The Winning novel for the First "The Dream of the Red Chamber Award"

Qin Melody, by Jia Pingwa
Beijing: Writer’s Publishing (2005)



Introduction to the winning novel

Qin Melody is set in a rural village modelled upon Dihua Village, Jing Pingwa’s hometown. The story depicts vividly how the Chinese rural village is shaken up in the turbulence of history flowing through the Chinese society. The perspective of a mad man is adopted in describing two major clans of Qingfeng Street: the Bai Clan and the Xia Clan, which epitomizes the changes seen by Shaanxi and China’s rural villages. An attention to fine details, an unhewn voice, and a chronological narrative depict the rural values during the years of opening up and reforms as well as the deep changes to personal relationships.


Biography of the Awardee

Jia Pingwa was born in 1952 in Feng County of Shaanxi. He now serves at the Xian Branch of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles. He is a committee member of the China Writers Association, Vice Chairman of the Shaanxi Branches of Chinese Writers Association and China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, Chairman of the Xian Branch of the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, Dean and Ph.D. supervisor of College of Arts at Xian University of Architecture and Technology, Professor of Northwest University, Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts and Shaanxi Normal University. Since his graduation in 1975 from Chinese Department of Northwest University he has been engaged in editorial and literary creation. He was four-time winner of country-wide literary awards, and was awarded respectively The Pegasus Prize for Literature, the Prix Fémina, and Knight of Arts and Literature by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication. His works have been translated into more than 20 languages including English, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.




Full text of Acceptance Speech by Jia Pingwa at the Award Presentation Ceremony

Even since I was notified about the selection of my work for the Dream of Red Chambers Award in the press conference held this early August, I have been looking forward to coming to Hong Kong. I have been to Hong Kong twice already, and the last time was ten years ago. Others came to shop, as in “Hong Kong the shopping paradise”; my visit, however, was for strict literary reasons – Hong Kong is a blessed land in my career as a writer. And so here I stand, and I must say “thank you”. My thanks go to the Arts Faculty of Hong Kong Baptist University, to the members of the judging panel, and to Mr. Zhang Dapeng for giving me a literary prize of such weight.
After the press conference, I was interviewed by the media. I talked about three layers of meaning: one, this award – an award established in Hong Kong and only in Hong Kong – is one of immense influence and recognition. Two, this award is named after Dream of Red Chamber, a Chinese novel that represents the pinnacle of classical fiction, hence pointing to the prestigious status of the award and the ambition of the hosting organization. The Dream of Red Chamber is a work of penultimate achievement in the history of Chinese fiction – one to aspire to contemporary writers, one that motivates us in a world of timeless epitomes and constant flux. Three, members of the judging committee come from different regions, and are all authoritative figures in the realm of Chinese writing. As a writer, one is certainly honoured to be recognized thus. As for me, compared to the many exceptional Chinese writers and their works, I have nothing to boast about. Qin Melody is selected only because it was published at an opportune moment. I was surprised that the award has been given to me and Qin Melody – it is the greatest blessing for me and my work.
Contemporary Chinese writing is most prosperous. On a global scale, our writing has yet to enter the mainstream, and breakthroughs are necessary. For our generation of writers, we are most anxious to see how our novel-length pieces can capture the latest trends in world literature while conveying the qualities of Chinese writing. What do we have? What are we lacking in? The answer is in The Dream of Red Chamber. The novel The Dream of Red Chamber is our most precious heritage; its influence has been ever pervasive. One of my essays was about how the works of modern writers Shen Songwen and Eileen Chang also followed The Dream of Red Chamber tradition. Shen Songwen’s Xiangxi series gave a glimpse of the essences of The Dream of Red Chamber; the entirety of Eileen Chang’s life work was a tribute to episodes from The Dream of Red Chamber. Like all Chinese writers I have read this epic work cover-to-cover – one could say that I have been nourished by great literary traditions, and that during writing the influence of The Dream of Red Chamber was evident in my linguistic grasp, rhythm and sense. It is most certain that, while The Dream of Red Chamber is a mountain of giant proportions, my work is little more than a handful of earth. Qin Melody is a record of life during times of great change at the turn of century on the Chinese Mainland; it is a painful memory of my home, of my clan. I experienced great distress and trepidation during the writing: the boundaries of black and white blurred, yet it was often when things clear up the need for fuzziness arise. In the narration the linguistic euphoria had me drunk, so much that I disregarded everything else. I tried my utmost to write about the life of the people on the land that I dwelled, recounting their experiences, and tried to represent that ethnic sentiment and air unique to Chinese writing. It was a realistic portrayal – so much so that for readers it was not fiction but a real story about a place called Qingfeng Street. Yet embedded in realism was surrealism: a multitude of meanings and readings for readers to invest in. In the postscript of Qin Melody I wrote that the work was a memorial tablet for home; from this moment on amnesia reigned. The writing of Qin Melody gave my soul consolation; yet upon its completion I had no idea what kind of work it would be, whether it was publishable, and what fate awaits it after publishing. It turned out that this work, though controversial, was met with a much better fate than Abandoned Capital. I had also worried whether this book could travel far, because the content and the form of writing might not be comprehensible by readers of other regions and living environments. It is for this reason that I feel much elated and consoled that Qin Melody won the recognition of judges from different regions and named as the winning title of this award.
We often said that water is a symbolism for literature. Rain is particularly abundant this year, and I thought I might spell great prosperity for the literature circle. Today, in this hall, at this point I stand, I felt as if the god of literature is looking down upon us from up high; a sense of reverence is due. To contribute to Chinese writing, to bring Chinese novel to maturity, we shall dedicate our utmost to making more and greater breakthroughs.

