Top prize for novel written in 43 days

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 July, 2008, 12:00am

A comic tale of transformation in rural China spanning 50 years and interwoven with Buddhist philosophy has been named the winner of a Baptist University award for Chinese literature.

Life, Death, Trial, by Shandong-born author Mo Yan, was announced yesterday as the recipient of the HK$300,000 Dream of the Red Chamber Award.

The literary prize, named after a Qing dynasty (1644-1911) classic novel, began in 2006. This is the second time it has been awarded.

Mo, who is in Beijing and was informed of his win by phone, said he felt 'quite calm' upon hearing of the six-digit windfall.

The 450,000-character novel was written in just 43 days.

'Although it was written very quickly, I planned this story for a very long time,' he said.

'The original inspiration came to me when I was just seven or eight years old.

'I wrote it in August 2005, while staying in a very rural place near Beijing. There was no telephone, so people couldn't reach me. I just wrote the whole time and didn't get much sleep.'

The novel documents life in a rural commune in Shandong province between 1950 and 2000 as it undergoes the massive social and political upheavals that swept the mainland in the period.

'I could not have written this in the 1980s,' he said.

Mo said many elements of the story were 'very personal'.

Harvard University chair professor of Chinese literature David Wang Der-wei, a member of the selection panel, said the judges had been won over by the author's inventiveness and the historical scope of his subject matter.

'He has shown a new way of looking at what history is,' Professor Wang said.

Judges were particularly impressed by Mo's use of farm animals as narrators of the story, as a central character is reincarnated as a donkey, an ox, a pig, a dog and a monkey before finally returning to human form.

Taiwanese author Sih-ma Jhong-yuan, another judge, said the use of animals 'perfectly matched' the changing face of the Communist Party over the past half-century.

The judges also selected for special recognition Words of Shamaness by Taiwanese author Chu Tien-wen, An Era of Enlightenment by Wang Anyi from Shanghai, and Multi-Histories of Time: Light on Matte Porcelain by local novelist Dung Kai-cheung.