The Washington Post

Mo Yan, a Nobel winner China can get behind

Mo Yan, the winner of the Nobel prize for literature, comes from poverty so dire he at times ate tree bark and weeds to survive.

He’s since cited his humble roots as the driving force behind his books, which include “Red Sorghum,” an novel that portrays hardships endured by farmers, according to Reuters.

“Loneliness and hunger were my fortunes of creation,” the writer, whose real name is Guan Moye, once said.

(Read: Chinese fiction writer Mo Yan wins Nobel Prize in Literature .)

Chinese writer Mo Yan during an interview in Beijing, Dec. 27, 2005. (Associated Press)

Yan’s award is likely to be welcomed by China, unlike the Nobel Peace Prize win by jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010, which infuriated the government.

Another past Chinese winner, Gao Xingjian, who won the literature Nobel in 2000, had already been banned in China at the time of his award and was living in France at the time. Gao’s distinction was promptly dismissed by Chinese officials.

The Swedish Academy praised Mo’s “hallucinatory realism” saying it “merges folk tales, history and the contemporary,” according to the AP.

In an interview with Granta magazine, Mo said his use of magical realism allowed him to largely avoid censorship in China:

MY: Many approaches to literature have political bearings, for example in our real life there might be some sharp or sensitive issues that they do not wish to touch upon. At such a juncture a writer can inject their own imagination to isolate them from the real world or maybe they can exaggerate the situation – making sure it is bold, vivid and has the signature of our real world. So, actually I believe these limitations or censorship is great for literature creation.

Some Chinese netizens have criticized Mo’s win, arguing that he hews too closely to China’s Communist Party platform and has remained silent on human rights abuses in the country.

On China’s microblogging platform Weibo, one Internet critic wrote recalled how Mo once commemorated a speech by Chairman Mao Zedong:

“He was one of the writers who copied Mao’s Yan’an Talks on Literature and Art by hand [The talk was given by Mao in 1942 which laid out the approval style of art and literature in China, one that has no darkness and showed only the bright side of society.] He once said that there were no restrictions or censorship on novelists in China. At Frankfurt Book Fair, he refused to sit in the same seminar with [dissident Chinese authors] Dai Qing and Bei Ling. When he was asked about opinions on Liu Xiaobo’s 11-year sentence, he said he didn’t know much about it and had nothing to say. He has never said a single word against ‘a China heart’…”

Others made the argument that Mo’s political stances mirror his pen name — it means “don’t speak” in Chinese.

Click here for more photos of the winners:

View Photo Gallery: The Nobel Prize for literature was announced Thursday. Winners for medicine, physics and chemistry were announced earlier this week. The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced Friday, and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences will follow on Monday.

Listen to a full interview between Granta and Mo here:


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