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Chinese Nobel laureate hits back at critics

Publication Date : 13-10-2012


China's first Nobel literature laureate Mo Yan has hit back at critics who say he did not deserve to win.

Soon after the award announcement on Thursday, dissidents such as Ai Weiwei and Wei Jingsheng accused the 57-year-old author and Communist Party member of being a party toady, and the Nobel committee of trying to curry favour with Beijing.

Mo was also accused of turning a blind eye to the plight of imprisoned dissident Liu Xiaobo, who won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize while serving an 11-year jail sentence for state subversion.

Exiled dissident writer Yu Jie even called Mo's win "the biggest scandal in the history of the Nobel Prize for Literature".

Mo defended himself yesterday before reporters in his hometown in Shandong.

"I believe a lot of my critics haven't read my books. If they read my books, they would realise they were written under great pressure and exposed me to great risks," he said.

Indeed, in 1988, following arguably his best- known work, "Red Sorghum", he wrote about corrupt officials in The Garlic Ballads. The book was pulled off the shelves during the 1989 Tiananmen incident over fears that it might incite more protests, Mo's English translator Howard Goldblatt once noted.

Mo also expressed concern for Liu, whose wife is under house arrest, said rights group Reporters Without Borders. It released video evidence of this yesterday and called for her release.

"I hope he can achieve his freedom as soon as possible," said Mo. He dismissed talk that his works buttered up the authorities. Some critics had noted how he had copied by hand a speech made by Mao Zedong, a seeming endorsement of the late leader's view that art has to serve the party.

Some of Mao's comments were reasonable, he countered. "Because a writer lives within society, the life that he describes includes politics and a wide variety of social problems," Mo said.

"So a writer who cares about society, a writer who cares about the suffering of people, should naturally be critical," he added.

The Chinese state media greeted the win with joy yesterday. "Mo Yan at last," cried the Global Times. "Mobel," read a headline in Beijing News, merging Mo's name with the prize's name.

This was in sharp contrast to the media silence after the wins of Liu and playwright Gao Xingjian, who won the Nobel Literature Prize in 2000 as a French citizen.

An online joke goes like this: The names of China's first two Nobel winners can't be spoken. Why don't we just call the third "don't speak"?

Mo, born Guan Moye in Gaomi, Shandong, uses the pen name Mo Yan, which means "don't speak".

Literature scholars told The Straits Times that the criticism of Mo's win was unfair.

"Whether he gets the Nobel Prize or not is not about whether his political judgment is right or wrong, left or right. Politics should be put aside," said scholar Zhou Ning of Xiamen University.

"Mo Yan is certainly among some of the best writers in contemporary China," said Dr Quah Sy Ren, an expert on modern Chinese literature at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). He said that as far as he knew, Mo and short story writer Li Rui were on the final shortlist before Gao won in 2000.

The win also reflects China's rise and the greater visibility and more effective translation of Chinese literary works, he added.

Mo's win might spur more bilingual speakers in Singapore to take up translation professionally, said Dr Helena Gao, a linguistics expert at NTU.


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