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Newman Young Writers AwardChinese


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

NORMAN, OK. 2-16-11 – A jury of eight OU students has chosen Edmond North High School student Eleanor Sun as the winner of the 2011 Newman Young Writer’s Award. The $1,000 Prize was, according to the competition announcement, awarded to the “Oklahoma high school student(s) whose 2,000 - 3,000 word ‘mini-dictionary/ encyclopedia’ best captures the character of their high school. Dictionary ‘entries’ could explore the people, places, slang, or rituals that define their school.” OU student jurist Caitlan Campbell later said that Sun was able to “poignantly capture the true essence of her high school.”

The high school writing contest was held in conjunction with the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. The 2011 Newman Prize will go to Shaogong Han for his novel A Dictionary of Maqiao. The novel takes the format of a dictionary, with a series of vignettes disguised as entries, to describe a small rural Chinese town he was sent to in the 1960s. Students were asked to read excerpts from Han’s Dictionary to draw inspiration, but to describe their Oklahoma high school.

        2011 Winner Eleanor Sun                           2009 Winner Fitore Kusari

Ms. Sun will receive a $1,000 check and an award certificate on Friday at the same awards dinner that Mr. Han will receive his $10,000 prize. There will be a 3-5pm roundtable the same day, Friday, February 18th at The University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art (555 Elm Avenue, Norman, OK) that will discuss Han’s contributions to Chinese and world literature and is free and open to the public.

Both the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature and the Newman Young Writer’s Award are sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues. Both prizes honor Harold J. and Ruth Newman, whose generous endowment of a chair at OU enabled the creation of the Institute. The Newmans will be present at the awards dinner, and will personally give their respective prizes to Mr. Han and Ms. Sun.

Eleanor Sun was born in Gainesville, Florida and moved with her family to Edmond in the summer of 2006. She is a fifteen year old sophomore at Edmond North whose favorite subjects include math, science, and economics. She enjoys debate, chess, reading, and listening to music.

A jury of eight OU students, chosen for their accomplishments in writing and literary studies, selected Ms. Sun on Thursday Feb. 10 from a field of 67 entries from across the state of Oklahoma. The jurists – Caitlin Campbell (Norman), Teresa Elam (Norman), Blayze Hembree (Shawnee), Kathy Hoang (Oklahoma City), Jon Lowry (Oklahoma City), Lauren Stotts (Muskogee), Joshua Wesneski (Bartlesville), and Gharrett Workun (Yukon) – were all OU juniors and seniors who had attended Oklahoma high schools themselves.

When asked to describe the work of the jurists, Professor Peter Gries, director of OU’s Institute for US-China Issues, poured on the praise. “I was particularly impressed by the earnestness and dedication of our eight student jurists. The thoughtfulness and professionalism of their deliberations truly impressed me.”

The diversity and strength of the submissions posed a great challenge for the jury. Yet Eleanor Sun emerged as the consensus winner after six rounds of positive elimination voting. “We decided that our winner needed to convey a sense of his or her high school that is entirely unique,” said Gharrett Workun, a senior from Yukon. “Eleanor Sun… recreates the place she sees and endures every school day in a way that is personal yet objective at the same time.”
Jurist Caitlin Campbell went on to say, “Sun capably reminds us of the fun, spirit, and pride many of us experienced in high school, but at the same time she teaches us the unique characteristics of Edmond North. Sun conveys a tone and form clearly reminiscent of Han Shaogong’s A Dictionary of Maqiao while maintaining her own voice and making the style her own. This is quite simply a job well done.”

 “Every student realizes by the time of their graduation that their school has become more than just a place of learning,” said jurist Kathy Hoang. “It has been, for the past four years, the nesting ground for memories, friendships, and experiences that have in some way or another transformed the student. To capture the character and spirit of the school is no easy task, but Eleanor Sun managed to do it with grace.”

Nathan Hill of Union High School was the runner up, winning $100 and an “honorable mention” certificate. The five other finalists were Ananya Rudra from Norman North High School, Arthur Dixon from Ardmore High School, Jenna Adams, Rebecca Birdwell, and Leslie Nungester from Pawnee High School (coauthored their entry), Julie Frances Grice of Plainview High School, and Lauren Hall from Norman North High School.

