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March 10, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright March 10, 2009 Haiyan Lee. Used by permission.


On Thursday, March 5, the acclaimed Chinese novelist Mo Yan received the inaugural Newman Prize for Chinese Literature at a ceremony held on the campus of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. Over a hundred invited guests attended the event, including the Chinese consul from Houston, the Oklahoma secretary of state, OU’s deans of arts and sciences, OU faculty, high school teachers, students, alumni, visitors, and donors.

The Newman Prize was created in 2008 in OU’s Institute for U.S.-China Issues at the initiative of its director Peter H. Gries, Professor of political science and author of China’s New Nationalism, who sought my collaboration as consultant and jury coordinator. Our vision was to award the prize biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry by a living author writing in Chinese. Last summer, we assembled a jury of seven distinguished literary experts who nominated seven candidates, read their representative works, and selected the winner in a transparent voting process (details are available here).

As the inaugural laureate, Mo Yan received a commemorative medallion, a certificate, and $10,000. The prize is the first major American award for Chinese literature. Speaking at the award ceremony, Peter Gries retold the story Lu Xun’s conversion to literature that he first encountered at Middlebury College in the “Preface to Nahan/Call to Arms” and called the prize his “call-to-arms”: “It is my hope that the prize will contribute to increased American awareness of the tremendous diversity and humanist spirit of contemporary Chinese literature, and help generate goodwill in U.S.-China relations.”