Nobel Prize

'Wishful thinking' to link Mo Yan's Nobel prize with China's rise

Official declarations that the world's most coveted literature prize recognises Chinese 'soft power' is wishful thinking, critics say

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2012, 9:43am

The awarding of the 2012 Nobel Prize for literature to Mo Yan is a great recognition of Chinese literary talent, but for the government to say it symbolises China's "soft power" and rising influence is wishful thinking, critics say.

Leading the media scrum after the Thursday announcement of the award, Li Changchun, the Communist Party's propaganda chief, proclaimed that "the Nobel literature prize for Mo Yan is both the embodiment of prosperity of Chinese literature and a reflection of the country's growing prowess and its international influence".

A day later, the English-language newspaper Global Times said recognition of the author was proof that not only Chinese dissidents were acceptable to the West.

"China's mainstream cannot be kept out for long in the West," it said.

Huang Yu, a journalism professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that the Nobel award had little to do with "China's rise", but was certainly reward and recognition for Chinese literature, given the prize's long tradition.

"Citing the prize [for Mo Yan] as a general endorsement of China's prominence is largely wishful thinking by the Chinese," Huang said.

The response to the literature prize on the mainland is in stark contrast to the official fury in 2010 after the Nobel Peace Prize went to dissident writer Liu Xiaobo, who is serving an 11-year prison term.

Mo Yan's call for Liu's release at a news conference on Friday hardly rated a mention in mainland media reports.

Qiao Mu, an associate professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University who specialises in international communications and politics, said the award would certainly promote Chinese literature and culture as the winner would now be recognised widely at home and abroad.

"But to say Mo Yan's Nobel literature prize symbolises China's rising 'soft power' is an overstatement," he said. "China lacks 'soft political power' because its people are not allowed to say or publish what they wish."

The Swedish Academy's announcement of the prize capped weeks of media frenzy after it emerged that Mo Yan was in the running. But, if anything, critics said the intense discussion about his chances of winning at that time was more a reflection of a growing "Nobel Prize anxiety" on the mainland in recent years.

Murong Xuecun, another popular writer, said Mo Yan certainly deserved the prize as a world-class Chinese writer who was among the most diligent and prolific of his generation. But the anxiety was a product of the tight grip kept on literature honours on the mainland, which more often stifled talent for the sake of political correctness.

Mo Yan is a pen name meaning "Don't Speak" for Shandong -born Guan Moye.