Mo Yan’s (莫言) Nobel lecture did little to dispel controversy in literary circles yesterday, with China’s state media widely covering the Nobel Prize in Literature winner’s speech, while dissident artists piled on derision.
In the traditional lecture in Stockholm on Friday, Mo, the vice-chairman of the government-backed China Writers’ Association, took a swipe at his critics, saying their target “had nothing to do” with him, and urging them to read his books.
Mo has walked a tightrope during his stay in Stockholm, where he will pick up the award tomorrow, with some pundits supporting his claims that he is “independent,” and others casting him as a Beijing stooge.
In China, his lecture did little to dispel the divide.
“In the last few days, he has defended the system of censorship ... then in his lecture he talks about storytelling — to use a Chinese expression, he is like a prostitute insisting her services are clean,” dissident poet Ye Du (野渡), a member of the non-government Independent Chinese Pen Center, told reporters.
“As far as an assessment of him, in literature he has some merit, but as a living human being, he is a dwarf,” Ye said.
Ye said Chinese intellectuals had hoped Mo would use the lecture to renew his call for the Chinese government to release jailed 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), but instead he voiced support for China’s system of state censorship.
China’s state media covered Mo’s lecture widely, focusing on how he grew up in rural China with an illiterate mother and detailing the inspiration behind novels such as Red Sorghum, Frog and Life and Death are Wearing Me Out.
His victory has brought Chinese literature into the world spotlight and will help bridge the gap between Chinese culture and the rest of the world, Xinhua news agency cited Lan Lijun (蘭立俊), Chinese ambassador to Sweden, as saying.
“This is the first time that a non-dissident Chinese has won a Nobel prize, so it is not Mo Yan’s fault that the state media is praising him,” a Beijing intellectual, who only wanted to be identified by her surname, Wang, told reporters.
“It is clear he is against censorship, but he lives in China and he has the freedom to choose not to take on the views of a dissident,” she said.
Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) condemned the lecture in a tweet, saying: “Mo Yan’s talk about storytelling is about covering things up and hiding, it was powerless, disgraceful, a betrayal and a sellout.”