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China's first Andersen Awards winner: No house of straw

APR . 14 2016

Peking University, Apr.14, 2016: It is rare to see an author receiving the adulation the public usually reserves for movie stars.

Such a sight unfolded at the Beijing Capital International Airport on Saturday, when CaoWenxuan arrived from Italy.

Hundreds of people had gathered to greet Cao, China's first winner of the Hans ChristianAndersen Awards, which are top honors presented every two years to one writer and oneillustrator from the world of children's literature, named after the Danish master of fairy tales.

Cao, 62, says he expected the media spotlight to fall on him soon after he received acongratulatory phone message from an acquittance in Beijing while he was attending theBologna Children's Book Fair in Italy after he was announced a winner of the awards this year.

During a news conference with Cao at the airport on Saturday, Xu Zhengming, an official withthe State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said the market forbooks for young people in China has entered a golden era.

Cao's stories are anchored in rural China, where he was born and raised, but at the same timethey seek to bring to the fore themes that are common to different cultures.

"(They're) rooted in the homeland and discuss issues that are shared by all is clever writing," hesays.

Cao believes the transformation China has undergone in the past decades has offered itswriters a wide range of subjects to pick from.

"Chinese literature's contribution to the world is its unique Chinese experience, based on hardyears the country has lived through," Cao says.

When his 2005 novel Bronze and Sunflower was published in English last year, The Independentnewspaper wrote that it offered a story so different that young British readers might be reluctantto read it.

The Straw House, one of Cao's best books since the 1990s, has been reprinted more than 300times, among which, he says, about 100 times were for adult readers.

Literary giant Ernest Hemingway and other such greats as Kawabata Yasunari, Shen Congwenand Lu Xun have influenced him, and they weren't known as writers of children's books.

Cao writes with no special targets in mind. What he cares about is good storytelling, the use ofhumor and wisdom that books reflect.

Cao, who is also a professor of literature at Peking University, addresses criticism that hisworks reveal a limited understanding of gender and sexuality, as most of his female characterstend to be gentle.

He says his novels are more about aesthetics and less about feminism.

In some ways, he has created Kui Hua in Bronze and other characters in his books, in the imageof Andersen's The Little Match Girl, he says.

The jury for the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Awards overwhelmingly voted for him, whichprobably says something about his writing.

"I am not a genius coming out of nowhere," Cao says, adding that he is getting the award partlybecause of the rising international profile of Chinese authors.

Writing actively since the end of the last century, a time of "fundamental changes" in China, hesays, he earlier came across critics who questioned original ideas for children's books in China.

"Some were thrilled about foreign books and were not confident enough to even mention ourown works," Cao adds.

Asking critics to adopt a more balanced view, he says confidence is not only key in self-evaluation but also an important factor when talking about Chinese literature's globalacceptance.

In 2014, Cao partnered with Daylight Publishing House and People's Literature PublishingHouse to create the Cao Wenxuan Literature & Art Center.

According to Liu Guohui, head of Daylight, the center aims to launch a full-fledged copyright-based project on his writing, and has already produced award-winning film adaptations.

The body is already offering Cao's stories to world-renowned illustrators for picture books aspart of the project.

"It's a smart way to open the window and let others take a look inside and see the chances ofcooperation," Cao says.

Xu, from the state administration, says Chinese publishers plan to launch 60,700 titles for youngpeople this year-some 12,000 titles more than in 2015-accounting for about 26 percent of allbooks published in the country.

"What we have is a really active and prosperous market for children's publishing," Xu says.

Cao says he wants to return to the writing table soon, because that's his calling. He plans tofinish a new novel by August, when he will collect the Andersen award in New Zealand.

"I will have to wrap it up even if it rains bullets or fireballs."

Reported by: Mei Jia
Edited by: Zhang Jiang
Source: China Daily