Pinyin literature contest

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I wish to call your attention to the Li-ching Chang Memorial Pinyin Literature Contest.  The purpose of the contest is to commemorate the life and work of Li-ching Chang (October 5, 1936-June 20, 2010), who was an outstanding teacher of Mandarin at the University of Washington, the Oberlin center in Taiwan, Middlebury College Summer School, Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College, and Swarthmore College.

The contest will offer more than US$13,000 in prizes for works in the following categories:

  • novella
  • short story
  • essay
  • poem

This will be a triennial contest with the first deadline falling on October 5, 2017.

Works submitted must be originally written in Hanyu Pinyin, not converted from texts composed in Chinese characters.

For more details, go to the contest website here:

The site is still abuilding, but it already provides basic information.  This announcement is being circulated now so that contestants can have as much time as possible to prepare their submissions.

It is recommend that correspondents use "Pinyin Literature Contest" as the subject line for their messages to those who are administering the contest.


  1. DG said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 4:46 pm

    I am not a Chinese speaker, so I am wondering if the requirement that it's not originally written in Chinese characters is a sort of honor code, or is there some way to tell from the pinyin submission?

  2. Michael Watts said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 5:16 pm

    DG, I assume it can't have been published in characters at any point before being published with pinyin available. Obviously, for an unpublished work, there's no way to tell what the writing process was like.

  3. Sally said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 11:18 pm

    Can non-U.S. residents submit?

  4. Victor Mair said,

    June 30, 2016 @ 11:37 pm


    The contest is open to citizens of all countries.

  5. Victor Mair said,

    July 1, 2016 @ 11:07 am


    Thanks for your good question. I will write a separate post in response to it.

  6. Wadiyo said,

    July 3, 2016 @ 8:15 am

    good informtion
    When such a contest is held again?

  7. Victor Mair said,

    July 3, 2016 @ 8:21 am


    The timing of the contest is listed on the website.

  8. 艾力·黑膠(Eric) said,

    July 8, 2016 @ 2:47 pm

    I am not a Chinese speaker, so I am wondering if the requirement that it's not originally written in Chinese characters is a sort of honor code, or is there some way to tell from the pinyin submission?

    As a fellow non-Chinese-speaker, I think I can take a crack at this.

    First of all, something written in a phonetic script isn’t going to employ abbreviations that are orally ambiguous. This may be contrived, but the example that comes readily to mind is Yuè yǔ: is the writer referring to Cantonese (粵語) or Vietnamese (越語)? There are a host of terms like this which are common in writing but uncommon in speech (though how common in literary writing I don't know).

    Secondly, there are some characters that have different pronunciations—mostly tone, I think—depending on the word in which they appear. Machines are pretty good at detecting this now, but in a work of any substantial length it would seem a few telltale mistakes are bound to slip through.

    So if you were to convert a Kanji (Hanzi) text to pīnyīn you’d at least have to correct it by hand. Such a process would likely be tedious enough that you might as well just start from the Roman alphabet in the first place. Of course, it may be impossible to tell if someone took their unpublished story that they’d originally written with characters and punched it up to make the pinyin free of any Classical Chinese-influenced phrases that would sound out of place. But I get the impression this criterion is to encourage baihua-as-baihua (白話) composition, rather than thinking of pinyin as a secondary, training-wheels way to represent Mandarin, which is often conflated with Standard Written Chinese, and prevent authors from taking existing works, running them through a converter, and saying, “ta-da, where’s my prize?”

    Couple this with the fact that most computer-composed Chinese is originally written in pinyin anyway—the typist inputs their text using a QWERTY keyboard and then selects which character they want from a list (again, computers are getting better and better at figuring out which character automatically). So getting Mandarin-speaking writers to make a few minor tweaks to compose wholly pinyin works without the intermediate step of characters is likely in fact easier—a point which I’m sure is not lost on the organizers of this contest.

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