For more information, please visit the Newman Young Writer’s Award homepage. You can also contact:
- Eleanor Sun (Winner, Edmond North HS), 405/562-4296,
- Peter Gries (Director, OU Institute for US-China Issues, 405/325-1962,
- Joshua Wesneski (OU student jury representative, 918/914-1076,

For more information or accommodations on the basis of disability, call the OU Institute for US-China issues at (405) 325-3580.


The OU Institute for US-China Issues
announces a

for Oklahoma high school students
$1,000 1st Prize

How well do you know your school? $1,000 and a certificate will be awarded on Feb. 18, 2011 to the Oklahoma high school student(s) whose “mini-dictionary/encyclopedia” best captures the character of their high school. “Entries” can explore the people, places, slang, or rituals that define their school. Students should read excerpts from Han Shaogong’s A Dictionary of Maqiao, winner of the 2011 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature, for inspiration. Single or co-authored submissions welcome. Requirements:
♦   2-3,000 words.
♦   Minimum of five “dictionary entries.”
♦   Submissions due to by February 1, 2011.
Flyer here. Booklet with excerpts from Han's Dictionary here (print double sided and fold)

Han Shaogong, A Dictionary of Maqiao

Translated by Julia Lovell © 2003 Columbia University Press


From the daring imagination of one of China’s greatest living novelists comes a work of startling power and originality–the story of a young man “displaced” to a small village in rural China during the 1960s. Told in the format of a dictionary, with a series of vignettes disguised as entries, A Dictionary of Maqiao is a novel of bold invention–and a fascinating, comic, deeply moving journey through the dark heart of the Cultural Revolution.

♦ River 江
The word for river (jiang in Mandarin) is pronounced gang by Maqiao people (in southern China) and refers not just to vast bodies for water, but to all waterways, including small ditches and streams. In northern China, on the other hand, the word “sea” is used to cover everything from lakes to ponds, which must seem equally strange to southerners. Size, it appears, is something left for people to worry about later.

In English, difference in size can be expressed by “stream” or “river.” Yet in French, fleuve refers to rivers entering the sea and rivière indicates an inland river or tributary entering another river, while size remains unspecified. It seems that the world contains many systems of naming, which do not necessarily relate to each other.

Although Maqiao people later on became more specific about size, they still didn’t seem to attach much importance to it, only differentiating it slightly by tone. Gang pronounced in a high, level tone refers to a larger river and in a rising tone to a rivulet or stream; it takes some time for outsiders to attune their ears to avoid misunderstandings. As a newcomer to Maqiao, I ran into such difficulties myself when I went off in excited search of a river, following directions from locals. My destination turned out to be a gurgling brook so narrow I could reach the other side in one flying leap. Some dark water-weed lay within and watersnakes would flash by unannounced, but for washing or swimming it was of no use...

♦ Little Big Brother (etc.) 小哥(以及其他)
“Little big brother” means big sister. Clearly, by the same token, “little little brother” means little sister, “little paternal uncle” means an aunt on the fathers’ side, “little maternal uncle” means an aunt on the mother’s side, and so on.

I noticed very early on that because Maqiao and places nearby didn’t appear to have an independent system for female nomenclature, most female names were formed simply by preceding the male name with the word “little”, thus tying women forever to the diminutive. This meant, in effect, that women were people of little consequence, petty people. I can’t be certain whether there’s any link between this kind of ruling and ancient sayings such as Confucius’s dictum that “women and petty people are hard to handle.”

