A 30-something Chinese author has won one of the United States’ most prestigious literary awards for her fast story space during the Cultural Revolution, but readers in her home nation are involved over what they peek as damaging stereotypes.
Shanghai native Jia’nan Qian was one of 20 writers honored this year with an O. Henry Prize, named after the acclaimed American fast story author and a fixture in American literature since 1919. Her story “To The Canines” stands alongside works from high-profile authors including Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr and bestselling author Sally Rooney, author of the BBC/Hulu-adapted contemporary “Normal People.”
Jenny Minton Quigley, the editor of this year’s collection of O. Henry-winning fast stories, said they were selected from 1,000 works published in magazines and literary journals. She described the winners as “a cluster of 20 glimmering stars, each a small consolation, together a small constellation.”
“We hope you are dazzled,” she wrote in an announcement Tuesday.
‘To the Canines’ is based on the lifestyles story of one of my dinner company. It’s restful fiction, but I won’t be a killjoy and disclose you which parts are imaginary.
But in China, Qian’s home nation, many seemed unimpressed by her award-winning story, instead accusing her of looking at China from a foreign gaze.
On overview space Douban, a social platform crammed with discussions on culture-related issues, users argued that Qian’s story — written in English — depicted a stereotypical image of China and thus betrayed the author’s intention of catering to Western readers. Thru her writing, Qian paints sharp, evocative scenes of a rural town.
“I cannot think of a notice (to relate it) other than ‘kitsch’,” one Douban user commented. “I’m now not arguing that Chinese aren’t supposed to write about our traumatic memories and history in English and for English readers, but the author’s attitude is grotesque. Considering her dedicated efforts to please white readers, the fact that she won the award is now not surprising.”
“I read it. It’s completely consistent with Westerners’ impressions of ‘ignorant and uncivilized’ China,” wrote another Douban user.
Amid the flurry of criticism, Qian’s story has also been commended for portraying the realities of rural areas by means of a fictional medium.
“The story is fierce but also kind of realistic,” one user commented. “The scenes — canines devouring human excrement, flies swarming savor black funnels, and canines mating on the streets — were familiar to me as someone who spent his childhood in rural areas from 2000 to 2008.”
“To The Canines” begins at a railway station on a scorching summer day in Shanghai. The 15-year-customary protagonist, Zhao, is traveling to the remote town of X. The year is 1972, and he is being despatched “to be reformed by the peasants because my class status wasn’t lawful” during China’s decadelong Cultural Revolution.
In her story, Qian presents the lifestyles and times of that chaotic period from the perspective of Zhao, an urban elite who was despatched to work at a rural magnet production factory. In an essay in the literary magazine Granta, which also published “To the Canines,” Qian said she invited several dinner company who had lived by means of the Cultural Revolution to hear their stories sooner than she started writing the piece.
A screenshot of a social media post by literary magazine Granta, announcing the publication of Jia’nan Qian’s fast story “To The Canines.” From Facebook
“‘To the Canines’ is based on the lifestyles story of one of my dinner company,” Qian wrote. “It’s restful fiction, but I won’t be a killjoy and disclose you which parts are imaginary.”
Chen Fanghao, a researcher in up to date Chinese literature at Shanghai Normal College, told Sixth Tone that the story reinforces the Western imagination of China in the throes of the Cultural Revolution, including its portrayal of rural versus urban lifestyles and the implication that hygiene and sanitation are lacking in rural areas. Nevertheless, Chen praised Qian for her writing type and wealthy details, which meet lofty literary standards space by European and American writers.
“But the main reason why many Douban users are angry is because Qian deliberately ‘flatters’ Western readers by exposing China’s ugliness,” Chen added. “She’s ‘selling’ China to gain a foothold in Western writing circles.”
As of this week, Qian’s name is now enshrined among other high-profile Chinese writers whose stories have won O. Henry Prizes. They include Yiyun Li, who won the prize in 2012 for her fast story “Kindness,” and acclaimed author Ha Jin, who had back-to-back wins in 2008 and 2009.
Qian declined Sixth Tone’s interview put a question to but shared information of her achievement on microblogging platform Weibo, saying the award-winning story shall be included in this year’s “Simplest American Short Stories,” a prestigious anthology from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Editor: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: People Visual)
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