Chinese writer Bi wins Man Asian prize

Chinese writer Bi Feiyu has won the $30,000 US Man Asian Literary Prize for his novel Three Sisters.
China's Bi Feiyu won the Man Asian Literary Prize on Thursday for his novel Three Sisters. (Earl Wan/Man Asian Literary Prize)

Chinese author Bi Feiyu has won the $30,000 US Man Asian Literary Prize  for his novel Three Sisters, set during the Cultural Revolution.

Bi was named winner at a gala in Hong Kong on Thursday. He is the third Chinese writer to win in the four-year history of the prize, intended to celebrate novels written in or translated into English.

All three of those winning novels were translated from Chinese by Howard Goldblatt, a research professor of Chinese at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and considered one of the world's foremost translators of Chinese literature. Goldblatt will share a cash prize of $5,000 US with fellow translator Sylvia Li-chun Lin for his work on Three Sisters.

Bi, a journalist, poet and screenwriter born in China's Jiangsu province, has won a number of literary honours, including the Lu Xun Literary Prize. His other books include Massage and The Moon Opera, which was also translated into English by Goldblatt.

Bi worked with Chinese director Zhang Yimou to write the film Shanghai Triad.

Three Sisters follows three female members of a peasant family that counts seven girls and one boy, as they negotiate the transitions China has undergone. The tale moves from village life through the Cultural Revolution to life in the city.

The Man Asian judges praised Bi for the scope and ambition of his novel, comparing it to the Russian play of the same name by Anton Chekhov.

"A moving exploration of Chinese family and village life during the Cultural Revolution that moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate, the heroic and the petty — illuminating not only individual lives, but an entire society, within a gripping tale of familial conflict and love," the jury said of the book in its citation.

Bi is the first writer to win the Man Asian prize with a published book. Earlier winners, including Manila-born, Montreal-based author Miguel Syjuco's Illustrado, were unpublished at the time they took the prize.