Nobel Prize for Literature was just awarded to Herta Müller, born in Romania and productive in Germany. This came somewhat to my surprise even though I had not been playing with a crystal ball. Shortly before the announcement, one prominent member of the jury Peter Englund admitted to the Associated Press that the prize has become too Eurocentric with most jury members being European . Americans have not won any Nobel Prize in literature since 1993. Englund’s confession sparkled some hope in America that this time it might be an American author. And the disappointment that followed!
It is worse for China. Chinese poet Beidao was among those nominated for the prize. I guess he will have to wait. On the map of world literature with Europe right at the center, Chinese literature is an island that is hidden somewhere, to be discovered and understood. We depend on the likes of sinologue Wolfgang Kubin to tell the rest of the world what our writing is about. Unfortunately, Kubin was disgusted with the majority of Chinese literature that has surfaced, especially the vulgar young authors who proclaim to be “writing with their bodies” instead of their minds and hearts. Such “body” authors receive better recognition than their more serious peers, thanks to the cultural reporters that care more about controversies than content. Many pop critics do not read much anyway.
What hurdles, then, lie between Chinese writers and Nobel laurels? Literary critic Wang Binbin from Nanjing University says they lack everything, except quantity. They lack “good language, good mood, good thoughts” . With Wang leading the effort, I will add a few items of my own to the list.