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Story of success for imagination

China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-11


Host Leung Man-tao (left) interviews the five judges of this year's Blancpain-Imaginist Literary Prize at the award ceremony in Beijing on Oct 28. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chen Chuncheng, 31, born in Ningde, Fujian province, was named the winner of the 2021 Blancpain-Imaginist Literary Prize in Beijing for his collection of short stories Yewande Qianshuiting (Submarine at Night), beating four other shortlisted writers.

Co-founded in 2018 by the Swiss luxury watch brand Blancpain and the Chinese publisher Imaginist, the prize aims to uncover excellent Chinese writers under 45 years old, offering prize money of 300,000 yuan ($46,890) and a Blancpain watch.

Inspired by Greek poet C.P. Cavafy's work Ithaka that starts with "As you set out for Ithaka, hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery", the prize tries to help writers on their writing journeys.

"We want to provide a stage and a spotlight for young writers, so that more people can understand them, pay attention to them and like them," said Jack Liao, vice-president of Blancpain China, at the award ceremony in Beijing on Oct 28.

"In the last four years, we have been delivering a simple but profound message, that is, 'reading makes time more valuable'," he says.

From April 10 to May 15, the organizer of the literary prize received a record of nearly 100 submissions from publishers and writers. In the end, five fictional works were shortlisted: Chen's Yewande Qianshuiting, Zhang Ji's Nanhuodian (Shop Selling Goods of the South), Sun Ping's Yi Niaoshou Zhiming (In the Name of Birds and Beasts), Zheng Zhi's Xianzheng (A Split Mind) and Zhou Kai's Zhentan Xiaoshuojiade Weilai Zhishu (The Detective Novelist's Book of Future).

The literary prize invites different judges every year. This year, the five judges are writers A Lai, Ge Fei and Liang Hong from the Chinese mainland, singer-songwriter Jonathan Lee from Taiwan and writer Ma Chia-hui from Hong Kong. Each of them needed to finish reading more than 80 submitted works.

Ge Fei, the winner of the Mao Dun Literary Prize, the top prize of its kind in China, read comments from the jury on the winning work at the award ceremony: "Yewande Qianshuiting explores an unusual path to combine knowledge and life, sensibility and sense, as well as imagination and accuracy, presenting a style that is clear and touching, and exceptional in its power of imagination. Using a captivating elegant language, the work presents a new path for contemporary fiction."


Chen Chuncheng (middle), winner of the 2021 Blancpain-Imaginist Literary Prize, with the award presented by writer Ge Fei (left) and Jack Liao, vice-president of Blancpain China, at the ceremony. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Opening the book, one can immediately see Chen's distinguished imagination. Yewande Qianshuiting tells the story about the protagonist who had a powerful imagination when he was young that could influence reality. He imagined himself piloting an invincible submarine traveling in a deep ocean and even back to the past to save his grandfather. However, the imagination caused trouble to the young student and his family, so he had to imagine that his imagination vanished. In the end his imagination did.

"This short story is special because one can only write such a story once in a life. To write it, I took out my secret fantasy in middle school when I watched a lot of cartoons or stories like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Submarines, hot air balloons or spaceships inspired me to imagine my room to be a submarine," Chen says.

"I imitated the style of the tales that were completely made up and run in those pamphlets about the unsolved mysteries in the world like Egyptian pyramids or Atlantis," he says.

Yewande Qianshuiting is Chen's first book, containing nine short stories that open a secret path between reality and a dreamland that allows readers to travel to ancient mountains and rivers and unknown space in the universe-a youth going into the deep sea, an ancient tablet lost in the mountains, a person whose work is to trim the clouds, and a concert hall inside the belly of a blue whale. Using delicate language to weave the secret spaces, Chen offers readers hidden places to escape to.

"I spent a lot of time thinking about its structure, but you can only write such a story in your 20s. It's impossible for me to write similar stories in the future," he says.

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