Nobel literature laureate Mo Yan (莫言) has hit back at critics who accused him of being too close to the Beijing government, saying in a newspaper interview he does not write on behalf of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Yan scooped the Nobel in October for what judges called his “hallucinatory realism” and has won praise from literary critics, but is also fiercely attacked by Chinese dissidents who brand him a Communist stooge.
“I have emphasized repeatedly that I am writing on behalf of the people, not the party,” Mo Yan said in an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel, adding: “I detest corrupt officials.”
Mo hit out at exiled Chinese dissident author Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), who called him a “state poet.”
“I know [Liao] envies me for this award and I understand this, but his criticism is unjustified,” Mo said. “My political views are quite clear. One only has to read my books.”
In a style influenced by the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mo’s works deal with some of the darkest periods of China’s recent history and are often infused with politics and a dark, cynical sense of humor.
His latest novel, 2009’s Frog, is considered his most daring yet, with a searing depiction of China’s “one child” population control policy and the local officials who ruthlessly implement it with forced abortions and sterilizations.
Mo, a CCP member, reiterated his belief that literary merit is separate from politics and rejected dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s (艾未未) early criticism of his Nobel victory.
“Which intellectual can claim to represent China? I certainly do not claim that. Can Ai Weiwei?” he asked.
“Those who can really represent China are digging dirt and paving roads with their bare hands,” he added.
Mo repeated a statement made after his Nobel victory that he hoped Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), jailed in 2009 for calling for democratic change, could “regain his freedom as soon as possible.”
However, he said he was frustrated with repeatedly being asked about Liu’s case, saying that the requests reminded him of “rituals of repetition in the Cultural Revolution,” the decade from 1966 to 1976 that saw violent political campaigns.
“If I decide not to speak, then not even a knife at my neck will make me speak,” said the author, who was born Guan Moye (管謨業), but whose pen name means “not speak.”
Mo said his recent work tackled the question of individual responsibility for crimes committed during China’s tumultuous 20th century.
“Few people ask themselves, though: ‘Have I also hurt others?’” he said.
“I was jealous of the achievements, the talents of other people, of their luck. Later, I even asked my wife to have an abortion for the sake of my own future,” he said. “I am guilty.”