The news that Chinese writer Mo Yan (莫言) won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature comes as a surprise, and yet it was to be expected. Given the rise of communist China, it is an indication of how important a Nobel winner’s country is. The only thing is, Mo Yan is more affiliated with China’s power system, than that oppose to it, unlike the kind of writers who usually win the Nobel literature prize.
The Swedish Academy, whose members choose the Nobel literature winner, praised Mo Yan, saying that he had merged folk stories, history and modernity through his combination of fantasy and realism, and compared his writings to those of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
However, there is another side to Mo Yan that is pertinent to him being awarded the Nobel Prize.
China has festooned him with praise following the announcement of the prize. Compare this with Chinese officials’ vitriolic reaction to the announcements of Gao Xingjian (高行健) being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, or the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The official Chinese media has made much of the fact that, according to them, Mo Yan is the first Chinese writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gao, who now has French citizenship, is only known as a Chinese writer in Taiwan. Is it not funny that the China of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in Taiwan has actually gotten one over the China of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China by not glossing over this fact?
Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum was adapted into a film by Zhang Yimou (張藝謀), and his books have been translated into many languages.
In his writings, Mo Yan concentrates on “representing the lives of Chinese people,” but he has never used his influence to speak out for freedom, and instead panders to the non-democratic Chinese leadership. This is, surely, to the shame of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
In 2002 Mo Yan was among a group of writers who made a handwritten copy of the Yan’an Talks on Literature and Art delivered by late Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) in 1942 during China’s civil war, in which he talked on how Chinese artists and writers were to extol communist ideology.
Mo Yan, a writer acknowledged to be under the sway of the CCP, is a classic child of Mao, and not someone Chinese dissident writers would consider a suitable prize winner.
However, in Taiwan, writers and artists accustomed to life in the China of the ROC on Taiwan are clearly ecstatic about the news of Mo Yan’s award. How strange, and yet so strangely natural.
I am sure Beijing is over the moon that Mo Yan beat Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. China is hostile to Japan. Japan on the other hand has a former Nobel laureate in Kenzaburo Oe who has, in his writings, reflected upon his country’s invasion of China. The people who recommended Mo Yan — a writer who has rarely thought to question China’s increasing imperialism — have exhibited a degree of moral courage, but seem to be trapped within a masochistic historical view, and are biased.
Taiwan is not regarded as a country in and of itself. The people who live on this land have their own history of hardships, and their own story to tell, but the world sees the island as a place of economic production and consumers. This country, which is not quite a country, has something to say, but the world is not listening.
Mo Yan, communist China’s child of Mao, who has remained silent on freedom, has few authentic credentials as a writer.
Lee Min-yung is a poet and political commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper