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Can Xue

The next Chinese Nobel laureate in Literature?


Can Xue missed out on the Nobel Prize for Literature earlier this month (despite the award going to two winners this year) but local interest in her work has increased after speculation that she was in the running.

Who is Can Xue?

Can Xue – the author’s pen name – has two meanings, the South China Morning Post reports: “snow on top of high mountains” and “dirty snow that has been trampled on”. Elliptically, the Hunan-born writer says she hopes her work can combine the two meanings.

The author, whose real name is Deng Xiaohua, did not receive much of a formal education, leaving school after primary level and subsequently working as a factory worker, tailor and barefoot doctor.

She says her style is “experimental literature”. Totalling 7 million characters to date (an equivalent of about 17.5 million words), her extensive body of work has been translated into multiple languages. Its abstract style is sometimes considered difficult to read, although Goran Malmqvist, a Swedish sinologist (and until his recent death one of the Nobel judges), once praised her as “a very special writer” and the “Kafka of China ”.

Amazon’s Kindle store carries six English translations of her work, including Five Spice Street, Frontier and The Embroidered Shoes: Stories.

Few mainland Chinese have heard of her?

The state-run news website reported that Can Xue was the fourth-placed favourite to win the Nobel on NicerOdds, a British bookmaking website. Her odds then widened but interest in her work has spiked at home in China. Previously her books were often unavailable at the major online domestic retailers but some of her works have more than doubled in price on e-commerce sites following the media coverage of her nomination for the award.

Not that the author is much of a self-promoter. Can Xue is said not to use a mobile phone or WeChat, and she rarely courts publicity, telling Pear Video in the build up to the announcement on the Nobel award: “I have little chance of being awarded the prize, I just want to peacefully write my works”.

More winners from China in future?

Can Xue was thought to have a better chance of winning because the Academy’s Literature Committee has said it will consider a more diverse mix of authors. “We had a more Eurocentric perspective on literature and now we are looking all over the world,” promised Anders Olsson, the committee’s chairman. This year’s winners were a Pole and an Austrian, and the only mainland China-based Chinese to have won the prize was Mo Yan in 2012.

Winners get $918,000 in cash, plus a gold medal that will be awarded on December 10 – the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

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