Mo Yan

Separating fact from fiction about Mo Yan

As mainland firms cash in on 'Mo Yan Effect', does anyone care about low-key author's literature?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 October, 2012, 1:39am

A widely circulated Sina Weibo post, sardonically linking Nobel laureate Mo Yan to two more controversial Chinese celebrities, perhaps best illustrated the public's conflicted feelings about the media frenzy surrounding the writer's award.

"After Mo Yan won the Nobel Literature Prize, Luo Yufeng announced that she's fallen in love with him and Fang Zhouzi claimed to have found evidence Mo Yan had others write his works," the post read.

For those who have been living under a rock - or at least far from Sina Weibo - Luo, or "Sister Feng", is the former Chongqing factory worker whose outlandish posts about finding a wealthy and intelligent husband won her fame, scorn and ridicule a few years back.

Fang is a biochemist who campaigns against academic fraud, and earlier this year accused popular blogger Han Han of hiring ghostwriters.

The joke was clear: was the first Chinese national to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in danger of being reduced to a shallow internet personality?

Efforts to capitalise on Mo Yan's fame crossed into the absurd within days of his Nobel win. Roast chicken sellers, liquor distillers and publishers used his name to push their products. A 10-year-old manuscript reportedly sold for 1.2 million yuan (HK$1.5 million).

Then in rushed entrepreneur-turned-philanthropist Chen Guangbiao, who, the Qilu Evening News said, offered Mo Yan a flat in Beijing on Monday.

The media-shy writer, who emphatically rejected the offer through his family, has tried to retain his low profile, making few public appearances since his win. But that not deterred the scramble to share his celebrity.

Even Gaomi, the rural Shandong city where Mo Yan grew up, plans to spend 670 million yuan (HK$824 million) on tourism projects, including a "Mo Yan Cultural Experience Zone" around his former home, said The Beijing News. The gold-rush is in stark contrast to the hostility shown to China's previous Nobel laureates, such 2010 Peace Prize-recipient Liu Xiaobo, a dissident who remains behind bars, and writer Gao Xingjian, who was a French national when he won the literature prize in 2000.

But Mo Yan has chosen to work within the censorship regime. That has helped him gain huge marketing potential.

The China News Service said a Wuhan developer was giving new-home buyers a copy of Mo Yan's recent novel, Frog, while textbook publisher Language & Culture Press will bring Mo Yan's works into new high school textbooks, the Beijing Times reported.

Not everyone in the official media seemed pleased with the "Mo Yan effect". A commentary posted online by Xinhua on Friday cautioned officials against letting the frenzy dull their better economic sense by, for instance, planting red sorghum - the title of his breakout novel - which farmers say is hard to sell.

"There's nothing inappropriate about a local government turning the cultural wealth behind a Nobel Prize for Mo Yan into economic gains," the Xinhua piece said. "But the key is that it should be done in a solid and gradual way to prevent hassles to locals and losses."

The Qilu Evening News took particular offence at Chen offering Mo Yan a Beijing flat. It slammed him for "acting like a rich moneybags handing out leftovers to the poor".

"The reason Chen … offered a home to Mo Yan at this time, not earlier and not later, is that he simply wanted to grab some of the limelight," it said.

Rather than debating Mo Yan's literary talents, the media has focused on his so-called pessimistic outlook and his humble upbringing, such as bed-wetting in childhood.

The Southern Metropolis Daily said it was as if Mo Yan had been forced onto a factory production line, where he was assembled, dressed up and idealised.

"Because of the Nobel Literature Prize for Mo Yan, we should be closer to literature than ever," it said. "In the meantime, we have never been further away."