Chinese writer Mo Yan (莫言) won the Nobel Prize in Literature yesterday, a cause of pride for a government that had disowned the only previous Chinese winner of the award, an exiled critic.
National TV broke into its newscast to announce the award — exceptional for the tightly scripted broadcast that usually focuses on the doings of Chinese leaders.
The Swedish Academy, which selects the winners of the prestigious award, praised Mo’s “hallucinatory realism” saying it “merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.”
Peter Englund, the academy’s permanent secretary, said the academy had contacted Mo, 57, before the announcement.
“He said he was overjoyed and scared,” Englund said.
State media quoted Mo as saying the win has inspired him to “strive harder” in his writing.
“On hearing the news that I won the award, I was very happy,” Mo was quoted saying by the official China News Service.
“I will focus on creating new works. I will strive harder to thank everyone,” he said.
Among the works highlighted by the Nobel judges were Red Sorghum (1993), The Garlic Ballads (1995) and Big Breasts & Wide Hips (2004).
"He’s written 11 novels and let’s say a hundred short stories,” Englund said. “If you want to start off to get a sense of how he is writing and also get a sense of the moral core in what he is writing I would recommend The Garlic Ballads.”
The award was almost certain to be welcomed in China, unlike when jailed dissident Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Beijing also disowned the Nobel when Gao Xingjian (高行健) won the literature award in 2000 for his absurdist dramas and inventive fiction. Gao’s works are laced with criticisms of China’s communist government and have been banned in China.
Chinese social media exploded with pride after the announcement. Hu Xijin (胡錫進), editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times tabloid, said on a microblog that Mo’s winning is proof that the West has looked beyond Chinese dissidents.
“This prize may prove China, with its growing strength, does not have only dissidents who can be accepted by the West. China’s mainstream cannot be kept out for long,” Hu wrote.
Born Guan Moye (管謨業) in 1955 to a farming family in Shandong Province, Mo chose his penname while writing his first novel. Garrulous by nature, Mo has said the name, meaning “don’t speak,” was intended to remind him to hold his tongue lest he get himself into trouble and to mask his identity since he began writing while serving in the army.
His breakthrough came with novel Red Sorghum published in 1987. Set in a small village, like much of his fiction, Red Sorghum is an earthy tale of love and peasant struggles set against the backdrop of the anti-Japanese war.
Additional reporting by AFP