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There is a recent trend to portray China as the future's next dominating superpower / rulers of the world or other things among these lines. They have been in the news in the last couple of years, with a rising economy and population but I believe the trend is older than this.

The oldest book that I can remember mentioning this idea is Philip Jose Farmer's Dayworld (1985) but does anyone know when did this trend started to appear in sci-fi books and what was the first sci-fi book to depict or hint at a future dominated by China?

[edit]Like John O mentioned in a comment, China was already a superpower since a couple of decades ago and there are old books describing it as a superpower but not the superpower.

For example, in Dayworld, China is not one of the superpowers of the world, but the superpower that conquered and unified the Earth

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    Any book from China in the last 3000 years? :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 8 '12 at 11:54
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    It's not earlier, but if you want an excellent example of this trope you could do worse than David Wingrove's excellent Chung Kuo series. – Daniel Roseman Oct 8 '12 at 12:23
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    Ugh, people. China was a nuclear power in 1964. That makes you a defacto superpower. Even prior to that, having seen what state communism enabled the Soviet Union to do, it's hardly a daring prediction to say that China would be capable of the same eventually... so anyone predicting superpower status post-1945 is just stating the obvious. – John O Oct 8 '12 at 12:54
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    Not really. For example, the Dune series presented a rather European future, with arabic elements on Arakis. Other series presented an american / english dominated future. Lately however I've seen cases of a future where China is the superpower of the world, with chinese the global language – BBog Oct 8 '12 at 13:27
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    Are we ignoring the fact that Napoleon Bonaparte said (in 1806) "Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world"? – Valorum Jan 14 '14 at 20:29
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Stapledon, O. "Last and First Men: A Story of the Near and Far Future". — London: Methuen, 1930

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_and_First_Men

First Men. (Chapters 1–6) Our own species: the rivalry of America and China ...

  • I'll probably accept this in a couple of days. Very interesting answers so far, I discovered some really neat books this way and I'm genuinely interested in books about a chinese future (I'm not a supporter, but I like the different approach taken by the authors) – BBog Oct 8 '12 at 19:42
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The earliest depiction of China as a superpower, that I know of, was Philip Francis Nowlan's "Armageddon 2419 A.D." (1928), and its sequel "The Airlords of Han" (1929). (These were later combined into a single novel under the title "Armageddon 2419 A.D." and were the basis for all the Buck Rogers stories.) Although Nowlan refers to the "Mongolians" it is clear he means China and the Chinese (hence the "Han"). The basic storyline is that, first, Europe declared war on the U.S. The U.S. won the war, but was economically devastated. Then the Soviets and Chinese joined forces to conquer Europe, after which the Chinese turned on and defeated the Soviets. Soon thereafter, they took over the U.S. using their air ships powered by some form of anti-gravity drive. Then, of course, the steely-jawed American patriots pulled themselves together ... (hey, it's pulp!)

It should be noted that the book is riddled with uncomplimentary stereotypes, common at the time but repugnant today.

Earlier writers who "warned" against the potential power of China included M.P. Shiel, particularly in his novels "The Yellow Danger (1898) and "The Yellow Wave" (1906).

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Philip K Dick regularly included China as a superpower in his novels and short stories (along with other stranger national entities). His worlds are often set in very different world political environments, but usually as a backdrop to the story rather than playing an important role.

Springing to mind is his 1963 Novel "The Game Players of Titan" set in a future world where much of the population are sterile due to the use of a satellite based radiation weapon by "Red China". Also in his 1964 novel "The Simulacra" the People's Republic of China is a superpower (alongside the United States of America and Europe (West-Germany), the French Empire and Free Africa).

Stretching it a bit more, published in 1949, one of the three superpowers of Nineteen-Eighty-Four is Eastasia, who fight the other two powers Eurasia and Oceania in a continuous war. However whilst geographically dominated by China, Eastasia does include other territory in south and east Asia.

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The use of"superpower" as a political term looks to have begun after WWII; for example the 1948 President Roosevelt and the coming of the war:

...another superpower-the Soviet Union...

No mention of China at that time.

Before the war, superpower usually referred to massive electrical installations.

After the "Paper Tiger" years of the 60's, China starts to be looked upon as a possible superpower in the early 70's; for example: (1974) China, the Superpowers, and the Third World

As rws states above, the Buck Rogers stories were quite early examples of China as a de facto superpower in SF.

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Hans Dominiks 1923 "Die Spur of Dschingis Kahn" (roughly: "In the footsteps of Genghis Khan") has China (or rather the newly forged "Great Heavenly Empire" including China, Mongolia and Japan) duking it out for World domination with an Alliance of the European states and Russia. Full text (german) is here (legal).

Naturally (from Dominiks POV that is - this is an annoyingly racist book) the Chinese lose, but they are described as a force that can reasonably challenge all of the Western world and Russia, which seems to be a possible definition for "superpower".

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Not quite the earliest, but probably worth mentioning is a throwaway line in Lovecraft's The Shadow out of Time (1934):

I talked with the mind of Yiang-Li, a philosopher from the cruel empire of Tsan-Chan, which is to come in A.D. 5000

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