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March 22, 2011

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Prize for family tales of struggle and love

CHINESE writer Bi Feiyu's account of life during the "cultural revolution" period (1966-76) won the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize last Thursday, making a hat-trick of wins for Chinese writers since the prize's inception in 2007.

The writer, journalist and poet won with his novel "Three Sisters," described by the judges as a "gripping tale of familial conflict and love."

Bi said the book was inspired by dissatisfaction with the current body of Chinese "scar" literature from the "cultural revolution," by being "stuck in a miasma of who's right and wrong" and by the tribulations suffered by his father at that time.

"We should never forget the 'cultural revolution'," he said. "The real point is that the 'cultural revolution' wasn't just a 10-year experience, the after-effects are still being felt," said Bi in an interview after the awards ceremony.

"If we intellectuals don't examine this carefully ... history will repeat itself.

"I would never forgive myself if I had not been able to pass on some insight on the 'cultural revolution' from my generation to the next generation."

Chinese writers have now won three out of four of the annual Man Asian Literary awards that was launched in 2007, including Jiang Rong for "Wolf Totem" and Su Tong for "The Boat to Redemption."

The prize, which includes a US$30,000 cash award, is intended to bring to wider international attention to the region's budding and diverse literary talent, awarded for works by Asian writers either written, or translated into English. The three Chinese winners so far were all translated by Howard Goldblatt.

"If, in the larger sense, cultural translation is a crucial process of self-understanding in moments of social transformation, then nobody grasps its tragic-comic dimensions better than Bi Feiyu," said Homi Bhabha, a Harvard professor of humanities and one of the judges.

"Three sisters live through the 'cultural revolution' experiencing the vicissitudes of history as both victims and victors."

In winning, Bi staved off a strong shortlist including 1994 Japanese Nobel Literature Prize winner Kenzaburo Oe, Yoko Ogawa, as well as Indian writers Manu Joseph and Tabish Khair.

The Man Group also sponsors the prestigious Booker Prize.


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