Cao Wenxuan was born in 1954 in the Chinese pr ovince of Jiangsu. His superior importance as a writer and his leading involvement in the discourse of literature for young readers have shaped writing for children and young people in China over the last twenty years. The genre having been used as an ideological tool during the Cultural Revolution, Cao disseminated the view in the eighties that »children’s literature should return to literature itself«. Since the age of seventeen, Cao – who is a pr ofessor of Chinese Literature at the University of Beijing – has published over fifty novels and stories; a few of which have already reached »classic« status and have been recommended for compulsory reading in schools.
In his works Cao paints an elegant picture of Chinese village life using skillful language and powerful metaphors. His narrative style is characterised by simplicity, clarity and melancholy. In the tradition of Andersen, Cao upholds the tragic spirit within children’s literature, stating that »children’s literature should not only give children a sense of comedic pleasure, it should also bring them tragic pleasure.« In their themes, his books transcend a childish view of the everyday world and pertain to the »human condition« as a whole. »My works are written by young and middle-aged Cao Wenxuan for old-aged Cao Wenxuan to read « reveals the author. Not only hunger and poverty, but also encounters with nature make up the most striking im pr essions of his childhood. A landscape threaded with rivers and lakes has shaped Cao’s aesthetic pr inciples and brings a touch of clarity and grace to his work. In Cao’s short story »Hong hu lu« (1996; Eng. »A Red Gourd«, 1999), a seemingly impassable river separates the children of two families. He offers a potent depiction of innocent love between Wuan, the son of a con man, and Niuniu. In his most celebrated work »Cao fang zi« (1997; t: The thatched cottage), Cao tells the story of eleven-year-old Sangsang who goes to school by the river during the time of the Cultural Revolution and who is confronted by his first experiences of love, age, illness and death – this is an elegiac work of deep thoughtfulness. Cao himself wrote the screenplay for the cinema film of the same name and was awarded the 19th Golden Rooster Award in 1999. The novel of coming of age »Gen Niao« (1999; t: A boy named Gen Niao), depicts the development of the eponymous character – a genre brought for the first time to Chinese children’s literature – tells of how one night Gen Niao dreams of a girl named Zi Yang who is trapped in a ravine full of lilies and sharp rocks. The next day, the fourteen-year-old embarks on a dangerous quest to find the beautiful girl, at the end of which he is a grown man. Cao’s most recently published work is the novel »Qingtong Kuihua« (2005; t: Qingtong and Kuihua).
Cao edits various magazines, takes part in and organises many conferences, contributes to the conception of school books and edits several anthologies. His novels and short stories have been translated into many languages, including English, Japanese, Korean, French and Russian, as well as being published in Taiwan. The author has twice been awarded the Song Qingling Children’s Literature Prize, in addition to the Bing Xin Children’s Literature Prize and the Chen Bochui Literature Prize.
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