China finally gets kudos it sought with writer who is not a critic of the regime
THE NOM de plume of the 2012 Nobel literature laureate, Mo Yan, translates as “don’t speak”, and it is precisely this refusal to comment on political issues and freedom of expression that has made him a controversial figure within China’s artistic community.
By winning the prize with a writer who is not a steadfast critic of the government, China has the kudos it has long sought.
Mo Yan, a pseudonym for Guan Moye, was born in 1955 and grew up in Shandong province in northeastern China, the son of farmers. He was a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army before becoming an academic.
Mo Yan is probably best known in the West for Red Sorghum, which portrayed the hardships endured by farmers in the early years of communist rule and was made into a movie by Zhang Yimou. His titles also include Big Breasts and Wide Hips and The Republic of Wine.
While he has on occasion fallen foul of the censors, such as for the novel The Garlic Ballads, most of his work is officially permitted and he is vice-chairman of the government-backed Chinese Writers’ Association.
The Communist Party’s official organ, the People’s Daily, was ecstatic. “Mo Yan wins the Nobel Prize for Literature! This is the first Chinese writer who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Chinese writers have waited too long, the Chinese people have waited too long. Congratulations, Mo Yan,” it said in a commentary.
However, dissenting artist Ai Weiwei’s reaction to the award was one of anger. “Giving the award to a writer like this is an insult to humanity and to literature. It’s shameful for the committee to have made this selection, which does not live up to the previous quality of literature in the award,” he said.
He pointed to the case of Nobel peace prize winner Liu Xiaobo, who is in jail for subversion. Mo Yan refused to comment publicly on his imprisonment in 2010.
“The first one who got this award two years ago is still in jail for giving his opinion. He is also a writer. This writer is part of the party, [deputy] head of the writers’ association, and he is typical of today’s literature avoiding conflict and reality. He has no involvement with the contemporary struggle.”
Many in the Chinese literary world, especially independent writers, are especially angry about how Mo Yan once copied out by hand a speech by Chairman Mao Zedong for a book.
“You can never separate literature and struggle from today’s current political situation. China is a state with no freedom of expression. So to give a prize to this writer – look at [Twitter-style feed] Weibo. People are just laughing,” said Ai Weiwei.
As one webizen quipped on Weibo before the award was announced: “Heh heh, first? If he gets it he’ll be the third. It’s just that one can’t get in and the other can’t get out.”
The last Chinese-born winner of the literature prize was Gao Xingjian in 2000, although he was living in France by then and was a French citizen. His prize was criticised by the Chinese government.