Lawsuit Against Mo Yan Rejected, but Attacks on Nobel-Prize Winning Author No Less Tragic

The nationalist blogger who attempted to sue Nobel-Prize winning author Mo Yan for 1.5 billion yuan for allegedly “defaming heroes and martyrs” in his fiction has had his lawsuit rejected by the Beijing Procuratorate, on the basis that the lawsuit does not fall within its jurisdiction. The blogger, who goes by the online moniker “Truth-Telling Mao Xinghuo,” has vowed to continue pursuing the case. Mo Yan (a pen name that means “Don’t Speak”) has remained characteristically silent on the controversy.

This marks the latest chapter in an ongoing series of accusations by online nationalists against Chinese companies, institutions, and individuals that they consider insufficiently patriotic, or overly pro-Japan or pro-Western. Targets have included Mo Yan, Tsinghua University, Nongfu Spring bottled water company, and decorations at a shopping mall in Nanjing and on the Nanning Metro system. Just this week, a middle school principal from Henan was dismissed from his position after a short story that he had written was labeled as “poisonous” and castigated for purportedly glorifying Japanese soldiers fighting in China during World War II. Principal Li Jiaqian’s “Fallen Azaleas,” a somewhat amateurish short story which was included in a Chinese test for junior high school students in Chengdu, Sichuan province, tells the tale of a Japanese colonel pursuing a band of Chinese Communist guerillas that he holds responsible for the disappearance of his son.

The Attacks on Mo Yan are Tragic,” a recent WeChat essay by writer Wei Zhou, examines the xenophobic, anti-intellectual, and anti-artistic biases behind the spate of nationalist attacks, and asks what—if anything—can be done to counter them. He also notes that for the targets of such attacks, often the only safe, sensible response is to stay silent: 

No doubt, anyone familiar with the current public opinion environment will understand that remaining silent may well be the most suitable response. It’s a bit like being trapped in quicksand: any attempt to struggle will only make things more dangerous. Silence can sometimes be the highest expression of disdain, while at other times, it symbolizes one’s powerlessness. So what exactly does [Mo Yan’s] silence indicate? It’s likely “conciliation as a means of avoiding even greater trouble.”

This is different from actually having the freedom to criticize. When your rights are sufficiently secure, you can afford to ignore the clamor, because it isn’t a threat to you.

[…] What we must face squarely is that these people also have their own beliefs, and it is precisely because of these staunch beliefs that they launch such harshly worded attacks [on others]. Moreover, their aggression is often a defensive reaction: they honestly believe that the pillars of their existing values are being undermined, so even when they go on the attack, they still see themselves as the victims.

Merely ridiculing their selfishness or stupidity is not enough to eliminate the problem, because it stems from a belief, prevalent in our society, that only “correct” and “true” information should be permitted to be published, and even then, it should only be published by the “proper authorities.” The problem is that those who believe they are upholding decency and order do not realize that the end result may be to silence everyone.

[…] Typically, in our society, ordinary people who have been immersed in traditional values ​​have unconditional trust in authority, and display a high degree of distrust in anything outside the realm of political authority—things such as literature, art, capitalism, religion, and even technology. This is why we have that smugly idiotic saying, “Making art is well and fine, but it isn’t essential.”

[Gordon W. Allport’s] book “The Nature of Prejudice” posits that political values ​​derive from an interest in power, which means that people are accustomed to viewing the affairs of daily life in terms of hierarchy, control, dominance, and status, and do not brook any deviation. The most fanatical and prejudiced group ranked “political” values ​​the highest and “aesthetic” values the lowest, while the most tolerant group ranked these the exact opposite.

[…] This is why the attacks on Mo Yan are so tragic, because they prove how many people in our society are in the habit of attacking literary and artistic works with the cudgel of “political values.” It is conceivable that if such a mentality were pervasive enough, our society could hardly be considered “tolerant.”

To these narrow-minded souls, the loss of a few fine writers and artistic works doesn’t matter a bit. They will not mourn them, nor recognize their inherent artistic value, because they apply non-literary standards to assess the value of literature. There has never been a shortage of such voices, of course, but the question now is whether we really need to put up with these people deciding what we are, and are not, allowed to read.

[…] As the saying goes, “For every one thousand people, there are one thousand Hamlets.” In other words, everyone is entitled to their own interpretation of classic works. But using political yardsticks to attack writers and their works, no matter what the reason, is certain to result in the cultural impoverishment of our nation and our people.

We should not tolerate that happening. [Chinese]


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