Mo Yan Addresses Critics in Nobel Lecture

Nobel-winning author Mo Yan delivered his official lecture in Stockholm on Friday, recounting his development as a storyteller through tales of his rural upbringing and especially of his relationship with his mother. The speech—well worth an open-minded read in its entirety—came amid renewed controversy after a press conference on Thursday, in which Mo defended censorship of rumours and defamation as a necessity akin to airline security checks. He also refused to discuss the imprisonment of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, instead urging his audience to search online for his earlier remarks. This reawakened the heavy criticism of Mo’s politics that followed the announcement of his prize in October, but had substantially subsided after he expressed hope that Liu could soon be free. Compounding matters, the Associated Press published the first interview in over two years with Liu’s wife, Liu Xia, while Chinese activists, international Nobel winners and hundreds of thousands of others signed petitions calling for the couple’s release. Mo addressed his critics at several points during his lecture. From Howard Goldblatt’s translation at NobelPrize.org: My greatest challenges come with writing novels that deal with social realities, such as The Garlic Ballads, not because I’m afraid of being openly critical of the darker aspects of society, but because heated emotions and anger allow politics to suppress literature and transform a novel into reportage of a social event. As a member of society, a novelist is entitled to his own stance and viewpoint; but when he is writing he must take a humanistic stance, and write accordingly. Only then can literature not just originate in events, but transcend them, not just show concern for politics but be greater than politics. Possibly because I’ve lived so much of my life in difficult circumstances, I think I have a more profound understanding ...
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5 Responses to Mo Yan Addresses Critics in Nobel Lecture

  1. Prince Roy says:

    Mo Yan absolutely deserves the Nobel Prize for Literature. He should have been the first Chinese to get the award, in fact, and is far more worthy than Gao Xingjian. His writing is extraordinarily creative and his body of work shows an amazing depth of literary invention. His critics are way off the mark and badly misconstrue the purpose of this prize. He is first and foremost a storyteller from a Shandong village; that is all he has ever claimed to be. But he is certainly no lackey and bootlicker to authority–anyone who makes that assertion has not read and understood his work.

  2. Will says:

    The timidity and servility of Mo Yan’s comments in defense of his authoritarian regime’s censorship of the media and internet–and his refusal to express any even minor reservations about the Party’s state’s imprisonment of prisoners of conscience such as Liu Xiaobo should come as no surprise. Comrade Mo Yan is an obedient establishment Party writer, much as Mikhail Sholokov was in the former Soviet Union. His writing has exposed the ways various local Party officials have abused their authority, but never challenged any of the Party oligarchs on the Standing Committee of the Politburo–just as an ordinary imperial subject in China and Russia has often remarked, “If only the Emperor/Tsar knew what these local officials were getting up to.” The presumption is that authoritarian rule is fine and should continue indefinitely, and our only problem is with some bad apples at the local level who are not following the absolutely upright rule of our (unelected) paramount leader at the top.

  3. Inst says:

    Or perhaps it doesn’t matter at all whether or not Mo Yan is a patsy for the Chinese government. The debate as to whether or not Mo Yan is an enabler is over-politicization. This kind of attitude is in its own way akin to trying to starve (and having starved) the North Koreans, Iranians, or Iraqis because their political system is different or because their foreign policy is not to your liking.

    And I think Mo Yan has had the experience to know what an instinctual distaste for such processes are; he’s lived through the Cultural Revolution where the society was upended in the search of political purity; if the product, process, or behavior was not in accord with the latest ideological prescription from the state, it would be rejected no matter how inefficient, dangerous, or counterproductive the alternatives were.

    In this context, then, Mo Yan is making a brave stand against the West; that is to say, he’s rejecting the West’s demands for ideological purity, that all that is respectable must take its viewpoints to be holy gospel, its values paradigms cannot be abandoned, and all must suffer in places where the West does not approve, because living is impossible without your new idols of Liberty and Democracy and all the slaves to its enemies should commit mass suicide in order to avoid “enabling” their dictators.

    That said, I would question the quality of Mo Yan’s fiction, however. Reading it in translation, one feels as though something might have been lost, and it seems to lack the craft and beauty of prose that characterizes most Nobel laureates. There is also an exceptional vulgarity which makes his work quite questionable; for example, in the Republic of Wine, do we really need to know that a narrator character is attracted to his mother-in-law and more specifically his mother-in-law’s meaty farts? You can then propose that he is not the most qualified winner for this year, and that this was a Norwegian attempt at restoring relations with China after awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo last year.

  4. ChasL says:

    CDT, does your NED grant censors you from mentioning the fact last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner, Liu Xiaobo, actually publically defended GW Bush’s war of terror, and praised America’s invasion of Iraq.

    Can you blam the guy, just like CDT, Liu Xiaobo too was on Uncle Sam’s payroll back then. Check National Endowment for Democracy’s own grant publication, Liu took in nearly a million dollars NED grants to write Charter 08, which acvocated abolition of China’s constitution.

    China had every right to prosecute Liu Xiaobo, since such activity would be illegal under US law as well.