Over the last few years, the veil has been partially lifted on what has been China’s most coveted literary prize for the novel, the Mao Dun Literature Prize, which is awarded just once every four years. You can bone up on the scandals behind this and other awards here if you like.
The Beijing Daily has just published an interesting article (茅奖销售) which details “before and after” sales figures, queries authors on how winning the award has affected their work, and concludes with a brief overview of 1982-2015 winning titles by literary critic Bai Ye (白烨).
Over the years the competition has evolved, if painfully slowly, with voting becoming more transparent, for instance. Sadly, this didn’t prevent staunch servant of the state Wang Meng from winning this year with his — in my eyes at least — virtually unreadable The Scenery Over Here, which is set in Xinjiang in the 70s.
But the standards are apparently in flux too. Reports the Beijing Daily, citing author Bi Feiyu:
“Beginning with the 8th Mao Dun Prize , this national-level award has undergone a revolutionary change. Most importantly, the aesthetic standards tend to be freer and more inclusive.” In his eyes, it’s precisely because of this change in direction that his Massage [推拿] could win. “After all, in the past only writing such as epics and those with grand themes could get the prize.”
The article, though interesting, isn’t short. So here are the key factoids:
White Deer Plain by Chen Zhongshi (白鹿原, 陈忠实著)
- Censored as part of tit-for-tat deal behind the awarding of the prize in 1997. See here for a few juicy details.
Funeral of a Muslim by Huo Da (穆斯林的葬礼, 霍达著)
- Recent news conference reported total sales have topped 3m copies. Awarded in 1991.
Ordinary World by Lu Yao (平凡的世界, 路遥著)
- Over 3m copies total, including 400,000 in 2014 alone. Awarded in 1991.
Frog by Mo Yan (蛙, 莫言著)
- Award date: 2011
- Pre-award sales: 160,000
- Post-award sales: Now totals 1m+. Probably more due to his winning the Nobel . . . than the Mao Dun prize!
Massage by Bi Feiyu (推拿, 毕飞宇著)
- Award date: 2011
- Pre-award sales: 48,000 copies over 4 years.
- Post-award sales: 150,000+ just in 2011 when awarded, and nearing 400,000 total within 2015.
Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian (额尔古纳河右岸, 迟子建著)
- Award date: 2008
- Pre-award sales: 40,000-50,000. Post-award sales: 300,000+ to date.
With sales of some 2.5 million copies, Funeral of a Muslim (穆斯林的葬礼，霍达著), Huo Da’s tale about three generations of a Hui family in Beijing, is quite possibly the most popular ethnic-themed novel ever published in China. It spans the turbulent years of the Japanese invasion, World War II and part of the Cultural Revolution.
I was commissioned by Eric Abrahamsen at Paper Republic to translate an English excerpt from this best seller. So I am happy to learn from Beijing October Art and Literature Publishing House that rights have been sold for two foreign-language editions: Wisdomhouse Publishing Co. Ltd has acquired the Korean rights, while Albatros Plus has done so for a Serbian edition.
For an English extract from Funeral of a Muslim and information on overseas rights, contact Mr. Han Jingqun, Chief Editor at Beijing October Art and Literature Publishing House, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here is a backgrounder on the novel: