Former Hong Kong academic and author on shortlist for prestigious Man Booker Prize

Madeleine Thien, who claims City University’s decision to close its creative writing course was politically motivated, is one of six finalists for Man Booker Prize

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 September, 2016, 10:50am

A Canadian author who condemned City University of Hong Kong’s abrupt closure of a creative writing programme last year as an attempt to limit free expression has been shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, one of the most prestigious literary awards in the world.

Madeleine Thien, who had taught the university’s master of fine arts in creative writing programme from 2010, is one of six finalists. Her book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, is about China’s revolutionary history, including the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

Winners of the Booker prize, established in Britain in 1969, receive £50,000 (HK$510,000), while each shortlisted author gets £2,500.

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Thien was among 25 internationally renowned authors who signed a petition letter to City University’s management last year protesting at the decision to close the course.

In a blog post for the Guardian newspaper in Britain in May last year, Thien linked the decision to a number of students on the programme publishing essays in support of the pro-democracy mass civil-disobedience Occupy Central movement in 2014.

The university said last year that the decision was made after the course “recruited fewer than 18 students in each of the last two years” out of an annual admission quota of 30, and “has accumulated a large deficit over the years”.

The programme’s founder, Hong Kong-born American writer Xu Xi, said she initially proposed a quota of 20 for the programme but that the university insisted on raising it to 30.

In the Guardian article, Thien pointed out that the university’s governing council chairman, Herman Hu Shao-ming, was a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and appointed to the council by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

“I hesitate to use the incendiary words of censorship, freedom of speech and intellectual freedom. However, it has become increasingly clear to me, as events have unfolded, that these are precisely the issues,” Thien wrote.

“In its abrupt closure of a small programme, City University has chosen to make the act of writing a political battle.”