Chinese stories must be written to talk to the entire world, Chinese children’s fiction writer Cao Wenxuan, the first Chinese author to ever win the Hans Christian Andersen Prize, said after receiving the 2016 award at the ongoing Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy.

The prize is awarded by the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) and is considered as the highest international recognition given every other year to a living author and an illustrator whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature.

“In China we are used to saying that someone has a background to indicate that he or she is a determined person. This background adds to personal strength and makes someone great. Talking about myself, my background is China,” Cao told Xinhua in an interview.

Cao said he was deeply nourished by China’s troubled history and by his rural hometown, a village in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, where he was born in 1954 and spent childhood in poverty. But hardship ultimately turned into his spiritual and literary wealth.

Cao used literature to escape the world, and at the age of 17 published his first children’s story. He was then able to study at Peking University, and is now a professor of Chinese literature and children’s literature, and has published over 100 works appreciated by millions of readers.

“In the Western world, children’s books may be set in different countries, in London or in Paris for example. Instead all of my stories happen in China,” Cao went on saying.

“I tell many genuine Chinese stories, but at the same time all of them belong to humankind, and I think this is the main reason why I won the Andersen Prize. The themes of my Chinese stories are universal,” he highlighted.

In his view, children’s literature aims to provide people with the fundamentals of humane behavior, through moral principles, the beauty of language and a sympathetic soul narrated by highly literary stories as a pure form of art.

“I have always believed since I came close to literature that literature first of all is literature, it is not anything different, that is to say literature must be anchored in art … only in this way writing has the ability and vitality to transcend time and space,” he told Xinhua.

Many of Cao’s novels, short stories, and picture books have been translated into English, French, German, Russian, Greek, Swedish, Danish, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese, such as The Straw House, Bronze and Sunflower, Red Tiles and Black Tiles, King Book, Dingding and Dangdang, Ximi, and A Feather.

Cao explained to Xinhua that whether a book can make its way into the world, that is to say whether it is suitable for translation into other languages, is also a fundamental indicator of its literary value. This is why he has so fully used a specifically Chinese language but at the same time has searched a universal portrait of life’s ebbs and flows, so to make sure that the most important messages of his books do not go lost.

Cao said the prize also reinforced his ample faith in the high place of Chinese literature for children in the world.

“Chinese children’s literature is clearly powerful. And I am sure there will be other Chinese authors who will win the Hans Christian Andersen Prize in the future,” he concluded.

By MARZIA DE GIULI AND SONG JIAN Apr. 4, 2016 on XinhuaNet

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