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My Take
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 December, 2012, 7:54am

Liu's fight is not Mo Yan's responsibility


Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.

Criticisms of Mo Yan for refusing to talk about Liu Xiaobo during his trip to Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize for literature are sickening, mindless and petty. He chose literature, not dissent or human rights, as a career and personal choice. He has every right to stick to his own conscience, which is devotion to literature, and not to follow politically correct fashion.

Some mainland citizens become dissidents out of conscience, anger and/or a deep sense of injustice; others do it for less noble reasons. There are overseas human rights activists driven to criticise the central government out of goodness and decency; others out of serious bias, ignorance and double standards. Whatever the reasons, they make their career choices and follow their own consciences. This is their entitlement. What they are not entitled to do is to impose their career choices and decisions of conscience on others, and to criticise them if they refuse.

In any case, Mo has ALREADY spoken out for Liu. In October, shortly after it was announced that he had won the prize, Mo called for Liu's release. That was widely reported around the world. His critics can search for it easily on Google. It is not Mo's responsibility to make that call every time he attends a public function. The Nobel ceremony is a celebration of Mo's literary achievements; it's about Mo, not Liu.

It was a political mistake - and also immoral - to imprison Liu. But Liu will eventually be released and cease to be a cause célèbre. He is a man of courage, but nothing he has written so far compares with Mo's work and it will not endure.

His critics might have had a stronger case if Mo had won the peace prize. But that's not the case. Why single out literature for politicisation? You can say writing publicly is inherently political - especially when the writer pretends to be apolitical. But if you want to take that route, you will have to politicise science and engineering too because they enable governments to develop weapons of mass destruction and do countless other dangerous things. In other words, you can politicise anything you want. Critics pick on Mo because it suits their agendas and lets them get on their high horses, and the free world's media duly obliges them.

Spare us the hypocrisy.


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This article is now closed to comments

