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Young Writer Wins Top Literary Award

It takes its name from modern China's most revered writer, and is held by a major organization, the Writers Association of China. Thus, it's hardly surprising that the Lu Xun Literary Award is one of the five major literary awards of China. The 4th Lu Xun Literary Award winners were announced recently.

The most prestigious literary awards in China are the Mao Dun Literary Award and the Lu Xun Literary Award. But the similarity found in their prestige cannot be seen in their content. The Mao Dun Award is also named after a famous modern Chinese writer and is specifically given to the best contemporary novelists in China. However the Lu Xun award applies to a wider range of literary products, including novellas, short stories, poetry, theory, and translations. Honoring the name of Lu Xun, writer, intellectual and founder of Modern Chinese literature, the Lu Xun Literary Award began in 1995 and takes place triennially.

At the end of 2004, the winners of 4th Lu Xun Literary Award were announced. In keeping with modern trends, a writer born after 1970 received an award for the first time in the event's history. In fact, it would have been difficult for the awards to overlook how active these "Post-seventies writers" have been in recent years. Having grown up at a time when China was undergoing great social upheaval, these writers are totally different from the older generation. They are more influenced by diversified literary traditions from both China and the West, and some of their works caused controversy during their first appearance in the mid and late 1990s.

Cao Wenxuan is a Peking University professor, a writer, and a specialist in Chinese modern and contemporary literature. He's also a committee member of the 4th Lu Xun Literary Award. Let's hear what he has to say about the post-seventies writers.

"They are mainly concerned with their individual experiences, and don't pay much
attention to the social reality of contemporary times. They keep a certain distance from contemporary social reality. Instead, they are concerned more about various timeless issues. Their choice, I think, is closer to what literature should be. I think literature should concern itself with these relatively timeless issues, which exist in the past, in the present, and in the future."

And it was the author Wei Wei who became the first writer born in the 1970s to win this major Lu Xun award.

"The 'Post-1970' writers were criticized when they first appeared for the non-literary and fashionable ingredients in their works. But with years of efforts, writers of this generation are able to return to pure literature."

She won the award for her composition, Big Old Zheng's Woman, a short story about the changes that have taken place in the customs of a small city since the 1980s. It was first published in 2003 in a literary magazine. Through the daily lives of the protagonists Big Old Zheng and his wife, we can gain a deeper understanding of human relationships and the emotions involved.

"This is a short story about life in a small town in the 1980s, a time when China's 'reform and opening' policy has just started, and about how the traditional but restless atmosphere gradually influenced the people in this small town. This is not only a description of lifestyle in a small town, but the reflection of that period of time."

As far as she is concerned, this story is written in a traditional style very different from the more popular and fashionable techniques used by other post 70s writers. Critics say that her story is a salute to literary tradition.

The small town drawn by Wei Wei's pen reminds us of two books, Frontier City and the Tale of Horlan River, written by Shen Congwen and Xiao Hong respectively. These novels were written in the 1930s and 1940s, but they share with Wei Wei's work a concern towards ordinary people's life in a fast-changing society. Wei Wei says that she owes much to the rich legacy of Shen Congwen and Xiao Hong. Wei Wei was born in a small town, and she says the experience of her childhood had great influence in her writings.

"Youth, childhood and growth of the individual are the topics which mainly concern me. The 1970s and 1980s are very important to me, because they were my childhood and youth. I feel grateful to these periods. The 1980s was a great time, and I feel very lucky to have experienced it. All of these experiences become the sources of my works, and I am very interested in the individuals and families during this fast social transformation."

Cao Wenxuan considers Wei Wei to be an outstanding figure in comparison to her literary peers, and comments on her award-winning story and other works.

"The most distinguishing feature of this story is that it's very balanced and mild. Unlike some other writers born in the 1970s who usually write in an extreme manner, she is compassionate towards the people in her story. Making sure that her characters do not go to extremes, she keeps her balance. Therefore, when reading her works you'll feel the warmth of humanity."

Following Cao Wenxuan's praise of Wei Wei's writing, I will leave you today with two paragraphs from her short story, Big Old Zheng's Woman, so that you can feel for yourselves the changes silently taking place in her small, quiet town.

Sometimes, time seems to be sneaking around in this small town. Year after year, the
roads and the lanes remain the same while the people age secretly. But the truth may be that it is the roads and the lanes that are aging while the people remain alive. You may happen to be walking by a household, where you will see a little woman at the door, peeling green soy beans with a basket on her knees, her action conducted at a rapid pace and with a ground of scattered beans beneath her feet. In a still moment, she seems to be tired of the work or the pain of hurt fingers; she lifts her head, eases her hands a little then bites them softly and breathes onto them for a little warmth. And, see, in the action of breathing, she is as lively as the person who she was when she was young; in the action of peeling the beans, raising her head, shaking her hands, the lost days return.

And there are other times when the town is alive, with the latest information of the age sweeping through it like a storm. It grows or slows with its own speed, gradually changing into something that is our own. The most fascinating changes happen among the women of the town. They are rather stylish girls now. I remember when it was a fashion in Canton for women to make-up, with lipstick and eye shadow. Little more than a year later, make-up is similarly in vogue here.

(CRI January 28, 2005)

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