Conflicted About Mao Dun
By Eric Abrahamsen, published October 30, 2008, 3:17p.m.
It's time once again for the Mao Dun literary prize, so dear to the official heart of the Chinese literary scene. Never mind that everyone whose opinion we respect snorts in disdain at the very mention of this prize (which is administered by the Writers Association) it's still a literary event.
To get the suspense out of the way, there were four winners of this year's prize, which considered full-length works of fiction published between 2002 and 2006: Jia Pingwa's Qinqiang (秦腔, Qin Opera), generally considered the 'big winner', Chi Zijian's E'erguna He You'an (额尔古纳河右岸, The Right Bank of the Arguna River), Zhou Daxin's Huguang Shanse (湖光山色, Pastorale) and Mai Jia's Ansuan (暗算, Plotting).
The official announcement of the prize is awfully Marxist (for once the low-hanging fruit can stay right where it is), but there have been other, more thoughtful responses on-line.
Xie Youshun, one of the prize judges, talks to Sina here about the judging process. The interview is essentially a very long, carefully-couched apologia for the continuing relevance of the prize. "More open, more tolerant, more pure", is how Xie puts it, and he cites Tie Ning's statement (as chairperson of the Writers Association) about the 'vitality' (活力) of the prize. Prizes of this sort are generally considered moribund from an artistic point of view, but Xie sees hope:
…the fairness of the process and the earnestness of the judges really moved me. Frankly speaking, that an import mainstream prize coud have such pure motivation, and produce such a tidy list of winners, exceeded my expectations and the expectations of many in the literary world. I've been a judge for many literary prizes, but I have to admit that the Mao Dun prize has been carried out most carefully and sincerely. The leaders in particular, such as Tie Ning, who chaired the panel of judges, sat there for an entire week and listened to the arguments of all the judges, respected their very pointed opinions, and indicated throughout that they would not interfere at all in the awarding of the prize — this truly impressed me.
Sina carried an exclusive interview with Jia Pingwa, emphasizing the importance he places on domestic literary prizes over international literary prizes, which seems to be the standard-issue response to the whole Nobel prize embarrassment. On the other hand, the fact that Jia, who's still considered a 'controversial' writer, could win the prize is generally being considered an encouraging sign. Still, critical voices point out the predictability of the prize, its irrelevance in an age of flashy internet trash writing, and its lukewarm reception by readers, writers, and prize winners alike.
Murong Xuecun, whose Chengdu, Leave Me Alone Tonight was long-listed for the Man Asia literary prize, let loose in a phone interview:
If you look at the rules for selection, you wouldn't think they were selection outstanding fiction, or engaged in some literary pursuit – it's more like the thought-work report of some professor of politics. It's like they're selecting an outstanding Party member or 'advanced worker'.