The Dark Room Cover Image
FICTION

The Dark Room Problem

Award-winning sci-fi author Chen Qiufan investigates how technology manipulates our consciousness in this short story

I won a raffle at a Korean hot pot restaurant.

I was on an unsuccessful blind date with a guy that some distant relatives hoped to fix me up with. There was nothing wrong with him, exactly. Just like me, he was trying to grind his way upward in the world of finance. He took care to dress the part. As soon as he opened his mouth, I could hear something familiar in the way he spoke. He had the habit of taking any subject and trying to break it down into figures and formulas that he could then split into A, B, C, D, and enter into spreadsheets. His face floated in the steam between us. He was using the same face on me that he must have used for sucking up to his boss or trying to sell clients on some new scheme. I plucked a quivering rice cake out of the red-hot broth. I mumbled uh-huhs and oh yeahs back to whatever he said. I hadn’t expected anything less out of the date.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “You’ve got everything a man is looking for. If you’re too picky, you’re going to miss the window of opportunity and won’t be able to cash in any options.”

I almost choked on the rice cake. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t in a hurry to offer an explanation. But the particular terminology struck me as funny. It made me see him in a new light.

“I’m just...not interested, I guess.”

“Well, I already noticed that you’re not interested in me,” he said. “I’ll pick up the check. Let’s leave as friends, at least. If you pick up a decent client, I’ll be happy to give you a commission for steering them my way.” He raised his hand to call for the check.

It was like he had said earlier in the meal: Mature people don’t waste time trying to overturn a foregone conclusion. I wasn’t willing to explain to him that it wasn’t him in particular that I wasn’t interested in, but rather the entire enterprise. But then, what was I actually interested in?

When the waiter came by with the check, he was holding a cardboard box with a fancy wrapper on it. He said that they were doing a raffle for the anniversary of the restaurant. If your bill was over three hundred, you could draw a slip. The grand prize was a trip for two to Sanya.

Mr. Finance gestured for me to draw. I reached into the box and ran my fingers through the tiny slips of paper, trying to distribute them as evenly as possible. Mr. Finance rolled his eyes, probably wondering why I was putting so much thought into a dumb raffle.

I felt something slippery brush past my fingers and I jerked my hand out of the box. There was a black raffle slip stuck to my palm.

The waiter congratulated me. It was one of the big prizes, he said. He took down my contact information and said that the sponsor would get in touch with me in a couple of days.

I saw a hint of regret flash across the face of Mr. Finance. That convinced me to keep the prize. I had been thinking of letting him have it, just to be polite.

Three days later, I received an email from an unfamiliar address. The subject line said: “Congratulations on your Dark Room Experience.” I figured they must have tried calling first, but my Smart Assistant had blocked the number. AI was already better at managing unwanted phone calls than I was.

The email had a black background with white text. The advertising copy was heavy on tautologies and lame slogans. There was a registration link after that. I started to suspect it was a phishing scam.

“The Dark Room Experience will deliver surprises most unexpectable!” the email promised.

I clicked on the link. The location was on Mount Meru, about an hour and a half away by car. It wasn’t that far. It sounded like it was one of those escape rooms that had been popular for a while. I wasn’t much of a risk-taker. I’ve often wondered whether taking a job in risk management had led me to shun uncertainty—or had my fear of risk led me to the job? I hoped that it was just a byproduct of the job. I sometimes sifted through my childhood memories, trying to prove that I wasn’t always so cautious. I wanted to believe it was my job that sapped the daring out of me.

But I couldn’t recall any evidence of my early bravery.

I searched for reviews online and couldn’t find anything. Maybe their marketing team liked to maintain a sense of secrecy and exclusivity. I closed the website and opened it again a few more times. I thought back to the slippery sensation in the raffle box. I scanned the website a final time, then finally hit “Send” on the reservation. I wasn’t sure why I breathed a sigh of relief. It was like a blind date, when both people realize the other person is not interested, but they continue with the act.

I thought excitement would keep me up all night, but it didn’t. It seemed like my internal risk management system had analyzed the information and concluded that I was safe. I was actually a bit disappointed.

The taxi dropped me off at the foot of Mount Meru. That was as far as it could go. I had to walk the rest of the way.

