Hugo Award scandal reaches new low as Chinese voter disenfranchisement comes to light

The Hugo Awards have been under fire over potential censorship. Leaked emails reveal the cause of the scandal, as well as the revelation that hundreds of Chinese voters were disenfranchised.
The Sandman. (L to R) Tom Sturridge as Dream, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death in episode 106 of The Sandman. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022
The Sandman. (L to R) Tom Sturridge as Dream, Kirby Howell-Baptiste as Death in episode 106 of The Sandman. Cr. Courtesy Of Netflix © 2022 /
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Last month, the nomination data was finally released for 2023's Hugo Award ceremony, and ever since, the high profile awards have been embroiled in controversy. The Hugos are one of the most prestigious awards in fantasy and science fiction, bequeathed to authors and other creators at Worldcon, a large sci-fi and fantasy convention which is held in a different city each year.

In 2023, Worldcon was held for the first time ever in Chengdu, China. Despite the huge amount of sci-fi and fantasy fans in China, there were some concerns within the Hugo Award-voting fandoms about Worldcon being held in Chengdu, including over China's ongoing treatment of its Uyghur population to fears of government censorship. When the nomination data was released, it seemed to confirm the concerns and show that, indeed, some sort of censorship had taken place. Several works and authors were deemed mysteriously ineligible for awards without any reason given, despite receiving enough nominations to place them on the finalist ballot. This included high-profile disqualifications like Neil Gaiman's television show The Sandman, R.F. Kuang's novel Babel, Iron Widow author Xiran Jay Zhao, and fan writer Paul Weimer.

When pressed for answers, 2023 Hugo administrator Dave McCarty dodgEd questions and slung insults on Facebook. The only official answer to why these disqualifications happened was that, "After reviewing the Constitution and the rules we must follow, the administration team determined those works/persons were not eligible.”

Things culminated earlier this month with an explosive report on File 770 from Chris M. Barkley and Jason Sanford, which contained emails leaked by another member of the Hugo administration team named Diane Lacey. These emails detailed the behind-the-scenes debacle which led to the disqualifications. I highly encourage you to give it a read because Sanford and Barkley did some incredible reporting, but the general gist is that it was not the Chinese government which pressed censorship on the Hugo Awards. Instead, it was American and Canadian members of the Hugo administration team who tried to proactively self-censor the awards so as not to run afoul of the People's Republic of China, as revealed in an email from McCarty dated June 5:

"In addition to the regular technical review, as we are happening in China and the *laws* we operate under are different…we need to highlight anything of a sensitive political nature in the work. It’s not necessary to read everything, but if the work focuses on China, taiwan, tibet, or other topics that may be an issue *in* China…that needs to be highlighted so that we can determine if it is safe to put it on the ballot (or) if the law will require us to make an administrative decision about it."

As a result of this, members of the Hugo administration team essentially collected political dossiers on nominees, combing through their social media and work for anything that could offend the PRC. Concerns were raised over R.F. Kuang's novel Babel, since it "has a lot about China." Fan writer Paul Weimer was flagged over taking a trip to Tibet. The list goes on and on, but the gist is that there is indisputable evidence showing that western members of the Hugo administration team took part in proactive censorship.

Worse, it wasn't even effective self-censorship. Weimer never even went to Tibet — he has since clarified that he had taken a trip to Nepal, not Tibet. Meanwhile, Babel has been translated into Chinese and released in China, so obviously it's not upsetting the government in the way that the Hugo administration team feared. And the kicker is that the Chinese members of the Hugo administration team weren't even included in these email threads. So the censorship was done so as not to offend the Chinese government, but the Chinese members of the team weren't a part of those decisions. Someone make it make sense.

Babel: Or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators' Revolution by R.F. Kuang /

In the weeks following the Hugo nomination data's release and the subsequent report from Sanford and Barkley, there have been a flurry of resignations by Hugo administration team members. Both McCarty and Worldcon Intellectual Property board chair Kevin Standlee resigned in mid-February, as did Cheryl Morgan, a member of the Hugo Administration Marketing Committee. Morgan's public statement announcing her resignation clarified that she was not in any way involved with the decision-making for the 2023 Hugo Awards, but felt it necessary to distance herself "primarily because I no longer wish to be held responsible for (including being subject to legal and reputational risk for) the actions of organisations of which I am not a member and over which I have no influence."

Another important resignation was that of Kat Jones, a member of the administration team who took part in the 2023 awards and was slated to be the Hugo administrator for the 2024 awards in Glasgow, Scotland. While McCarty is revealed in the emails as the primary mover of the censorship effort, Jones' name pops up in them quite a lot as well; too much for it to make sense having her attached to another Hugo Award ceremony. Glasgow Worldcon announced on Twitter/X that Jones has resigned from this year's event, and that the convention is taking steps to provide as much transparency as possible to voters.

If all of this seems pretty bad, strap in. We haven't even gotten to the worst part yet: