Mo Yan

Mo Yan walks delicate line on his way to collect Nobel literature prize

The Nobel literature prize winner is likely to avoid tricky subjects in his Stockholm speech

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2012, 4:04am

China's Nobel literature winner, Mo Yan, headed to Sweden yesterday to collect his award, but he walks a delicate line with the authorities and is expected to avoid mentioning his jailed fellow laureate Liu Xiaobo.

Mo Yan has been hailed as a national hero since the announcement in October that he had won the prize, and his works have rocketed up China's bestseller lists. But he has also had to contend with criticism from activists who brand him a stooge for the ruling Communist Party.

State media reported the writer was leaving yesterday for Stockholm, where he will give his Nobel lecture on Friday before the prize ceremony on Monday.

Until the award, Mo Yan had won critical praise but little mainstream fame for his works, which blend harshly realistic accounts of life in China's countryside with fantastical and sometimes grotesque satire.

But the announcement prompted Chinese readers to snap up his books. He earned royalties of 21.5 million yuan (HK$26.5 million) this year, the second-highest of any Chinese writer, according to a survey.

Gaomi, his hometown, announced 670 million yuan in projects to honour him, including a "Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone" and the planting of swathes of red sorghum, in honour of his best-known work, a novella named after the plant.

State-run media were effusive, hailing him as China's first Nobel literature prize winner, even though the Chinese-born Gao Xingjian, whose works were banned on the mainland and who later took French nationality, won the 2000 literature award.

Liu, who was jailed in 2009 for calling for democratic change, was awarded the Nobel Peace prize the following year, but officials excoriated the decision as interference in China's internal affairs. The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, was  awarded the 1989 peace prize.

Mo Yan himself was criticised for holding a senior role in the state-backed Chinese Writers' Association, and for joining a government-sanctioned walk-out at a German book fair in protest at the presence of dissident writers.

Yu Jie, an exiled dissident writer, was quoted by the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle as calling Mo Yan's award "the biggest scandal in the history of the Nobel prize for literature".

The Romanian-born novelist Herta Mueller, who won the literature prize in 2009, called his win a "catastrophe," saying: "He celebrates censorship."

But Mo Yan, whose real name is Guan Moye, surprised his critics when he mentioned Liu at a press conference in October. "I hope he can gain freedom as early as possible," he said.

He strove to separate his work from politics, saying that his Nobel win was "a literature victory, not a political victory".

Mo Yan has long trodden a fine line between criticising the political establishment and co-operating with it, said Ma Xiangwu, a literature professor at Renmin  University. "For a long time Mo has occupied a position within the system but not totally within it. His works are often very critical of society and politics. He's too complex to be put in a box."