Wed, October 17, 2012
China > In-depth

Does Mo Yan deserve a Nobel nod?

2012-10-11 01:18:38 GMT2012-10-11 09:18:38(Beijing Time)  SINA English

Mo Yan (file photo)

By Li Hongmei, Special to Sina English

Is the Nobel Prize a permanent scar for a nation with the largest population in the world? Just like the World Cup – they want it so badly but can never get it?

This year, speculations have been running thicker than the holiday traffic in China about the possibility of a Chinese writer nabbing the upcoming Nobel Prize for Literature. The popular writer Mo Yan has been reported to be in top places for the literature prize, with odds on him at 8/1. It seems like a dream finally coming true.

Many Chinese view the Nobel Prize as a recognition of China’s rising power and status on the international stage, but to their dismay, the Nobel Prize brought more “shame” than “glory” to the country. Nobel Prizes in sciences aren’t really relevant for China for now. Nobel Peace Prize has been tainted with a political layer and converted into something of an “anti-China” prize.

All these days, media op-ed as well as the Internet space has been thronged with professionals and grassroots observers debating about whether Mo Yan really deserves a Nobel nod.

Mo's response is, as always: "I have no opinion". It's an appropriate statement, considering his pen name, which means, "Do not speak".

But everyone else, even if remotely connected with the literary scene, has an opinion - often a very strong one. Television personality Cui Yongyuan represents many when he says: "I hope he wins. He deserves it."

Zhao Lihua, a poetess with her own share of controversy, goes a step further: "Mo Yan's works are full of vitality, multicolor and abandon. They possess breadth, depth, imagination and a cutting edge by reflecting on our history and reality."

However, a different voice is also heard, distinct and sharp.

People who hold the opposite opinion to Mo Yan’s Nobel worthiness have even gone so far as to cite examples to showcase Mo’s kowtow to power.

Among Mo Yan's "sins" in the sudden avalanche of censure is his copying of a Mao Zedong speech given 70 years ago that largely set the parameters for China's arts and literature in the ensuing decades. Mo was one of 100 writers and artists who hand-copied paragraphs from the long speech, published in a commemorative book.

Some believe this didn't mean anything, as a writer being on good terms with the publisher or editors, or even those in power, is almost equally important as writing in itself.

Yefu, a writer, is more blunt: "The Nobel will not go to a writer who sings the praise of power. That is an essential principle."

Ironically, the critics have also come under criticism. Their application of "political correctness" toward Mo Yan runs counter to their erstwhile effort to resist politically correct labels.

Well, is Mo Yan really a spineless literary hack who bows to authorities, or does he just maintain his independence in his own way?

The answer may lie in a speech Mo gave at the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair: "A writer should express criticism and indignation at the dark side of society and the ugliness of human nature, but we should not use one uniform expression. Some may want to shout on the street, but we should tolerate those who hide in their rooms and use literature to voice their opinions."

So, a person living in a society he was born and bred will be unavoidably imprisoned by the society; he has to agree with what everybody else agrees and cannot shun the shared values the entire society is seeking after. Mo Yan the writer is no exception.

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