It was called Mount Meru, but it was more like a hill. It must have been some kind of play on the Buddhist metaphor about the legendary mountain that could fit into a mustard seed. The hill was not very impressive, but its forested slopes were a beautiful deep green. The winding path to the top was peaceful. As I started climbing the stone steps, I started to sweat. I had to stop to catch my breath. It was a strange place to run a business. It was as if they were trying to dissuade customers. I wondered if they got any repeat visitors.

I finally stumbled upon a small building set behind a grove of bamboo. Its white walls were decorated with blue tiles. Round windows contrasted with the sharp lines of the doorway. It was pretty cool. I rang the doorbell and waited. The door swung open without a sound. As I stepped through, I felt a chill run down my spine. I felt like someone was watching me. I looked behind me, but all I could see was the bamboo swaying in the wind.

I was greeted in soft tones by a tidy young couple.

The guy introduced himself as Xiao Guan. He confirmed a few details on the doctor’s note I had submitted, then asked a couple more questions related to family medical history.

The girl’s name was Xiao Ye. She led me into a side room, where a pair of stretchy gym clothes was laid out for me. She reminded me again of the precautions that I had to take.

“It sounds dangerous,” I said.

Xiao Ye smiled. “Physically,” she said, “it’s safer than riding an elevator.”

I noted her addition of “physically.” It seemed unusual to me. “How long does it take?” I asked.

“It’s up to you,” Xiao Ye said. “Everyone approaches it differently. You have the entire day, though. Today, the dark room is yours.”

“So, what’s in there, exactly?” I asked. The risk management part of my brain was still working.

“Oh,” Xiao Ye said, pausing for a moment, “have you ever heard of sensory deprivation?”

“Yeah,” I said. “They have it at some spas, right? Supposedly you get into a state of deep relaxation? I’ve never tried it, myself.”

“That’s right. The dark room experience is similar. But it’s more advanced. We turn off your senses one by one, like flicking off lights in a house.”

My imagination failed me. It was clearly a common marketing spiel, but it was lost on me.

“But I’m still in the room?” I asked. “I’ve seen those videos online where people go to the bathroom and the toilet suddenly turns into a roller coaster.”

Xiao Ye was tickled by my response. She gestured at the room: “You’ll be lying down in there. You’re not going anywhere. Do you remember the safe word?”

“I say my name three times, right?”

“Right.”

“Do I just say it, or do I have to shout it, or...?”

“When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.”

When I got back to the foot of Mount Meru, the sun was already sinking low on the horizon. I didn’t realize that I had been in the dark room for so long. I thought there must be something wrong with my eyes, or my sense of time had dilated.

It occurred to me that perception of time is another sense.

As I waited for the taxi, a man appeared. He seemed to have materialized out of thin air.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, smiling. “You were taking forever.”

I looked at him in surprise. He looked to be a few years younger than me. His hair wasn’t long, or short either. There was nothing else to note about his appearance. He was dressed neatly, with a black hoodie, jeans, and a pair of canvas sneakers.

“You don’t know me,” he said. He smiled again. “You just came out of the dark room.”

I nodded but I kept my guard up. I wondered if this was an extension of fraud the dark room people were trying to pull.

“So,” he said, “what did you see?” His eyes lit up. He fixed his gaze on me.

“I didn’t see anything,” I said. I thought for a moment, then said, “I just fell asleep. Maybe I was dreaming. But I don’t remember. It’s a scam. But what’s the point?”

The man’s eyes seemed to dim. He looked confused. He glanced away and started to mutter something to himself that I couldn’t understand.

“Impossible,” he suddenly roared. I took a step back, thinking he must be sick in the head.

He circled me like a wild animal around a campfire, wanting to approach but fearful to do so. He suddenly smiled to himself, as if he had come to some important realization.

“I understand!” he said. “I knew that’s how it would be.”

As the wild animal finally worked up the nerve to approach the fire, my taxi appeared. I ripped open the door and jumped into the back seat. I slammed the door. The man outside reached through the gap left by the window and dropped something inside.

“Please,” he said, “you can reach me here and...”

I couldn’t make out what he had said. The car was already pulling away. I glanced up and saw the man fading in the rearview mirror.

The driver smiled, seeming to know exactly what had happened. I looked down and saw the man had dropped a card through the window. It had his name and contact information on it.

His name was Zhang Qidi. I wondered if it was a nickname—it means “enlightenment.” He was the founder of the Recursion Society. That’s what his card claimed, at least.