Excerpt of comments of the Final Judging Panel

“The final judging panel has selected Qin Melody out of many quality works because the writer has used the decline of Qin Melody – a form of Shaanxi local Xiqu – to allude to the disintegration of Chinese rural culture in the contemporary times and to the abrupt changes in folk ethics and economic relations. The amount of fine details is impressive, the imagination vivid. Works about urban-rural relations are abundant, yet Qin Melody has distinguished itself through its candid language and portrayals and a display of compassion in the mundane. The depth and power of the writing represent a major breakthrough in the realm of Chinese novel.”


Professor David Der-wei Wang
Chairman of Final Judging Panel
Edward C. Henderson Professor of Chinese Literature at Harvard University

Jia Pingwa’s Qin Melody is the most brilliant realist novel in China in the new century; and Jia Pingwa has made immense contribution to Chinese contemporary literature. The narrative of Qin Melody is highly flexible and pregnant with magical elements. The daily life at Qingfeng Street is depicted through the perspective of Zhang Yinsheng, known to many as a mad man. He was, in fact, the farthest thing from madness: he had an extraordinary perceptive faculty and was often able to pinpoint the crux behind each phenomenon. He was also blessed with supernatural powers, including that of astral projection which allows him to observe the everyday goings-on and criticize the unjust aspects of life.
Professor Chen Sihe, Chairperson of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature and Associate Dean of the School of Humanities at Fudan University
Novels should be works of art – made up by an amalgamation of theme, structure, language, character portrayal and details. It is the perspective from which I read Qin Melody. Qin Melody is set in Qingfeng Street, and narrated in the mad words of Yinsheng. The stories of the dwellers of Qingfeng Street unfold against a background music of Qin melodies, and symbolises changes in Chinese traditional culture and society. Qin Melody is a deep sigh of melancholy, yet no laments, no grievances were voiced. An example of this is in the response of Xia Tianzhi, who represented the ethical norms of the older generation, upon learning of the divorce between his son and Baixue, daughter-in-law and singer of Qin Melody. He took in his daughter-in-law as his god daughter, telling her, “Don’t cry!” As he walked away, he said, “Switch on the speakers, play the Qin melodies! I want the title ‘Execution of the General's Son at the Barracks Gate’!”


Hualing Nieh Engle
Former Director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop

Jury Award and Recommendation Award for the First The Dream of Red Chamber Award
Besides the winning title Qin Melody, Works and Creations (Tung Kai-cheong), Sea God’s Clan (Jade Y. Chen), Gate of Heaven (Liu Xinglong) have been named for the Jury Award. Three other works Breeding Land (Fan Wen), Gate of Silence (Ning Ken), Tibetan Mastiff (Yang Zhijun) have been named for the Recommendation Award.