The headache of Mo Yan, China’s Nobel prize winner in Literature

November 19, 2012

BEIJING -- Barely surviving a debate over whether or not he deserved to win China’s first Nobel Prize in Literature, Mo Yan, a Chinese novelist is encountering more trouble: What to wear to the Nobel awards ceremony, which will be held in Stockholm, Sweden, on Dec. 10.


Chinese writer Mo Yan smiles during an interview at his house in Beijing Dec. 24, 2009. (Reuters/China Daily)

Mo Yan is the first Nobel laureate to be recognized by the Chinese government. Previous winners of the Nobel Peace Prize are the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who China officially considers a separatist criminal, and Liu Xiaobo, a dissident writer languishing in a prison cell.

Earlier this month, Guan Moxian, the older brother of Mo Yan, said Mo Yan had a tuxedo made at a tailor shop and would dress in a tuxedo for the awards ceremony. He spoke at an event hosted by a local university of Shandong Province, Mo Yan’s hometown. According to the brother, Mo Yan was also studying the waltz, in case he would be invited to dance at the awards after-party. It all sounded quite lovely.

But China’s hyper-active community of Internet users, known as Netizens, didn’t agree on Mo Yan’s outfit. Many thought China's image should not be represented by a tuxedo. Traditional Chinese clothes, or Sun Yat-sen’s uniform -- an outfit similar to the Mao suit, once popular in China -- would be better in their eyes. And some Netizens even suggested he wear a farmer’s outfit.

An online survey showed that about 55.7 percent of respondents hoped to see him wear clothes with Chinese elements, while about 13.4 percent thought a suit or tuxedo was good. About 30 percent thought it didn’t matter at all.

“Wear traditional Chinese clothes, which represent the traditional culture and moderate thoughts of China," said one user, “Shangxi Berglau," on Weibo, the Chinese equivalence of Twitter. But another user, called “Dragon in the Yellow River,” said, “Mo Yan only represents himself. It’s none of the business of the country. What to wear is his own choice.”

Mo Yan is the author of, among other books, “Red Sorghum," which was made into a successful film by Zhang Yimou, China’s most influential film director. When the movie received a Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1988, it was criticized heavily in China for “pleasing Westerners with elements and cultural logos of the old China.”

Ironically, two decades later, when Mo Yan is ready to wear his tailor-made tuxedo, some people think he is not being Chinese enough. Mo Yan didn’t respond to the controversy. Let’s wait and see what he wears at the awards ceremony.

Click here to see photographs of Mo Yan in different types of costumes, posted by Chinese Web users.

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Max Fisher · November 19, 2012