Cao Wenxuan was born in January 1954 in the rural area of Yancheng, where he lived until he was twenty. He went to study at Peking University and is now a professor and PhD supervisor of Chinese literature there. He is a member of the Chinese Writers Association and the deputy president of Beijing Writers Association. His main works include House with Thatched Roof, Bronze and Sunflower, Honor of Life, Red Tile and Black Tile, Genniao, and The Boy of Ximi. His academic works include A Study of China’s Literature Trends in the 1980s, The Second World – A Philosophical Interpretation of Literature and Art, Research on Chinese Literature Tendencies in the 1990s, and A Novel Door. His novels and short stories have been translated into many languages, including English, French, Japanese, Korean. His books have won more than forty national and international awards, and he is the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award winner.
I was born into an educated family in a rural village. My father was the head of a primary school, my mother was an ordinary housewife, and I had four sisters, all younger than myself. My mother said that before I came into this world I had two older brothers, who were twins. Back then, rural health conditions were very poor, and the midwife cut the umbilical cords with rusty scissors. One of the boys died of tetanus after about a week, and the other died, also of tetanus, a few days later. The preference for boys over girls was still taken very seriously in those days, and people were very concerned about just having one son — what if he died young? So my parents decided to have another son, but things didn’t turn out as they wished, and the new baby was a daughter. So they tried again, and had another daughter. When my fourth little sister was born, they decided to give up on their dream of having another son. Every time a new sister came into this world, my status in the family rose a little higher. Where we lived there was a kind of red rice (a weedy kind of rice) that was worthless in terms of money, and every time a baby girl was born, the neighbors would tease me and say “The price of red rice has just gone up!” My parents doted on me as I was growing up.
We were poor, but we had rivers and fields, and life was happy and carefree. From a very young age I loved keeping pigeons and doves, an interest I kept until I started teaching at the university level. They appear in all of my stories, in some way or other. The logo of the Cao Wenxuan Children’s Literature and Art Center is a dove with an ear of wheat on each wing. The journal I edit is called The Dove, and I also edit a book series called the King of the Doves series.
My interest and ability in writing is very closely linked with my father. He created my history as a writer; without him there wouldn’t be a body of writing by me. His role is truly beyond measure. I am someone who writes fiction, and a person who writes fiction must have, first and foremost, an exceptional ability to talk about things. The technical term for this is “narrative ability.” And my father had a fascinating way of talking about things. His nickname was the Storyteller. As soon as he appeared, people would come over and circle around him, wanting to hear him talk — to hear him telling stories. He would just talk, perfectly naturally, without making a performance of it. He relied entirely on the power of language, the power of detail, the power of composition, and the power of the moral implied in the story. I remember so many stories, stories that he had told so many times before, and yet people were still excited to hear them. In my own writing, so much material has come from the stories I heard my father tell. The important thing is not that he gave me a lot of material to write about; it’s more subtle than that. While he was telling his stories, my narrative ability was quietly developing. Later, my father directly encouraged me to engage in literary creation.
Of course, any success I have had in literary creation is, in the end, due to a major turning point that happened in my life: I went to study at Peking University. Knowledge trained my vision — in terms of ability to discover the past and to discover the present, knowledge gave me the driving force to push my imagination.
About My Work:
I was delighted that Candlewick Press was willing to publish Bronze and Sunflower. I am extremely grateful to them. From the very first day I started with creative work, there was something that was always at the back of my mind — that I would focus almost all my writing on discovering goodness and beauty. And as I focused my mind on writing about and interpreting beauty, I began to see goodness as a form of beauty.
I have always thought that the power of beauty is not at all inferior to the power of thought and knowledge. But we have neglected this. We have only seen the power of thought and knowledge, and we rarely see the words power and beauty linked together. With Bronze and Sunflower, through its unique story, I wanted to convey to the reader that in this world, goodness and beauty have the advantage in being able to turn things around. This is not only the way I think — I have also seen it happen in reality.
When a writer of children’s literature is conscious of his own writing, he sees that it is linked with the future of mankind. And, I believe, if he observes people’s behavior and their attitudes to life, then he would make very big changes. I acknowledge that entertainment is a function of children’s literature, but I prefer to include this function as part of creating “good foundations.” In this way, entertainment is conducive to physical and mental health. But entertainment is not the only function of children’s literature. It is not even the main function of children’s literature. At its most basic level, children’s literature is a serious thing. And there is only one aim: that the humans of tomorrow should be better humans.
Since its publication in China, Bronze and Sunflower has had a significant impact. It is not just children who are reading it, but also adults. It has been printed 250 times already, which makes a total of more than 5 million copies published. It has been translated into more than ten different languages, including German, Italian, Russian, French, Korean, and Spanish, and published by foreign publishers. One chapter has been selected for inclusion in China’s national primary school language-and-literature textbooks.