In fact, I am not even sure Liu Xiaobo did not do what he did so that he would not fade out of the international spotlight (he so obviously enjoyed in 1989) rather than genuinely out of a high sense of moral duty. Attention corrupts too and sometimes mundane ambitions masquerade in a surplice.
I would still have preferred that he didn't defend censorship as a must. That DOES bear on a prize for literature.
Lo is truly what he is,an apologist for the Chinese regime,nothing more, nothing less.
In the loaded landscape of Hong Kong intellectual elite, I sometimes find the discussion around issues of human rights as surprisingly similar to those residing along the Hudson River--it is another
form of practicing Deng's dictim of black cat and white cat. As long as issues evolve around the PRC, the latter is branded as a questionable cat. Only in this instance, by steadfastly following the ethos of liberal democracy without factoring the complexities of lives of domestic Chinese intellectuals is a travesty of very tall order. We often urge the Chinese intellectuals to be less ideological and shout less slogans. The same advice will serve the intellectual elites in Hong Kong well. I find Alex has consistently introduced a breath of fresh air in a range of discussions, and on this one, he is spot on. Beijing Hutong Cat.
You're too kind. My comments here differentiates pseudo intellectuals - those sloganeers of universal values, democracies, human rights, etc. without meaningful definitions for these vacuous terms - from the real tones.
You remind me of the comment made by a Communist official on a visit to HK several years ago, when he proceeded to lecture Hong Kong people on the difference between 'real democracy' and 'false democracy' (as if he knew - not having lived under any democracy for his entire life)
I'm not sure if 'intellectual elite' is the right word, but if you're referring to all those who stand up for freedom, justice and human rights, then count me in. Of course like-minded people everywhere share similar core values of human rights, freedom and justice, which doesn't mean we're slavishly copying each other. I have no problem with saying that we all need to be pragmatic, and that China is not the same as US (actually no-one is dumb enough to confuse the two). What I do have a problem with is using this to distract attention away from (or even to excuse) all manner of injustice, tyranny, corruption and human rights abuses of the kind that have become all too familiar in mainland China (which is why even its most fervent apologists would rather live in HK than there). A lie is a lie, injustice is injustice and corruption is corruption whatever you may call it (even ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’). To return to Deng Xiaoping’s cats, we don’t care if it’s a black cat or white cat, but we do care if the cat starts killing not only rats but our babies.
If one can't define different kinds of freedom and how to manage the conflict of one kind of freedom against others, or one individual's freedom against another's, then one is likely talking nonsense. As a start, one should at least categorize different freedoms and state the principles delimiting an individual's exercise of freedom.
Take human rights as another example. When a person is incarcerated, he is deprived of his human rights. Never mind the cause of his "criminality" that thrusts him into the penal colony. Perhaps China creates more political prisoners. US certainly creates many more hardcore criminals who commit felonies, murders, etc. Their incarceration rates - per 100,000 - are respectively 121 and 730. Tell me, which countries violates human rights more? Given this metric, China is as civilized as any, or as imperfect a society as the other OECD nations.
I grant you that this is not the be-all-end-all measurement of human rights violation. But this fact should give you pause with you universal value claptrap.
If you echo others' slogans but can't measure or quantify anything, you are no better than a superstitious religious fundamentalist, who believes our universe is not much older than 6 millennium.
Many who criticize Mr. Lo's fine column are considerably below the reasoning skills standard I set for my freshman class.
Ah, so we're down to 'measuring' and 'quantifying'? (Sounds like a workshop on Outcome-based Education - we all know what real academics think of that.) Anyway, thanks for the demonstration. I now see what you mean by 'measuring' and 'quantifying': China has 171 prisoners per 100,000, and US 730 -- "Never mind the cause of his "criminality" that thrusts him into the penal colony". Well, if a person can't even tell the difference (without demanding a 'measurement' or 'metric') between someone who is jailed for murder, rape, robbery, etc., and one who is jailed for exercising his constitutional right to critcise the government and propose reforms, or helping the cause of school children who died in 'toufu' buildings in the Sichuan earthquake, or the tainted milkpowder scandal, then I genuinely feel sorry for him.
But let's talk about 'definitions'. Many of the political prisoners incarcerated in China are charged with 'subverting state authority' or 'disrupting social harmony'. Does that help? Any time someone challenges the tyranny and injustice of the state, they're necessarily 'subverting' its authority, and any time someone protests against corruption and injustice, there's bound to be some disturbance of 'social harmony'. Is it that difficult to see that the state is doing all this to protect themselves and save their own skins? Or that it's far more expedient to punish the protesters than rock the boat?
The main reason people are critical of Mo Yan is his support for censorship and support for the Communist Party, which has perpetrated unforgivable abuses agains the Chinese people. He may be an excellent writer, but he lacks principle and courage.
