The longlist for what is arguably China’s most prestigious award for novels has just been published (第九届茅盾文学奖参评作品目录). I write “arguably” because, like virtually every literary competition in the PRC of late, even the reputation of the Mao Dun Literature Prize — sponsored by the very official Chinese Writers Association — has been questioned. See 2014: Year of the Chinese Literary Prize (Scandal)? for a wrap-up.
Awarded every four years to between three and five long works of fiction (at least 130,000 hanzi), they will be handed out again this year (2015). China-based publishers have nominated some 252 works distributed in hard copy form between 2011-2014.
Naturally, there are plenty of works by famous mainstream authors on the list, such as Ge Fei (江南三部曲), Jia Pingwa (古炉, 老生) and Han Shaogong (日夜书).
But here at Ethnic ChinaLit, our focus is on “writing by & about non-Han peoples of China.” And it is my understanding is that there is a tradition — albeit an unwritten rule — that each set of Mao Dun awards include one “ethnic-themed” work (民族题材的作品). In the past, winners included Huo Da’s Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼), Alai’s Red Poppies (尘埃落定), and Chi Zijian’s The Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸).
By my count, there are at least 20 contenders for the prize that fall into the unofficial ethnic-themed category, i.e., the novel has major “non-Han” components in terms of characters and storyline. My impression is that the Chinese literary establishment has also become acutely aware of the need to identify and promote authors who not only write about ethnic minorities, but are themselves “ethnic” writers. That may give certain nominees a bit of an edge this time around — after all, winning titles and authors must definitely meet the prevailing standards of political correctness. Model writers, particularly hailing from restive border regions such as Xinjiang, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, are likely to be particularly in demand.
The recent brouhaha over Wolf Totem, the movie, is a good example of the pent up frustration among peoples
who are unhappy at seeing their culture commercialized for great profit —and possibly misinterpreted — by Han authors like Jiang Rong. See Breakthrough for Mongolian on the Screen for details of one author’s critique of the very idea that the wolf represents a totem for the Mongolian people.
I’ve gone through the list of 252 novels and done my best to identify non-Han authors and their works. No doubt I’ve missed some, and I welcome your additions and corrections. Interesting to note that this list is dominated by members of ethnicities located in northern China that traditionally speak an Altaic language such as Mongolian, Daur, Uyghur or Kazakh:
《时间悄悄的嘴脸》by Uyghur writer Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木). For an excerpt of his writing, click on his short story Sidek Golden MobOff . I recently read the nominated work (a novella, actually), which I enjoyed. Asem’s fiction is a Uyghur world where Han just don’t figure; his hallmarks are womanizers, insulting monikers and a hybrid Chinese with an odd but appealing Turkic flavor.
《忽必烈大汗》Kublai Khan by Mongolian writer Bagen (巴根)
《大地》by Mongolian writer Burentegusi (布仁特古斯)
《天边有只红鹘鸟》 by Mongolian writer Ye Ming (叶鸣)
《多布库尔河》Duobukuer River by Daur writer Sa Na (萨娜)
《局》by Hui writer Zha Shun (查舜)
《仓央嘉措》 Tsangyang Gyatso by Tibetan historian Doje Cedain (རྡོ་རྗེ་ཚེ་བརྟན་ , 多杰才旦)
Of course, the works of several Han writers also feature ethnic themes and are in the running as well. They include:
Wang Meng’s The Scenery Over Here (《这边风景》, 王蒙著). Set in Ili, the two-volume saga draws on the author’s experience of 16 years of life in Xinjiang, including the Cultural Revolution, during which he labored among the Uyghur and became fluent in their language. Wang Meng apparently wrote it back in the 70s but shelved it for some reason, but it’s not just out now, it’s been published in Chinese and Uyghur. It has won kudos for evoking an era when Han-Uyghur relations were simpler and more amicable, but frankly, I found it more or less . . . unreadable.
Secrets of the Tibet Tea-Horse Road (《藏茶秘事》, 徐杉著) by Xu Shan. Historical novel set on the rugged Sichuan-Tibet tea trading route at the turn of the 20th century.
Lhasa Riverbank by Zhang Zuwen (《拉萨河畔》张祖文著)
Yehu Ridge by Xue Mo (《野狐岭》, 雪漠著)