Oliver Chou

Two decades after the mainland film Raise the Red Lantern, which was nominated for an Oscar, the writer of the book on which it is based is in the running for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize.

Su Tong, along with fellow writer Wang Anyi, are the first two Chinese to be shortlisted for the British-based literary prize. The pair will compete with 11 other finalists from seven countries. The winner, who will receive £60,000 (HK$748,000), will be announced on May 18 in Sydney.

“This is partly the result of a worldwide curiosity about China and Chinese life, which has accompanied China’s growing economic power,” said Douglas Kerr, English professor at the University of Hong Kong. “International publishers are seeking out both mainland and diaspora Chinese writers, and Chinese fiction is being translated as never before.

“Contemporary Chinese culture first attracted attention in the form of cinema; now it seems it’s the writers’ turn.” The nomination is based on a candidate’s overall body of work rather than a single novel, and all living authors whose works of fiction are either in English or translated into English are eligible.

Beijing-based Su, 48, has more than 20 novels and 100 short stories to his name. The most famous of these is the 1990 novella Wives and Concubines, on which the critically acclaimed Raise the Red Lantern was based. Directed by Zhang Yimou and starring Gong Li, the film was nominated for an Oscar for best foreign language movie in 1992

Su won the Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel The Boat to Redemption in 2009. His award was the second among Chinese writers – Jiang Rong won the inaugural Man Asian prize in 2007 for his novel Wolf Totem, while Bi Feiyu was recognised for his novel, Three Sisters, this year.

Wang, a 56-year-old literature professor in Shanghai, rose to fame with the 1996 novel The Song of Everlasting Sorrow.

The Man Booker International Prize was launched in 2005 and is held every two years.

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