He didn’t sound like he had his head screwed on right.

A week went by. I tried to figure out if something had changed inside of me. I couldn’t decide one way or another.

When I stared at the carpet or the patterns on the wallpaper or bathroom tiles, I would see them start to subtly move and spin, as if twisting away from the focus of my eyes.

Everyday sounds became unbearable. The sound of children laughing and playing in a restaurant became an indescribable cacophony. I started avoiding going out during my lunch break. I ordered takeout and ate at my desk.

I was easily distracted. When I tried to recall what was said in meetings, half of it was missing. I would struggle to come up with words that seemed always at the tip of my tongue. My coworkers were worried about me. They had never seen me act that way.

I got called into my supervisor’s office. He wanted to know if there was any trouble at home. I shook my head.

“I want you to take a couple days off,” he said. “Xiao Wu can take over for you.” She was another girl in my department. She had graduated from a good school, had a good head on her shoulders, and was willing to put in long hours. I knew she was gunning for my job.

“I’ll be fine,” I told him. “I just...” A switch clicked in my head. I decided to take his advice.

That night, I invited a girl friend out to Club Tryptamine. I hadn’t seen her for a long time. She seemed surprised by the invitation. She had always done her best to get me out, but I was constantly turning her down. She asked me if I was celebrating something.

“It’s been too long,” I said. “I was missing you like crazy.”

“Oh?” she said. “Are you sure you didn’t bump your head?” She always said what was on her mind.

We chatted away like old times. The night slipped away. I noticed a good-looking guy at the table next to us glancing my way, then looking away when I looked over.

I got up to go to the bathroom. When I came out, the guy was there. He looked like he had a good buzz. Our eyes met and he moved to kiss me. I pushed back but let him come. The old me would have slapped him across the face. That night, I let it go. I breathed in the booze and cigarettes on his breath.

“Is that all you’ve got?” I asked him. My tone was flat. He stared back at me for a second, then shuffled away.

“Who smeared your lipstick?” my friend asked, giggling.

“Dog licked my face,” I said.

I knew that letting him kiss me had nothing to do with him being cute. There was something wrong with me.

I wondered if it had something to do with the dark room.

It took a while, but I finally managed to find the card. I called Zhang Qidi. He seemed to have been expecting my call.

“Come over and chat,” he said. He sent me his address.

The teahouse was as hard to find as the card. It was in the heart of the city, but tucked into a narrow alley that cut it off from the hustle and bustle outside. The teahouse was as plain as my host. Nothing was out of the ordinary. High on the wall, there was a banner with “Recursion Society” written in bold, flowing calligraphy. Something about it struck me as funny.

Zhang Qidi brewed a pot of tea for me: Longjing, harvested that year. With the fragrant steam between us, his face looked a bit like a poached egg.

“Speak,” he said.

I hated his arrogance, but I pretended not to notice.

“Mr. Zhang,” I said, “I think I’ve experienced some kind of...change.”

“I thought it was a scam,” he said. “That’s what you told me.” He smiled while pouring me tea. “What kind of change have you experienced?”

“I’m not really sure,” I said. “It’s like...I’ve dislocated something...and it’s started to heal, but not in the right way.”

“You’re experiencing some discomfort,” he observed.

I nodded.

“You told me you didn’t see anything in the dark room, correct?”

“I really didn’t.”

I tried to think back to that day. After entering the dark room, I remember seeing a blue-green fluorescent square on the ground. “I lay down,” I told Zhang Qidi. “There was some kind of memory foam to wrap around yourself. When the fluorescent light was switched off, there was complete darkness. There was a scent of orange blossoms in the air, then it faded, too. All sound seemed to disappear. The silence was deafening. That must have been what Xiao Ye was talking about: My senses were gradually being switched off. I had the sensation of floating. I lost all sense of up and down. After a while, although I’m not sure how long, my thoughts began to grow increasingly abstract, and then even those faint ideas and concepts seemed to melt away. I tried to speak but I found that my mouth was not obeying my brain. I started to understand how ALS patients must feel. I was being locked into my own body, just like them, but going through the experience in fast-forward. I still knew who I was. I can still remember that much.

“A moment later, I lost consciousness.

“The next thing I remember, I had already changed out of the gym clothes. I was waving goodbye to Xiao Ye and Xiao Guan. I walked down the hill in a daze. That’s when I ran into you.” I tried to describe my encounter with Zhang Qidi as neutrally as possible.

