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Chinese Writer Mo Yan Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

Mo Yan; Getty Images

Chinese writer Mo Yan in 2010. Getty Images.

UPDATE: We’ll have a closer look at Mo Yan’s work and the questions surrounding his politics on tonight’s broadcast. Our guests include Charles Laughlin, a professsor of Chinese literature from the East Asia Center at the University of Virginia, and Xiao Qiang, founder and editor of the China Digital Times and a professor at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley. Laughlin will discuss why this rural novelist’s work is often compared to writers like William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. And Xiao Qiang explains why the Chinese government’s celebration of his award is raising suspicions anew about his ties to the regime. Please join Jeffrey Brown for a conversation during the second half hour of the program.

OUR INITIAL POST: The Swedish Academy announced Thursday morning that Chinese writer Mo Yan has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2012. In its announcement the academy described Mo as a writer “who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.”

“Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition,” the citation for the award said.

Mo, 57, has written 11 novels and several collections of short stories. His first novel, “Falling Rain on a Spring Night,” was published in 1981. Other well-known novels include “Red Sorghum” (1993), which was adapted into a movie, “The Garlic Ballads” (1995) and “Big Breasts & Wide Hips” (2004). Mo Yan is a pseudonym for his given name, Guan Moye, and means “don’t speak in Chinese.

Unlike when political dissident Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, Mo’s award is being celebrated in China, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

“For me personally it’s the realization of a dream I’ve had for years finally coming true, it’s suddenly a reality, but what I mainly want to say is congratulations to Mo Yan,” Cao Yuanyong, deputy editor-in-chief of Shanghai Literature and Art Publishing House, which has published much of Mo’s work, told the AP.


Informing Mo Yan of his win today, Swedish Academy secretary Peter Englund said Mo, who was at the home in China where he lives with his 90-year-old father, was “overjoyed and scared,” the Guardian reported.

Some Chinese rights activists were not happy with the award, Reuters reported:

“‘On the political front, he is singing the same tune with an undemocratic regime,’ prominent rights lawyer Teng Biao said before the award. ‘I think for him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature is inappropriate.’

“‘As an influential writer, [Mo] didn’t use his influence to speak up for intellectuals and political prisoners.'”

In a recent interview with China Daily, University of Notre Dame professor Howard Goldblatt, who has translated much of Mo’s work into English, said:

“All the best-known contemporary writers have a unique personal style; it would be unhealthy if it were otherwise. Mo tends to be more ‘historical’ than many of his contemporaries. Whether it’s the Boxer Rebellion or the ‘cultural revolution’ (1966-76), he seems most comfortable with a historical perspective.

“There are, of course, exceptions, such as ‘POW!.’ Few of his works deal with up-to-date urban themes, which appear to be all the rage these days.

“Mo is a ‘maximalist’ (if there is such a word), a writer who extensively probes the Chinese language for its expressive qualities. He is, as well, a writer whose work appeals to all the senses. Finally, he is particularly apt at defamiliarization, creating new and arresting realities with his prose.”

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