A controversial Chinese writer on the shortlist of the prestigious Man Booker International literary prize says that the national media was instructed not to publicise his nomination.

Yan Lianke has already won a number of awards in his native China, where some of his books are banned.

"There was an order not to publicise or promote the nomination in the mainland Chinese media," he told Al Jazeera.

"Only people in the literary community know about it and are very happy. So, some are happy, and some are very unhappy."

Yan Lianke heard that he had made the shortlist at a university in Hong Kong where he works as a visiting professor.

His nominated book, The Four Books, is a political satire set in a re-education camp at the time of the so-called Great Leap Forward, the failed policies of Chinese leader Mao Zedong to modernise the country which led to millions starving to death.

Darker episodes

Using satire, Yan focuses on the darker episodes of recent Chinese history - events that in China are often officially overlooked, or at least heavily censored.

Not surprisingly, his work has repeatedly been banned.

Yan's work covers social upheaval from the Cultural Revolution and an HIV epidemic to the negative consequences of capitalist development.

"You can talk about the brighter side of China's history, but talking about the darker side is forbidden. For me, the mission of literature is to preserve the memory of all human beings," Yan said.

A propaganda poster during the Cultural Revolution in 20th century China [Getty Images]

In doing so, he is still developing as a writer with a surreal style that is winning him wider international acclaim.

"He has taken this moral responsibility on his shoulder, but in the meantime he did not lose his pursuit of aesthetic writing," said Liu Jianmei, a professor specialising in modern and contemporary Chinese literature at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

Alongside the Chinese writer in the shortlist are Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, the Italian author Elena Ferrante, Jose Eduardo Agualusa from Angola, the Austrian writer Robert Seethaler and Han Kang from South Korea.

The winner will receive £50,000,($72,000) which will be split evenly with the translator.

Source: Al Jazeera