By Mei Jia (China Daily)

BEIJING – Chinese writers Su Tong and Wang Anyi have been shortlisted for the prestigious 2011 Man Booker International Prize.

Established in 2005 as a complement to the Man Booker Prize, the international prize is a biennial award for international fiction writers whose work is written in or translated to English.

This is the first time that Chinese writers have been shortlisted for the prize. The two are among a total of 13 contenders – including Philip Roth and John le Carr – from eight countries.

Su, 48, a native of Suzhou, Jiangsu province, said on Friday that he was pleased to hear the news, likening it to a warming spring breeze.

“But it’s only a breeze, and it won’t disturb my ultimate task at the moment – concentrating on the novel I’m working on,” he said.

The Nanjing-based writer established international prominence by winning the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize with his seventh novel, The Boat to Redemption. Also winning were Jiang Rong in 2007, with Wolf Totem, and Bi Feiyu in 2011, with Three Sisters.

Su, a prolific writer, is also known for the novella Wives and Concubines, which was turned into Zhang Yimou’s film Raise the Red Lantern.

Wang, a native of Nanjing, currently serves as the chairwoman of the Shanghai Writers’ Association.

Her most famous novel, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, traces the life story of a young Shanghai girl from the 1940s to her death in the 1980s.

Carmen Callil, a judge for the prize, said: “They (the Chinese writers) tell us so much about China, the China of our own times, and the past: better than any history book.”

Literary critic Meng Fanhua said the Chinese writers’ contributions are “their successful record and reflection on the unique experience of being Chinese”.

Meng said the two writers are both from Southern China, where the experience of the country’s globalization and development in recent decades is vigorously represented.

Su is not certain about the range of his influence internationally, strengthening his “independent exploration of a literary path that differs from any of others”.

Professionals and critics believe this first inclusion of Chinese writers among the contenders shows recognition and better knowledge of the country’s writing among international audiences and will provide a launching pad for the writers to get wider appeal abroad.

“I hope the choice of them as candidates will signal to the rest of the world what richness there is in Chinese writing,” Callil said, adding “already, there is a great deal of interest” in that.

Callil says both Su and Wang are great writers, even if read in sometimes disappointing translations.

“Many of the Chinese writers I read deserve better translators and publishers” to have better access to international readership, she said.

The Australia-born publisher, writer and critic calls for proper English translations of Chinese works, “a kind of universal English, so that one culture does not impose upon the other”, compared with the ones in “American English”.

Marysia Juszczakiewicz, with the Hong Kong-based Peony Literary Agency that has represented Su Tong in copyrights, said international literary awards are important platforms for Chinese writers to meet the international readers.

“I am delighted that more Chinese writers are winning and are shortlisted for literary prizes,” she said.

The name of the winner will be announced in Sydney on May 18. The award brings a 60,000 British pounds ($96,000) prize for the winner and a chance of 15,000 British pounds for the translator.

Previous winners are the Albanian novelist and poet Ismail Kadar in 2005, Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe in 2007, and Canadian short-story writer Alice Munro in 2009

Talking about his chance of claiming the prize, Su said with typical Chinese modesty and humor: “It’s just one out of 13, a negligible chance.”

China Daily