New lit­er­ary prize in­spires young writ­ers

Es­tab­lished Chi­nese au­thors share their thoughts on how and what it takes to be­come a suc­cess­ful nov­el­ist. Fang Aiqing re­ports.

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Life - The Story of Gas­tro­dia Elata, Dis­il­lu­sion. Shang­hai Lit­er­a­ture, Fan Hua (Blos­soms), Con­tact the writer at fan­gaiqing@ chi­

Anew lit­er­ary prize of 300,000 yuan ($47,700) has been set up to en­cour­age tal­ented Chi­nese writ­ers un­der the age of 45 to be­come es­tab­lished and suc­cess­ful writ­ers.

Young au­thors with nov­els or short sto­ries pub­lished in sim­pli­fied Chi­nese on the Chi­nese main­land be­tween Jan­uary 2017 and next month are el­i­gi­ble to par­tic­i­pate.

En­tries should be submitted be­fore May 31 and the win­ning en­try will be an­nounced in Septem­ber.

“We want to hold a festival for those peo­ple who are writ­ing and pub­lish­ing in ob­scu­rity. They need to be seen, not only be­cause they have writ­ten great works, but also to show them that their ca­reers will im­prove,” says Liang Wen­dao, a renowned writer and TV com­men­ta­tor.

He was in Bei­jing on March 24 to host the open­ing cer­e­mony of the Blanc­pain-Imag­in­ist Lit­er­ary Prize 2018, which was co-founded by the Swiss watch­maker Blanc­pain and Imag­in­ist, a pub­lish­ing brand in China.

Dur­ing the cer­e­mony, five judges, in­clud­ing well-known and ex­pe­ri­enced writ­ers, crit­ics, ed­i­tors and schol­ars, re­called their early days of writ­ing.

In re­sponse to the cen­tral ques­tion of whether writ­ers re­gret their early work, the panel of­fered sug­ges­tions on how the younger gen­er­a­tion should de­velop their ap­proach to writ­ing nov­els.

Yan Lianke, 60, a Chi­nese writer who has won sev­eral ma­jor Chi­nese and in­ter­na­tional lit­er­a­ture prizes and who has been short­listed for the Man Booker Prize on three oc­ca­sions, looked back upon his first short story, ti­tled

Judges of

which was pub­lished in 1979. Ac­cord­ing to Yan, his de­scrip­tions of land­scapes im­pressed the edi­tor more than the story it­self.

His own harsh­est critic, Yan de­scribed 80 per­cent of his works as “rub­bish” and thought that only 20 per­cent of writ­ing showed enough vi­tal­ity to last his life­time. He also “blamed” him­self for not start­ing to read for­eign lit­er­a­ture un­til the age of 20.

“I have been writ­ing in re­gret my en­tire life. The only thing I don’t re­gret is the fact that I’m fairly dili­gent. Even so, the sense of re­gret I’ve felt about my nov­els is still over­pow­er­ing,” Yan says.

Xu Zi­dong, 64, a cul­tural critic and pro­fes­sor of Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture at Hong Kong Ling­nan Univer­sity, first be­came aware that it was pos­si­ble to write a novel af­ter read­ing one of Mao Dun’s early works, But at the age of 15, he was too young to un­der­stand the value of the work by one of China’s most ac­claimed mod­ern nov­el­ists and cul­tural com­men­ta­tors.

How­ever, Xu’s dream of be­com­ing a writer soon brought him dis­il­lu­sion­ment when he re­fused to mod­ify his drafts and con­form to the main­stream dis­courses of the time.

“One may tell lies in many cir­cum­stances, yet he can­not tell lies in his own creations when he knows them to be fake,” says Xu, adding that al­though his books are few in num­ber, he be­lieves they will stand the test of time.

Jin Yucheng, 66, a Shang­hai-based writer and the ex­ec­u­tive edi­tor of the mag­a­zine

talked about his for­ma­tive years in Heihe in North­east China’s Hei­longjiang prov­ince dur­ing the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (1966-76).

