China Deciding The Hugo Awards Means Rampant Censorship

By Zack Zagranis | Published

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  • China’s hosting of the Hugo Awards threatens to forever tarnish the event.
  • The Hugo Awards honor the best in sci-fi and fantasy.
  • Best-selling authors were denied a spot at the Hugo Awards with no official explanation.
  • Critics and fans argue the Hugo Awards has been tainted.

Many great works of science fiction have painted a nightmare future where authoritarian leaders rule the world with an iron fist. That’s what makes it particularly dystopian that last year’s Hugo Awards were apparently censored. It’s giving us George Orwell with a splash of Ray Bradbury for good measure.

An Email Leak Put The Hugo Awards Under Attack


Leaked emails from event organizers paint a picture of rampant censorship surrounding last year’s Hugo Awards. The emails allude to several authors having their work removed from awards shortlists after it was discovered they may have made comments or written work that China could read as inflammatory. The awards, which honor authors who work in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, were held last October in Chengdu, China, as part of the World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon).

Authors Denied A Spot For No Reason


The Hugo Awards published the statistics behind 2023’s ceremony last month and the data was shocking. New York Times bestselling author RF Kuang and young adult author Xiran Jay Zhao, along with several other authors, were denied a place on the 2023 ballot despite having earned more than enough nominations. The decision to mark the authors “not eligible” was made by the Hugo Awards administrators with no further explanation.

Critics Were Proven Right

Understandably, the news of the authors’ exclusion caused outrage in the science fiction and fantasy communities as fans and authors alike expressed their fears that the Hugo Awards had been tainted by censorship. The recently leaked emails just prove that those fears were valid. At least one member of the 2024 Worldcon committee has resigned as a result.

Blatant Chinese Censorship

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One of the emails dated June 5, 2023, from Dave McCarty, head of last year’s Hugo Awards jury, mentioned the need to “highlight anything of a sensitive political nature” in the works being considered for awards. “It’s not necessary to read everything,” McCarty continued, “but if a work focuses on China, Taiwan, Tibet, or other topics that may be an issue in China … that needs to be highlighted so we can determine if it is safe to put it on the ballot.”

The Hugo Awards Catered To China’s Whims

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The email hints that this “highlighting” might be a case of pre-censoring by the Hugo committee as a way of avoiding any legal repercussions by the Chinese government. McCarty has so far remained silent on the subject of the leaked emails.

Diane Lacey, another member of last year’s Hugo administration team, leaked the emails to Chris M. Barkley and Jason Sanford, a pair of science fiction authors who also happen to moonlight as journalists. In turn, Sanford and Barkley published a report about the Hugo Awards controversy.

Nothing Remotely Negative To China

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“We were told to vet nominees for work focusing on China, Taiwan, Tibet or other topics that may be an issue in China,” admitted Lacey in her statement to the two authors. Ultimately, Lacey did as she was told, although she admitted that doing so made her feel “shame.” In another leaked email, Lacey flagged one of Zhao’s books in particular for being “a reimagining of the rise of the Chinese empress Wu Zetian,” while adding that she didn’t even know if China would view the work negatively.

The Hugo Awards Were A Willing Participant

Zhao stated publicly that she couldn’t believe “the western members” of the Hugo Awards admin team would choose to “willingly participate” in the censorship rather than uphold “the integrity of the awards.” Writer Paul Weimer, who was excluded from the fan writer category for once visiting Tibet—It was actually Nepal—had stronger words for what Lacey and the other admins did. “It’s not even competent political censorship,” Weimer said of the admins’ actions, “It’s haphazard bullshit.”

The Cowardly Hugo Awards

The incident has led to a discussion among science fiction writers who hail from China. One author from Weibo praised Diane Lacey’s “courage” in leaking the emails, saying that her decision to “disclose the truth” has given the community hope that not all of the people associated with the Hugo Awards behind the scenes are “shameless.

“I can understand the concerns of the Hugo award staff but I honestly think that the Hugo committee are cowards.” said the author.