A fair and balanced opinion piece. Being an opinion, it is susceptible to challenge, especially from shallow-minded readers of this column. But sanctimonious ideologies matter little to human civilization.
On the political left, Jean Paul Sartre, an incorrigible ideologue, is one of firsts among equals in existentialist literature.
On the right, Mishima Yukio comes to mind. His death by seppuku in a short story is almost a reenactment within an anthology titled “Death in Midsummer.” One might question this great writer’s sanity.
I agree with Mr. Lo and Mo Yan on the issue of Liu Xiaobo. Censorship is part of life in China. As matter of laws, we must accept consequences when we break them. There is no such thing as entitlement, including speech freedom. On this I disagree with Mr. Lo. However, I share the sentiments of many that Liu should not be incarcerated.
A year ago, I spent almost 2 hours while waiting for departure in a HK Airport lounge. I dumped Liu's book just purchased into the trash before I boarded. In my opinion, awarding him a Nobel Peace Prize is a travesty.
Granted my sensibility was riled by Liu’s insistence that I owe my good fortune to white men’s noblesse oblige. As objective as I struggled through his diatribes, in the end I concluded that he is no different than dime-a-dozen Chinese pseudo intellectuals. What distinguishes him is his fool’s courage miles apart from the safe haven of effete HK tenured academics.
As an example of "shallow-minded readers of this column", how about this: "Censorship is part of life in China. As matter of laws, we must accept consequences when we break them. There is no such thing as entitlement, including speech freedom."
Just in case the point escapes you, "Racism and genocide was part of life in Nazi Germany; as a matter of law, we must accept consequences when we break it. There is no such thing as entitlement, including racial equality and human rights".
This author has a genius for defending injustices and the powers that be, which is why Mao Zedong so despised intellectuals, including writers - he knew few of them have the backbone to stand up for what is right but yet against his wilful acts.
Mr. Mo is a Chinese citizen. If he has any morals he should be abhorred at another Chinese citizen being falsely imprisoned by the authorities. At the least he could have called for Liu's release again since he is now in a position to make an impact. However, considering the lawless nature of China's authorities, it would be quite possible that Mo himself, and/or his family, have already been threatened with repercussions should he speak out on Mo's behalf. In a situation like this I can understand him staying quiet.
Are all Chinese Nobel laureates duty bound to tell the world how awful the Chinese government has been? The occassion is Mo Yan's and he is at liberty to spout his own views and tell his own story. However, the antagonists are hell bent on stealing the show even though the stage is Mo's and not Liu's. These people live in a binary world!
Alex Lo said, “It was a political mistake - and also immoral - to imprison Liu. But Liu will eventually be released…”
To take such a carefree attitude to an innocent person being imprisoned is very revealing in itself. If it were you, yourself, who was ‘immorally’ imprisoned, or one of your beloved relatives, sons or daughters, I am sure your ‘carefree’ attitude would dramatically take a u-turn and you, too, would want Mo Yan to stand up against injustice and to ‘take more responsibility’ when they had the golden opportunity in the world’s limelight.
Spare us the hypocrisy – indeed.
Under clear restraints, this column's title should better be changed into
Liu's fight is not Mo Yan's noticeable responsibility but subtle responsibility.
Admittedly Liu's plight is not necessarily Mo's fight. But, apolitical? Can any thinking man be apolitical and without freedom of expression - Mr. Lo includedl? Then what may be his/her thoughts? Pity Mo who has to walk the line, coming out saying "censorship is necessary - just like airport security check". Having said that, Mo's story-telling is often highly critical of pains and injustices imparted upon the rural populace by the authorities. Not sure to be proud or sad seeing Mo winning the Novel Prize when China is in such big mess; nothing but darkness over the literary horizon and "literary blindness".
Dai Muff
Literature is about ethics. If you have none, I don't see how your literature qualifies as "great".
Mr Lo does not know better. His views are facile in the extreme: "Oh, don't whinge, Mr Liu. You sit rotting in gaol unable to receive your Nobel, while your sheepish and compliant literary colleague takes accolades in Stockholm, oblivious, but, hey, you'll only lose a decade of life and everyone will forget you, anyway." Really. What could be more obvious tripe than that? Lo is the dregs of opinion and his material should be relegated to a publication of less prominence than the SCMP. It simply falls too far short of what anyone might call intelligent debate.
Mr Lo's argument reminds me of the musicians (like Furtwangler and Karajan) who continued to play for the Nazi regime in Germany and turn a blind eye to all that was going on, saying they were 'only' musicians, and 'politics' was not their business.
Nobel science laureates too have spoken out for moral and political causes (like Einstein and Pauling), but it is Literature laureates above all else who have a moral duty to do so, because more than any other art or science, literature is about life - including its beauty and ugliness, justice and injustice, freedom and bondage, courage and cowardice, and yes, 'politics' too. If writers are mere 'story-tellers' without a moral conscience, why give them the world's highest literary award? Mr Lo, please do not trivialise the fight for freedom and justice as a 'career choice'. You know better than that.


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