He listened intently. He frowned.

“So,” he said, “you really don’t know anything about the dark room?”

“I thought it was some kind of escape room.”

I could tell he was surprised. He had to explain it to me like a father explaining to his son some new danger.

“It was built for scientific purposes,” Zhang Qidi said. He launched into an explanation. He was trying his best, but some of the concepts went over my head.

“There is a theory called predictive processing,” he said. “The idea is that the human brain doesn’t rely solely on senses to gather information about the outside world but also has a core ‘predictive’ model. This model is constantly adapting, correcting itself against signals coming from our sensory organs. Some people use the idea of free energy from information theory. You can also use the concept of ‘uncertainty’ to understand the errors that can be produced in this system. Experiments have proved that neurological structures try to minimize prediction-error. Our brains don’t like uncertainty.” He paused and studied my reaction.

“I don’t like uncertainty, either,” I said. I smiled to reassure him that I was following his explanation.

“This is an elementary explanation,” Zhang Qidi said. “I’ve left out the Bayesian brain and other layers of complexity. But as these theories were popularized, scientists realized that they were facing a paradox: If the human brain wants to minimize surprise, then the best way to do that is to remain in a place with no sensory input to clash with the core predictive processing—as in, a dark room. But that’s not consistent with our own human passion for play and exploration. Those things add the kind of input that can lead to prediction-error. That’s called ‘the dark room problem.’”

“If you ask me, there’s a much simpler way to explain all of this. Scientists want a theory for everything.”

“Well,” Zhang Qidi said encouragingly, “explain it to me.”

“I have a certain perspective from my own work,” I said. “We have basic needs. It wouldn’t make sense to live in a cave, unless we knew those basic needs were being met. Another thing is, if we are trying to minimize uncertainty, maybe the dark room is such a foreign environment that it does the opposite.”

“That makes sense,” Zhang Qidi said. “Scientists want empirical results, though. That’s why they invented the dark room.”

“What you’re saying is, the goal is to get sensory input as close to nil as possible, as close to their model as possible...There’s no uncertainty at that point.”

“Correct,” he said.

I supped my tea and tried to recall my first meeting with Zhang Qidi at Mount Meru. I tried to figure out what had seemed off about him.

“If that’s the case,” I said, “then why would I see anything? When I ran into you after I got out, you kept saying—”

“Very perceptive,” he interrupted. He adjusted the flame under the tea. “I asked what you saw because I know people discover other things in the dark room.”

“Like what?”

Zhang Qidi paused and looked at me with terror in his eyes.

“Hallucinations,” he said. “That’s what scientists call them, at least.”

He was beginning to remind me more of the man I had met at Mount Meru that day. The rational and scientific tone was slipping away.

“The subjects of the experiments reported seeing strange visions,” Zhang Qidi said. “There are certain senses, like interoception—the perception of sensations from within our bodies—and proprioception—the perception of our own position in space and time—that cannot be controlled at base-level consciousness. Scientists thought this played a role in the visions. They decided the best way to deal with this was to switch off default neural networking modes, which they understood to be communication between the prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex, the precuneus, and the angular gyrus of the parietal lobe. This neural network forms the basis of selfhood, basic understanding of others and social organization, recall of past events, and prediction of future events. In other words, this network controls the way we narrate our existence and the world around us.”

“It would be the same as switching off a person’s sense of self.”

“Even stranger things started to happen,” Zhang Qidi said. “After the subjects of these experiments regained consciousness, they began to ‘remember’ things they had experienced while they were out. However, there should not have been any conscious activity in their brain. Some people recalled experiences completely disconnected from their own reality. There were reports of inhabiting the bodies of other species. Some people believed they had achieved things that they had always hoped for. Some people discovered truths that baffle experts. Some people talked about becoming one with the universe. They experienced an infinite cycle of big bang to heat death to big bang...

“Where do these memories come from? Which part of the brain is doing this? What comes after ego death?

“There are many hypotheses. They explain some of these phenomena. But they raise large questions. Those questions tackle the very nature of existence.

“The experiments were halted.”

He was about to go on, but I interrupted him. “If the experiments were called off,” I said, “then what did I experience?”

Zhang Qidi took a deep breath. He seemed hesitant to explain.

