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Welcoming in Chinese New Year with a Look Back at 2023 Chinese Book Prizes

By Grace Briggs-Jones


On the Western side of the world, it is easy to focus on books that are written or translated into English and the book prizes that celebrate these. But across the world there are many authors who write in their native language and whose books are celebrated in awards that are not as widely known but which are equally as important. With the start of the Year of the Dragon being celebrated on 9 February, let’s step back into 2023 to take a look at some Chinese book awards that honour Chinese literature in all its originality.


August saw the Feng Zikai Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award being held, with seven judges, who cover all aspects of children’s picture books, picking the winners. Many picture books in the Chinese-speaking world are often translated from foreign languages and may not always be relevant to the experiences of Chinese children. The Feng Zikai Award aims to address the current inadequacy of high quality, original Chinese picture books and hopes to encourage their production and distribution. Named after one of China’s best-known illustrators, Feng Zikai, it is awarded biannually. The winner of Best Children’s Book is awarded $20,000 and the organiser of the award purchases 3,000 copies of the winning book to distribute amongst schools. The winners of Judging Panel’s Recommended Illustration and Judging Panel’s Recommended Writing each receive $10,000 and an additional $1,000 is given to up to ten authors who are given the Outstanding Children’s Picture Book Award. The winner of the 2023 Best Children’s Book Award was Mr Bear’s Class Learns to Write 1 in which a host of animals in Mr Bear’s class learns to write. Whether it is Crab writing horizontally or Turtle writing slow, Mr Bear likes them all. There were four winners of the Outstanding Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award: Secrets at the Zoo by Huang Yi-Wen, Granny’s Sea by Wan Shan Cheung, The Life of a Lotus Seed by Ying Ting Chen and illustrated by Hua Qing and The One-Sided Painter by Tom Liu.


On 20 September Baihua Literature Awards was held in Tianjin where thirty-nine works received awards in seven categories, including short stories, novellas, novels, and TV drama adaptation. For forty years, the awards have been held biennially and aim to select the best contemporary literary works having branched out into other fields, such as prose (added in 2015) and sci-fi literature (added in 2019). In 2023 online literature was added to reflect the trend and features of literary creation of the new era. Liu Daxian, a representative of the judges, said: "Baihua Literature Award has refined itself as a well-known brand of contemporary Chinese literature through continuous practice. It gives us a chance to see the contemporary development, realistic achievements, and dynamic evolution of Chinese literature." Shi Zhongshan, whose novel My Himalayas won the novel category, said: "This is the purest literary award, deeply trusted and recognized by readers and writers. It mirrors the vision of the planners at the Baihua Literature and Art Publishing House, that is, putting literature and readers first and making the former take root in the latter." Other winners include The Endless Flow of Love by Zhang Wei (novella), Bullets from the Near Future by Laizi Jinweilai (sci-fi), and eighteen editors from literary journals, such as People’s Literature, Harvest, October, Chinese Writers, and Shanghai Literature, receiving the Editor’s Award.


Back in November the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature was awarded to Chang Kuei-Hsing. Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma Institute for US-China Issues, the prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human conditions. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible with a jury of five distinguished literary experts selecting the winner who receives $10,000, a commemorative plaque, and a bronze medallion. Chang’s work emerges from the cultural, ethnic, and political struggles of the Chinese community in Malaysia. His most well-known novels are his Rain Forest Trilogy: The Elephant Herd, The Primate Cup and My South Seas Sleeping Beauty. E.K. Tan, who nominated Chang, says “[t]he uniqueness of Chang's writing lies in its fusion of literary aesthetics and narrative styles from the East and the West… [I]t is not at all far-fetched to claim that Chang’s writing can be read as a unique branch of Chinese literature.” Previous winners of the prize include Xi Xi, Chu T’ien-wen, and Han Shaogong.


Also in November, the Mao Dun Literature Prize was held in Tongxiang. Sponsored by the China Writers Association, it is named after the renowned writer Mao Dun. First awarded in 1982 and awarded every four years, it is one of the most prestigious literature prizes in China. Any work, authored by Chinese nationals, published in mainland China, and with over 130,000 characters is eligible, with the number of winners ranging from three to five. The 2023 winners were The Snow Mountain and the Homeland by Yang Zhijun, Baoshui Village by Qiao Ye, Bomba by Liu Liangcheng, A Panorama of Rivers and Mountains by Sun Ganlu, and Resonance by Dong Xi. 


新年快乐!Happy New Year!



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