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2011 Newman Prize Winner

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2011 Winner Han Shaogong


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE       CONTACT: OU Inst. US-China Issues, 405/325-3580

NORMAN, OK – The Chinese writer Han Shaogong has been chosen by an international jury as the winner of the second Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. The Newman Prize is sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues. It is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of five distinguished literary experts nominated the five candidates last summer and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on 8 October 2010.

Mr. Han Shaogong will receive USD 10,000, and a commemorative plaque and medallion, and will be invited to the University of Oklahoma to attend an award ceremony and academic symposium in March 2011.  The event will be hosted by Peter Hays Gries, director of the Institute for US-China Issues, which seeks to advance mutual trust in US-China relations.

“I am thrilled at the selection of Han Shaogong as the second winner of the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature,” Gries said. “I can see why our panel of five international experts in Chinese literature chose Han and his Dictionary of Maqiao for the award. The book is innovative, interrogating the local to capture the universal. It thus fits the Newman Prize’s goal of honoring ‘outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition’.”

The Newman Prize honors Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at the University of Oklahoma enabled the creation of the OU Institute for US-China Issues.  The University of Oklahoma is also home to Chinese Literature Today, World Literature Today, and the Neustadt International Prize for Literature. A special section of World Literature Today will be dedicated to Han Shaogong’s work in fall 2011.

The five writers and representative works under consideration were: Han Shaogong’s A Dictionary of Maqiao (Maqiao cidian,1996), Ge Fei’s Peach Blossom Beauty (Renmian taohua, 2004), Li Ang’s Garden of Labyrinths (Miyuan, 1991), Yu Hua’s Chronicle of a Blood Merchant (Xu Sanguan mai xue ji,1996), and Su Tong’s The Boat to Redemption (He’an,2008).

The list of nominees was filled with luminaries of the mainland Chinese and Taiwanese literary scenes. Thematically, the works nominated were dominated by a preoccupation with modern history. The judges considered re-imaginings of the late Qing and the 1911 Revolution; picaresque narratives of Cultural Revolution brutality; intricate fictions of political trauma under KMT rule in Taiwan; and the story of China’s troubled twentieth century as relayed through the dialect of a tiny, forgotten village in Hunan. 

The second Newman Prize jury consisted of five internationally recognized jurors based in the U.S., U.K., Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, and was jointly coordinated by Peter Hays Gries (University of Oklahoma) and Howard Goldblatt (University of Notre Dame). The jurors were: Ann Huss (Chinese University of Hong Kong), Liang-ya Liou (National Taiwan University), Tom Moran (Middlebury College), Ji Jin (Suzhou University), and Julia Lovell (University of London).

The diversity and strength of the nominations posed a great challenge for the jury. Yet Han Shaogong emerged as the consensus winner after four rounds of positive elimination voting. Born in 1953 in Hunan, south China, Han Shaogong has produced an extraordinary corpus of literary work over the past three decades. After spending six years planting rice and tea in northern Hunan during the Cultural Revolution, in the late 1970s he began a second career as a novelist. In the 1980s, he became a leading member of the “Roots-Seeking Movement” – a pioneering group of writers committed to exploring the fantastical local roots of Chinese culture, and to creating a darkly modernist type of fiction capable of articulating the macabre violence of Maoism. A decade later, Han’s fascination with south China and with the political calamities of the 20th century culminated in his 1996 masterpiece, A Dictionary of Maqiao: a fictional biography of the village to which Han was sent down during the Cultural Revolution. He was nominated by the prominent translator and scholar Julia Lovell, whose translation of A Dictionary was published in 2003 by Columbia University Press.

“Han Shaogong,” Julia Lovell comments, “is a Chinese writer who intertwines, with exceptional artistry and originality, human perspectives of the local and the global, and whose career exemplifies the creative revolution that has taken place in Chinese writing since 1976. Blending fiction, memoir and essay, A Dictionary of Maqiao is an astonishing book: for the humour and humanity of its story-telling; for its unsentimental dedication to recounting the lives of impoverished farmers; for the light-handed skill with which it narrates the tragedies of modern China; and for its experimental form and sophisticated insights into Chinese culture, language and society.”

For more information, please visit the Newman Prize homepage. You can also contact:
- Peter Gries, The University of Oklahoma, 405/325-1962 (US Central Time),
- Julia Lovell, The University of London, 0044-1223-328829 (UK Time),
- Howard Goldblatt, Univ. of Notre Dame, 574/289-7442 (US Central),

Julia Lovell's statement nominating Han Shaogong.