achievements of future science. Academics have analyzed
the book in the spirit of anumber of theories and conceptions like
limits of human knowledge; questions about human nature and
ability of our cognition, the connection between mind and body;
search for self-identity; roles implied by the society and norms
which we agreed to follow and universalize, etc. Some aempted to
involve comparative studies by recalling arguments and concepts
dened by famous philosophers and thinkers like Descartes, Hegel,
Foucault, or Freud. Solaris denitely was and still is astory worth
reading, reecting, discussing, and sharing.
Inthe est, Lem’s fame spread very fast, especially given the
time of geopolitical tensions between the Soviet Union and the
United States. Inthe East, however, the Polish writer was unknown
for along time. hen we look at the history of science ction in
China and later in Taiwan, we can beer understand why it was so.
Political nuances and rivalry, censorship, dierent cultural back-
ground, and the language barrier were important causes of selective
accessibility of estern  works in the Sinophone world. Inthe
beginning, only the “cream” of Anglophone writers received the
honor of having their works materialized in the Chinese language.
Later, with the end of the twentieth century, this group was joined
by new authors, less and more popular, usually following the tastes
of renowned science ction scholars or political leaders. Still, books
wrien by non-English-speakers were ararity. Nowonder that
aer , the appearance of three dierent translations of Solaris
evoked curiosity among Chinese readers. Many started to ponder
why anon-Anglophone author received such ahuge aention
from various publishing houses, why three dierent translators
were striving to capture the spirit of this novel and present it to the
Chinese audience. Due to this phenomenon, the interest in Lem’s
148   
book increased, bookworms from China and Taiwan, aer reading
the story, started to write opinions on their blogs, create videos
on YouTube channels or even publish serious articles in academic
journals. Most of them wanted to share their reading experience
or re-tell the story, some started to ask philosophical questions
and analyze the hidden meanings of the book. All those authors
became, in away, Solarists– they were exposed to something
that they didn’t encounter before, anew version of an  novel so
dierent from the pulp escapism entertainment assigned to this
genre without mentioning the foreign philosophical depth of the
story wrien from aestern mind’s perspective. Many found it
hard to read, more could not bring together the indescribable
mystery hidden between the lines. Still, they tried to understand it
the best way they could by recalling topics present in the estern
studies on literature and philosophy– the problem of cognition,
the value of the human soul, anthropocentrism, and the search
for autopian society.
Examples of reections and investigations by Sinophone read-
ers used in this paper are just the beginning. Browsing through all
those sincere opinions and insightful studies, it is easy to notice
that the story of the human encounter with amysterious Ocean
and its creations strikes achord with some ideas coming from tra-
ditional Chinese philosophy, especially works wrien by Laozi and
Zhuangzi in the spirit of the Daoist philosophy. Itwould be more
than interesting to witness acomparative study between Lem’s
philosophical insight presented in Solaris and Laozi’s teaching
without words (bu yan zhi dao) or Zhuangzi’s “usefulness of the
useless” (wu yong zhi yong); “spontaneous change” (zi fa zhi bianyi)
as aay in which the universe and myriad things exist; the “ethics
of aunement” with the natural course of things (shun qi ziran zhi
lunlixue); the idea of “eortless action” (wuwei); the equality of
all forms of life (tianli zhi pingdeng), etc. Because … weren’t the
human conventions and methods of linguistic communication
unable to grasp, describe, and understand the existence of the
Ocean? Isn’t it true that, while facing the unknown, indescribable
and unexplainable, one must simply surrender to it, accept it and
enjoy what follows without interfering with it, without trying to
149   …
force it to make sense? Doesn’t the encounter with Solaris guide
us on how to be humble, compassionate, understanding, tolerant,
and exible in our perspectives, beliefs and convictions? Doesn’t
it teach us how to be good in our unique, dierentiated world?
Insight from the Chinese philosophy can expand our estern ideas
of “knowledge” and “human limits” and possibly give answers to
questions which we couldn’t reach with our one-sided estern
ese and many other comparative approaches can become
anew way to appreciate well-wrien works of science ction, like
Solaris. e author hopes that in the future, there will be more
people eager to familiarize themselves with Lem’s literary work,
which would meet with ademand for more rst-hand transla-
tions. Stanisław Lem was popular, is popular and will be popular.
His books are timeless masterpieces of science ction literature
and deserve to be discovered by everyone who likes to read and
ponder the nature of our humanness put to the test in the age of
scientic wonders. is year, we celebrate the 
anniversary of
Lem’s birth. is would be an excellent opportunity to see some
of those wishes become areality.
Imagination Abyss (), Suolali Xing (Solaris), [retrieved on:
..], hps://nfdz.
Bokelai (, August ), Oumei kehuan / qihuan xiaoshuo [Euro-
American science ction/fantasy novels], hps://
Braidoi Rosi (), Nomadic eory. e Portable Rosi
Braidoi,Columbia University Press, Columbia.
Chen Dan (), Wutuobang Xiangxiang De Jiegou: Suolalisi Xing Yuyan
Ji ita [Deconstructing Utopian Imagination: e Allegory of Solaris
and Others], „enyi Lilun Yanjiu” [„Literature and Art eory
Studies”], vol., pp. -.
Coolchet (Kucha) (), Suolalisi/ Feixiang Taikong (Suolali
xing, Solaris) kehuan xiaoshuo ji dianying tan [Solaris/
Solaris (Solaris)– talk about science ction novel and lm],
hps://nmk, retrieved on ...
150   
Danjialin (), „Suolali Xing” (Solaris, ) by Stanislaw Lem,
Elish (), Suolali Xing [Solaris], [retrieved on: ..],
Flood Alison (), First ever direct English translation of Solaris
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152   
Zoa Anna ybieralska
Solaris and the Dao: e Reception of Stanislaw Lem’s Novel
intheSinophone World
e most popular science ction novel wrien by the Polish author
Stanisław Lem, Solaris, was published in . Although it was translated
into English as early as , the book was unknown to the Sinophone
readers until , when the rst translation from English into Chinese
was published, most probably following the popularity of the resounding
Hollywood lm adaptation from . Still, Suolalisi Xing (which can be
translated as ‘Solaris Star’) did not aract broader audiences in China or
Taiwan, at least not until the third version of the novel, translated directly
from Polish into Chinese, saw the light of day in . e appearance of this
translation coincided with the beginning of aNew Golden Era of Chinese
and Taiwanese science ction, which undoubtedly had asignicant inu-
ence on the positive re-reception of Solaris. Inthe paper, the author focuses
on the philosophical aspect of Lem’s work and investigates which themes
and concepts present in Solaris caught the imagination of Chinese-speak-
ing readers. e author wants to show how this reception, while coming
from adierent historical, cultural, and linguistic background, can enrich
our understanding of the novel and introduce anew way of looking at the
important existential questions stated by the writer.
Keywords: Stanisław Lem; science ction; Sinophone world; anthropo-
Zoa Anna Wybieralska– currently athird year Ph. D. student of the Phi-
losophy department at the National Chengchi University in Taipei, Taiwan.
She received an M. A. at Beijing Normal University in  in Chinese Phi-
losophy. Her research interests include Chinese and transcultural philosophy,
especially in the sphere of ethics, religion, and everyday practice. Additionally,
she is also working as aChinese–Polish and Polish–Chinese translator and
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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