Language, it seems, it never absolutely objective or neutral. A linguistic space will always be distorted under the influence of a particular set of beliefs. Bearing in mind the namelessness of females, it’s easy to draw further conclusions about their social status around here; it’s easy to understand why they always bound their chests flat, crossed their legs tightly, and lowered their eyes timidly onto steps or short grass, harboring a deep-felt fear and shame that sprang from their status as females…

♦ Army Mosquito 军头蚊
A very small variety of mosquito, this was, and very dark in color; if you examined it carefully, though, you’d see there was a small white dot on its black head. Its sting produced a red bite, not that big but unbelievably itchy, that lasted about three days. Maqiao people called it the “army mosquito.” People said Maqiao didn’t used to have this sort of mosquito, only the vegetable mosquito, a large, grayish creature. Although the bites it produced were big and extremely itchy, they disappeared pretty quickly. Miaoqiao people also said that the army mosquito had been brought by the provincial army, the year that Donkey Peng’ provincial army had fought their way up to Changle. They’d been stationed there for ten days, leaving behind piles of pig bristles, chicken feathers, and this vicious breed of mosquito.

That’s how the army mosquito got its name…

♦ Beginning (End) 归元(归完)
In Maqiao dialect, the word for “end” (pronounced wan in Mandarin) is pronounced the same as the word for “beginning” (yuan). Two temporal extremes are thus phonetically linked. In that case, when Maqiao people say “yuan,” do they mean end? Or do the mean beginning?

If things always have an end, then time always advances forward in a straight line, never repeating itself, with forward and back, this and that, right and wrong permanently in diametric opposition to each other, implying a certain standpoint for making comparisons and judgment. If, conversely, things always go back to the beginning, then time moves in a circle, always going around and starting again, with forward and back, this and that, right and wrong always confusingly and overturned.

As I see it, history’s optimists insist on the division between beginning and end, viewing history as an ever-advancing straight line, in which all honor and disgrace, success and failure, praise and blame, gains and losses are always precisely recorded, ready to receive true and just final judgment. Perseverance will receive its final reward. History’s pessimists, however, insist on the unity between beginning and end, viewing history as an ever-repeating loop in which their retreats endlessly advance, their losses are endlessly gained, everything is futile.

Which yuan would Maqiao people choose? Beginning or end?

Consider Maqiao: a little village, impossible to find, almost dropped off the map, with a few dozen households in the upper and lower village combined, a strip of land, set against a stretch of mountain. Maqiao has a great many stones and a great deal of soil, stones and earth which have endured through thousands of years. However hard you look, you won’t see it changing. Every particle is a testament to eternity. The never-ending flow of its waters gurgles with the sounds of thousands of years; the pearls of dew of thousands of years still hang on the blades of grass at the roadside; the sunlight of thousands of years now shines so brightly we cannot open our eyes— a blazing white heat that buzzes on the face.

On the other hand, Maqiao is not, of course, the Maqiao of former days, or even the Maqiao of a moment ago. A wrinkle has appeared, a white hair has floated to the ground, a withered hand has turned cold, everything moves silently on. Faces appear pone by one, then one by one fade away, never to return. Only on these faces can we look nervously for traces of the march of time. No power can stop this process, no power can prevent this succession of faces from sinking into Maqiao soil— just as one note plucked after another sounds and softly dies away.

♦ Gruel 浆
This was a kind of thin porridge, pronounced gang in Maqiao dialect (jiang in Mandarin). As Maqiao was a poor mountain village short of grain, “gruel” was a pretty commonly used word.

One of the “Odes of the small states” in the Book of Odes says: “It is better to serve guests wine than gruel,” and the word “gruel” is generally used to refer to a drink one rung below wine, such as corn soaked in water. The biography of Bao Xuan in Chapter Seventy-two of the Han History contains the phrase “wine into  gruel, meat into bean leaves,” referring to those who live in extravagance and luxury, treating wine like gruel, meat like the leaves on beans. From this it becomes clear how the term “gruel” has since come to refer more generally to the food and drink of the poor.

When the Educated Youth first came to Maqiao, they often misheard “eating gang (gruel)” as “eating gan (dry grain),” thus confusing it with its exact opposite. In fact, the people around here always replace the j sound with a hard g sound: the word for “river” (jiang), for example, was also pronounced gang. So “eating gruel” sometimes sounded like “eating river.” When the harvest was late and the pot in every household held nothing but water thickened with only sprinkling of grain, this phrase fit perfectly well.

2009 Newman Young Writers Award winner