Authors of Ground-breaking Book on Chinas Peasants Nominated for Award

2004-09-29
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Cover of the People's Literature Publishing House edition of A Survey of China's Peasants by Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao

HONG KONG—Two Chinese authors whose in-depth expose of hardships and abuse faced by the country's 900 million peasants sent shockwaves through the ruling Communist Party have been nominated for an international literary prize.

Husband-and-wife team Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao were nominated for the Lettre Ulysses Award for Reportage 2004 for their controversial book A Survey of China's Peasants ( Zhongguo Nongmin Diaocha ), according to a statement from the award's organizers.

"We have seen unimaginable poverty, unimaginable evil, unimaginable suffering and desperation, unimaginable resistance and silence," Chen and Wu said in a joint statement carried on the Lettre Ulysses Award Web site. "We are not heroes, because we have no power and no money. All we have are our writing pens..."

"We are not heroes, because we have no power and no money. All we have are our writing pens..."

Official retaliation

The award was inaugurated in 2003 and first won by Russian investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who said in September that she was poisoned by Russian secret services on her way to report on the Beslan school siege, in which 330 died.

Chen and Wu have also been targeted as a result of their book, which reports official abuses of rural communities—particularly in their home province of Anhui—in unprecedented and devastating detail.

A verdict is pending in a U.S.$24,000 libel case brought against the authors by former Linquan County Party secretary Zhang Xide. Zhang was angered by allegations against him in the book, which has sold millions of copies.

The trial was held in Zhang's home political territory of Linquan County, which rights groups said undermined the fairness of proceedings. Zhang's son is a judge in the nearby city of Fuyang.

Chinese bestseller

The Chens spent U.S.$18,120 of family money to produce their 340,000-word opus, which was published in January 2004 by the People's Literature Publishing House in Beijing. The book version sold more than 100,000 copies in January.

Illegal copies have flourished throughout Internet chatrooms, generating emotional responses from readers, many of whom said they broke down in tears or shouted with rage at some passages.

“The changes in our country have really been very great. They may be surprised at what we have written because it simply hasn't occurred to them before," Chen told RFA's Mandarin service in a recent interview.

Labor of love

The couple visited more than 50 villages in Anhui, interviewing thousands of farmers over a period of three years.

Chen said the book's impact highlighted the overall ignorance among educated urbanites about what life in China's countryside is really like.

"Most people in the cities don't really understand the situation in the Chinese countryside," Chen said.

The book underscored concerns among China's leadership that social unrest caused by official abuses would eventually undermine the Communist Party's grip on power.

In a speech to the National People's Congress in March, Premier Wen Jiabao called for "more giving and less taking" when it came to the agricultural sector of the economy. He also said a "human-centered approach" should replace economic growth at the core of Party policy.

Wu was born in Hunan province in 1963, while Chen was born in 1943 in Anhui.

Both authors come from peasant families and spent their formative years in the countryside before moving to the city.

Wu and Chen are both members and respected writers of the Hefei Literature Association and have already won recognition within China for their work.

On the Web:

Committee to Protect Journalists on Chen and Wu's trial

Lettre Ulysses Award Web site

Previous award-winner Anna Politkovskaya's account of her poisoning

Read the original story in Mandarin

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