Al­though he had dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of writ­ing nov­els with a friend through let­ters, he didn’t start writ­ing un­til he was in his thir­ties.

“The eight years in Heihe turned me into a north­east­erner in terms of writ­ing,” says Jin, who wrote sev­eral sto­ries in his early years that fea­tured funeral cus­toms, the daily rou­tine of work and the strug­gle to find food at that time.

“How­ever, it was only re­cently that I re­al­ized I didn’t touch upon the real na­ture of the Chi­nese coun­try­side,” Jin con­tin­ued, adding that the il­lu­sion of set­ting down roots in the North­east fi­nally re­minded him of what he had for­got­ten — his child­hood in Shang­hai, the early life that he was most fa­mil­iar with.

Based on civil­ian life in Shang­hai and writ­ten in the lo­cal di­alect,

which he wrote in his six­ties, fi­nally won him one of China’s high­est lit­er­ary hon­ors, the Mao Dun Lit­er­a­ture Prize in 2015.

One ques­tion of­ten brought up in lit­er­ary cir­cles is that whether it is suit­able to look at the ma­tu­rity of an au­thor’s writ­ings us­ing a bi­o­log­i­cal model, which can of­ten lead to spec­u­la­tion of the im­ma­ture na­ture of a writer’s early works.

“I think lit­er­ary writ­ing is not a ca­reer for the preco- cious,” says Tang Nuo, 60, a prizewin­ning writer and cul­tural critic from Tai­wan. “I see lit­er­a­ture as a pro­fes­sion, which re­quires the long process of learn­ing and prac­tice.”

In Tang’s opinion, to write a novel, a writer should put in the time and ef­fort, run with the crowd — to dis­cover, ex­pe­ri­ence, ac­quire, con­firm and un­der­stand — the world around them be­fore reach­ing their lit­er­ary prime in later life.

“Do not ex­pect to be able to bring out the one great work that can de­fine your life by the age of 45,” Liang warns.

Echo­ing Tang’s words, Gao Xiaosong, 49, a genre-de­fy­ing in­tel­lec­tual whose mu­sic has made its way into lit­er­ary recog­ni­tion, made a fur­ther in­ter­pre­ta­tion: “Art con­sists of two parts. One is the pro­fes­sion that Tang has men­tioned, and the other is the artists’ in­ner world.”

Gao com­pares the process as open­ing a door, and the in­ner world as the “demons” be­hind the door. As some writ­ers were grow­ing up, the tiny “demons” — es­pe­cially those of love and ado­les­cent blues — break out when the door opens just a lit­tle, and on oc­ca­sion they are able to ac­com­plish works of ge­nius.

How­ever, as the door opens wider and wider as peo­ple grow older, and when the “demons” no longer pos­sess the vigor to squeeze out, some writ­ers find it painful to dis­cover that there are no ma­jor demons at all — the ones that could have lead them to suc­cess.

Com­fort may bring hap­pi­ness, yet it may not help cre­ate good lit­er­a­ture. As Tang has pointed out, writ­ers in the main­land may now have a bet­ter for­tune than their peers world­wide, but they also face deeper dif­fi­cul­ties in dig­ging up sto­ries that can still touch hearts.

Ev­ery gen­er­a­tion has their “demons”, ac­cord­ing to Xu. “Writ­ing lit­er­a­ture is to face one’s life and dig­nity, and thus con­front the essence of hu­man na­ture. And there are demons, the demons that I un­der­stand.”

As Liang con­cludes, we still have col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ences and the nar­ra­tives of our times. “If a whole gen­er­a­tion is rush­ing to ac­quire cars and houses, it is a great col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence and a story that is wor­thy of be­ing told.”


the Blanc­pain-Imag­in­ist Lit­er­ary Prize 2018 (from left) Gao Xiaosong, Xu Zi­dong, Tang Nuo, Jin Yucheng, Yan Lianke and Liang Wen­dao share their early ex­pe­ri­ences of writ­ing at the open­ing cer­e­mony of the new award in Bei­jing on March 24.

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