“It’s getting late,” he said. “The tea is already cold. Let’s talk some other time.”

A force I could not name was tearing apart my life. I had never experienced anything like it before.

I quit my job. I remember the look of surprise on the faces of my coworkers as they watched me pack my things up in a cardboard box. KPIs, workplace gossip, backstabbing over HR issues—it had become like a horrible cacophony; piercing, inescapable, and so oppressive that it seemed like I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t shut it out any longer. I had to run away.

I didn’t tell my parents. I knew they would get on the next flight to see me. They would want to know what had happened. In their eyes, I was still the little girl that followed all the rules, still the junior perfectionist... I didn’t want to give them any other ideas. That could wait.

I sat and studied a map on my computer screen. It was dotted with pins, marking out the places I had always dreamed of going: Dunhuang, Lhasa, Nepal, India, Egypt, Turkey, Iceland, Peru, Cuba, Trinidad...I ran my index finger across the virtual Earth, letting it rest on…

Iceland.

I had a complicated surge of emotion. I was excited. I was nervous. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to follow through with it. I was like an iceberg, rupturing and disintegrating in the warm open ocean. What would I discover buried inside? Would it be another self? Would it be my true self? Or would it be merely a hallucination? That’s what Zhang Qidi said the scientists believed.

I put my doubts aside and searched for plane tickets.

I went to many places. I saw people living in many different ways. I chased monarch butterflies at sunset on an Orchid Island beach. I watched club kids losing their minds at Berghain. I listened to monks chanting sutras at a temple in Kandy. I saw the Northern Lights from a ship in the Arctic Ocean. I started relationships with people of many genders—male, female, non-binary...I tried things that I would previously have forbidden myself. The risk management part of my brain would have shrieked. I realized that I had been wearing a golden band on my head like the one the Guanyin bodhisattva put on Sun Wukong to keep him in line. I was restricting my options.

I gave up on plans and strategies. I let myself be guided by meaningful encounters or their possibilities. I stopped believing they were random events. Everything had meaning. I spent my savings. I made more money. It’s like hiking up a mountain: Once you give up on keeping the mud off your shoes, you find new trails, or you blaze your own. You become one with the mountain.

In the end, I went to a shaman in Papua New Guinea to read my future. He roasted the scutes of an armadillo and studied them. He pointed to my heart. “Home,” he said, “home...”

I knew it was time to go back.

The first thing I did was try to book a dark room experience. I needed to know what had happened the first time. I needed to know what else could happen.

There was no answer from the company.

I went directly to Mount Meru. The building behind the bamboo grove was occupied by a mindfulness group. The elderly students of a meditation class looked at me quizzically. Perhaps they saw my former self.

I had nowhere else to turn, except Zhang Qidi.

“I can tell,” Zhang Qidi said, when we met, “you’ve changed. You’re a different person.”

I had cut my hair short to make it easier to look after. I had a deep tan. My hands were rough. But I knew he wasn’t referring to any physical change.

“You’re still the same,” I said. “This teahouse hasn’t changed, either. I went back to Mount Meru. It’s all gone.”

“Oh,” Zhang Qidi said. He didn’t seem surprised.

“I want you to tell me the truth,” I said.

Zhang Qidi prepared a pot of tea. He seemed untroubled by my demand.

“Do you want to know my theory?” he asked.

I sat up straight in my seat.

“I think that what people experience in the dark room is the essence. I’ve heard scientists describe what happens when you switch off all sensory input and melt the ego away. It’s like rebooting the system back to a previous state. I call that ‘primary consciousness.’ Of course, it’s only the ‘primary’ state of the state above it. ‘Primary consciousness’ must itself have a level below, and on and on, perhaps infinitely...”

“What people experience in the dark room is memories from the level of consciousness above their present one?” I was trying my best to follow.

“That’s one way to put it,” Zhang Qidi said.

“But isn’t the self already completely dissolved?” I prodded.

“Our understanding of this is too limited,” he said. “Think of it this way: If you are standing between two mirrors, there are infinite reflections, infinite images of yourself...But they are still you, however many there are.”

“They’re just reflections, though,” I said. “They’re not real.”

“They are and they aren’t,” he said. “You, the mirror image of you, or even the mirror itself—these only have meaning in relation to each other. The only real thing is your ability to identify yourself in the mirror.”

“You’ve lost me.”

“That’s fine.”

