Lettre Ulysses Award for the art of reportage

Chen Guidi & Wu Chuntao, China

We have seen unimaginable poverty, unimaginable evil, unimaginable suffering and desperation, unimaginable resistance and silence. We are not heroes, because we have no power and no money. All we have are our writing pens […].
Whether the city dwellers hold prejudices against or sympathies with the peasants, they don’t really understand them. This book was written for the city dwellers to read, so that they can understand how peasants really live

Writers and Journalists. Wu Chuntao was born in the Hunan province of China in 1963. Her husband, Chen Guidi, was born in 1943 in the Chinese province of Anhui. Both authors come from peasant families, spending their formative years in the countryside before moving to the city at the age of nine and eleven, respectively.

Wu and Chen are both members and respected writers of the Hefei Literature Association. Mr. Chen, who is also a member of the Association of Chinese Writers, has been a recipient of the Lu Xun Literature Achievement Award—one of the most important literary prizes in China—for his piece of reportage on the environmental conditions of the Huaihe river. Several of his texts received nationwide renown for their courage investigating corruption and abuses. Both authors have received awards by the US journal Contemporary Age for different, groundbreaking pieces of reportage writing. A recent text by Mrs. Wu won a place on the billboard of the newest literary works in China.

In 2001, the couple began their work on their monumental piece of literary reportage entitled A Survey of Chinese Peasants (Zhongguo Nongmin Diaocha). Though they had discussed the idea for the text over a ten year period, it was when Mrs. Wu was giving birth to her son that the couple finally made their decision; the couple observed how a pregnant mother and her child died while giving birth because the family was too poor to afford proper medical attention.

A Survey of Chinese Peasants took over three years to write, forcing the couple to spend all of their savings in order to produce the book. Mr. Chen and Mrs. Wu travelled to over 50 towns throughout the Anhui province, made several trips to Beijing to talk with authorities, and interviewed thousands of peasants.

A Survey of Chinese Peasants is an exposé on the inequality and injustice forced upon the Chinese peasantry, who number about 900 million. The book describes what the authors term to be a guaiquan, or vicious circle, where unjust taxes and the arbitrariness of authorities, sometimes resulting in extreme violence against the peasants, is the norm.

The exposé was first published by the literary magazine Dangdai (Modern Magazine) at the end of 2003. The magazine quickly sold 100,000 copies; all ten editions were sold out. The success of the piece promoted one of China’s main literary publishers, the People’s Literature Publishing House of Beijing, to reproduce the reportage in book format. In just one month the book sold over 150,000 copies before suddenly being taken off the shelf by Chinese authorities in March, 2004. Following the move, only pirated editions could be found on the streets, seven million of which were sold throughout China.

The couple is currently writing a new exposé under the working title Fighting for Peasants in Court.

Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao live in the city of Hefei in the Anhui province.

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"A good reportage must not necessarily be linked with topical or political events which are taking place around us. I think the miracle of things lies not in showing the extraordinary but in showing ordinary things in which the extraordinary is hidden."Nirmal Verma (jury member 2003)