Nathaniel Isaacson, "Media and Messages: Blurred Visions of Nation and Science in Enzheng Tong's "Death Ray On a Coral Island
Media and Messages: Blurred Visions of Nation and Science in Enzheng Tong's "Death Ray On a Coral Island." China's post-Mao era heralded a decade of renewed vigor in the popular media, through which the nation underwent a collective reassessment of China's relationship to the modern world and its own past. In this context, archaeologist, historian and sf writer Tong Enzheng's (1935-1997) "Death Ray on a Coral Island" (Shanhudao shang de siguang, 1978), was a sensation. The short story was adopted into a film (dir. Zhang Hongmei, 1980) and then into a radio drama, saw numerous incarnations as a pocket-comic, and was most recently reincarnated as a cell-phone video game. I critique this narrative and its multitude of media representations as an expression of China's unsteady relationship with the world at large and its own past through its pondering of the possibility of 'pure science' in the shadow of the atomic bomb. At the same time, the story enacts a critique of the relationship between global capital and scientific inquiry. Materially, I argue that the story's mass-media appeal is symptomatic of the cultural ferment of the 1980s.