Mainland-born new writer Shan Sa, 25, caused the South China Morning Post a small problem. Her first novel has won a top writing award and caused such a flurry in literary circles that she was called back home unexpectedly from a trip to Hong Kong this month to publicise her work further. While in the SAR, she was rather startled to discover herself regarded as something of a celebrity when she was overheard in a bookshop and promptly offered a drinks party to celebrate her visit. The problem is that as the Post is an English-language newspaper, it is not usual - indeed, it is not policy - to feature a work that is, at present, only available in French. But it would be churlish to ignore a Chinese writer who, after living only seven years in the country, won six prizes including France's highly-regarded Prix Goncourt for her first novel, Porte de la Paix Celeste or 'Gate of Heavenly Peace' (Editions du Rocher) about China. The work is to be translated into Italian and Spanish, and rewritten in Chinese by the author - but at present, there are no plans to translate it into English. Shan Sa was in high school in Beijing during the June 4 student protests and the bloody aftermath. In 1990, at 17 ready to attend university but with a crackdown still on students, she had the choice of staying put, leaving for Canada, or for Paris, where her university professor father was teaching. She opted for Paris, knowing no French and having not lived outside the mainland before. When she had been there three months, her father was called back to Beijing, leaving her alone. 'It was very difficult,' she says. 'Lonely.' Yet now she sees it was a great opportunity. She was struck, during a history lesson on World War II as she was repeating a high school year - 'I couldn't read the words, I could only look at the pictures' - at how differently things were viewed. Whereas her studies had taught her about Japan's aggression against China, the French students knew nothing about that and were involved in discussions about Adolf Hitler. It made her determined to learn the language so she could join in. And she began in a rather unconventional way: with Albert Camus and a dictionary. Looking up nearly every word, it took her hours to peruse three pages. Now, after eight years in Paris and with her baccalaureat and a degree in philosophy, she is fluent in her adopted tongue. And with her fluency - and many discussions of China with her French friends - came her urge to write. Her friends had the impression that Tiananmen was a collapse. But Shan Sa wants to see it more positively. The book is about the Tiananmen Square massacre, or more exactly, about events after it: a university student involved in the demonstration is pursued into the countryside by a soldier. The sophisticated young woman finds herself learning about the rural areas of China she has never known before; the soldier, born and raised in a rural setting, learns something of the big city and the educated student during his pursuit. Though they never meet, they have a form of communication 'through their heart', she says: almost a form of telepathy. The book is full of opposites, from the thoughts of the young girl and the soldier to the weather they pass through. It is written in a sparse style, but with a feeling of unreality - of mysticism or magic. Shan Sa has clearly thought a lot about her novel. She is earnest, absorbed, animated. The daughter of university professors, she is both assured and contemplative: both her parents now teach in Beijing. Her idea, she says, is to promote the notion that both old and new, modern and traditional, sophistication of the city and customs of the villages, have to work together towards China's future. 'The modern should not reject all things traditional, and the traditional should not reject everything modern': the whole will be stronger if the two parts, like yin and yang, complement each other. And she wants the world to see that Tiananmen was not all bad, not the end of everything. 'When people talk about June 4 in China they think it is a sad ending.' But despite the tragedy of the lost lives, 'it can be a good thing,' she says, taking herself as an example: but on a wider view, the mainland should grasp it as an opportunity to move on, she says. 'I think everybody in China died that night and got a new life afterwards,' she said. 'It's a positive death.' Her book has received wide acclaim in France. But French literature often remains available only to French readers, and she is frustrated that her publishers have shown little interest in contacting British agents or publishers: she intends to try herself. For now, interested readers will have to wait for the Chinese version that Shan Sa plans to write afresh, or talk their French friends into giving a potted translation.