Last year, Hao Jingfang, author of Folding Beijing, became the first Chinese woman to win a Hugo Award. By day, she’s an economics researcher for the China Development Research Foundation. (She holds her PhD in economics, on top of a degree in astrophysics.) She’s also a spokesperson for Audi in China. The company recently put together an ad featuring the author, in which she talks about wealth inequality, the importance of imagination, and her love of writing.
The ad feels a bit like the series of adverts that Matthew McConaughey did for Lincoln in 2014, that used a bit of existentialism to sell cars. (It doesn’t hurt that the ad is set to a track from Interstellar’s soundtrack.)
Hao also recently appeared in an Audi commercial alongside campion Ma Long, the world’s top-ranking International Table Tennis champion, and Cheng Congfu, the first Chinese race driver to complete the Le Mans 24-hour race.
Hao’s appearance in a commercial for a luxury car brand is fascinating for a number of reasons: it’s notable that a sci-fi writer is performing an advertising role in China similar to one a Hollywood megastar plays in the states. But perhaps more curious is Hao vouching for a luxury vehicle. Inequality is a major theme in Folding Beijing, and in the ad, she notes that “we all inhabit totally different worlds,” explaining that she sees growing divide between the rich and the poor, and the old and young.
That observation about living in different worlds led to her Hugo Award-winning story, in which the residents of an overcrowded Beijing endure a city that is physically folded to give each of its three classes time on the surface. Hao used the story to address the problems that she’s seen with wealth inequality and automation. The story was originally published online in 2012 and was later published in 2014 in a pair of Chinese magazines. American author Ken Liu translated the story into English in 2015, where it was published in Uncanny Magazine.