“But I didn’t see anything,” I said. “What does that mean?”

Zhang Qidi lifted the teapot and breathed in the aroma of the tea.

“Once upon a time, there was a mountain. On the mountain, there was a temple. In the temple lived a monk, who told his disciples a story. It goes: Once upon a time, there was a mountain. On the mountain, there was a temple. In the temple lived a monk, who told his disciples a story...I’m sure you’ve heard that one before.”

“Sure, I heard it when I was a kid.”

“This is a simple way to understand recursion,” Zhang Qidi said. “Now, imagine if you had also gone into a dark room in your primary consciousness.”

“You would just keep going back to the previous state,” I guessed. “It would be an infinite loop, right?”

“Now you’ve got it,” Zhang Qidi said with a smile.

“So...” I began.

“So, in computer programming, infinite recursion causes stack overflow and crashes. To put it in simpler terms, the loop must be broken.”

“You’re saying...” I started. I began to understand what Zhang Qidi was implying. Everything around me started to subtly move and spin. I gasped. Was I still in that primary consciousness? Was I trapped in the loop?

He nodded. “You have entered the dark room more than once,” he said. “You have met me for the first time more than once. Perhaps it’s some curiosity that pulls you back to the dark room. You want to get back to the essence. Maybe that’s the only place you think you can be your true self.”

Thoughts whizzed around my head as I listened.

“But you are mistaken,” he said. “Mount Meru can fit inside the mustard seed; the mustard seed can contain Mount Meru. Each reflection of yourself in the mirror is truly you. Instead of trying to go back into the dark room, it would be better to accept the fact that you never left it.”

All of my memories seemed laid out before me like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. They began to come together. I had no idea which were true and which were hallucinations. I had no idea which were from the past and which were from the future. Perhaps Zhang Qidi was right. Perhaps there was no difference. Perhaps they were all reflections.

I arrived at the final question that I needed to ask myself: “Who are you?”

The nurse pushed my wheelchair back to my room and helped me back into bed.

She picked up the remote. “Auntie, what do you want to watch today?”

“No, it’s fine,” I said, shaking my head. “I’ll just rest a while.”

They’ve revived me at this hospital twice before. This will be my third time. People here tell stories about me. They say that I must have an incredible will to live. They have no idea.

Zhang Qidi was right. I already have my whole self and all the possibilities. It all comes down to how I approach life. I’ve tried everything I wanted. I’ve loved people, whether they were worth it or not. I figured out how to play the game—the game of life. The secret is this: accept uncertainty.

Not many people in the world realize this.

I pulled a heavy red leatherbound notebook out of the drawer of my bedside table and finished my final entry. I caressed the scarred cover with my wrinkled hands. On the cover I had written the title: The Dark Room Problem.

It was time.

I said my name. Three times.

The sunlight outside my window dimmed, as if suddenly obscured by clouds. All sound faded. The room seemed to be shrinking away from me. The notebook grew smaller and smaller. The second hand of the clock stopped.

I knew I was about to see old friends again.


Author’s Note: I believe unraveling the mystery of consciousness is the door to understanding the nature of the world. There is no way for us to bypass the medium of consciousness to comprehend anything. Therefore, understanding consciousness itself is the fundamental issue behind all issues. This short story is an imaginative attempt to explore a hypothesis: What would be the impact to an individual if we change the narrative of consciousness, as has happened repeatedly in history? It may be the equivalent of reincarnation in Buddhism, or nested illusions in The Matrix, but ultimately, it deals with the problem of how we face life and death.

Chen Qiufan 陈楸帆

Co-author of AI 2024 (2021) and author of Waste Tide (2013), Chen is the leading figure of a new generation of Chinese sci-fi writers. He explores themes such as technological dystopia and alienation. His short story translations appear in anthologies such as Invisible Planets (2016) and Broken Stars (2019), as well as on Clarkesworld, Pathlight, Lightspeed, Interzone, and F&SF. Chen has previously worked for Google, Baidu, and tech startup Noitom Technology. He now runs his own production studio, Thema Mundi.


The Dark Room Problem is a story from our issue, “State of The Art.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.

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Chen Qiufan is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese.


Translated By
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Dylan Levi King is a writer and translator. His most recent translations are Cai Chongda’s “Vessel” (HarperCollins) and Jia Pingwa’s “The Shaanxi Opera” (AmazonCrossing).

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