Paranoid Foreshadowing

Chinese language edition of 1984
1984: Chinese language edition.

In the springtime of 2013, mere days after moving to Taiwan, I am browsing the many books at the famous Eslite Bookstore 誠品書店 near Taipei 101 in Xìnyì District 信義區, Taipei 台北. Most titles are in Chinese, of course, so I amuse myself by surveying the science fiction section. I grew up reading science fiction almost exclusively so I am naturally very curious to see what their selection of translations is like. It is also an opportunity to appreciate a different design aesthetic, as many of the books I see have distinctly different covers from their English language counterparts.

The one book that jumps out and compels me to snap a quick photograph on my phone is 1984, George Orwell’s dystopian classic. Most of the other science fiction books are similarly old-fashioned. I see no representatives of New Wave science fiction and nothing of the cyberpunk canon. It’s all stuff you might find on school curricula in North America.

Fast forward to the present day. I am rifling through the archives, selecting some old photos to backdate and post on my blog—something I do more often than anyone likely realizes. A thought occurs to me as I chance upon this particular snapshot: how does this fit into the timeline of global surveillance disclosures?

A cursory check reveals that the first story was published by The Guardian on June 5th, 2013. While I idly wandered through that bookstore Edward Snowden was still more than a week away from boarding a plane to Hong Kong 香港 to hide out at the Mira Hotel, which I later visited out of curiosity. I suppose he was carefully going over the files he had gathered, booking flights and hotels, and making other final arrangements. The rest of us had no idea what was about to happen.

Another aside, this one more localized to Taiwan: this photograph was also shot before the rise of Citizen 1985, a somewhat dubious activist group obviously inspired by the book in question. They were part of the rise of youth activism that gave rise to the Sunflower Student Movement almost one year later (see my photos and retrospective here for more about that).