Nobel Laureate Mo Yan: “I Am Guilty”

In his first interview since receiving the for in December, Mo Yan talks to Der Spiegel’s Bernhard Zand about his work, his political views, and his critics.

SPIEGEL: Unspeakable things happen in many of your novels. In “The Garlic Ballads,” for example, a pregnant woman, already in labor, hangs herself. Still, “Frog” seems to be your sternest book. Is that why it took so long to write?

Mo: I carried the idea for this book with me for a long time but then wrote it relatively quickly. You are right, I felt heavy when I penned the novel. I see it as a work of self-criticism.

SPIEGEL: In what sense? You carry no personal responsibility for the violence and the forced abortions described in your book.

Mo: China has gone through such tremendous change over the past decades that most of us consider ourselves victims. Few people ask themselves, though: ‘Have I also hurt others?’ “Frog” deals with this question, with this possibility. I, for example, may have been only 11 years old in my elementary school days, but I joined the and took part in the public criticism of my teacher. I was jealous of the achievements, the talents of other people, of their luck. Later, I even asked my wife to have an for the sake of my own future. I am guilty.

SPIEGEL: You are not only a member of the party, you have repeatedly said that you retain a utopian vision of . Yet don’t your books show step by step that this utopia doesn’t always become reality? And should you not therefore consider letting go of this utopia altogether?

Mo: What Marx wrote in the “The Communist Manifesto” was of great beauty. However, it seems to be very hard to make that dream come true. But then again, I look at those European, specifically Northern European, states and societies and wonder: Would these welfare states even be thinkable without Marx? We used to say in China that in a way has saved capitalism. Because those who benefited most from his ideology seem to be societies in the West. We Chinese, Russians and Eastern Europeans seem to have misunderstood .

See more about Mo Yan and the Nobel debate via CDT.