Mo Yan

Censorship has spurred writers, says Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan

Nobel Prize winner tells Post that authors have been motivated to challenge taboos and reveals standpoint on social issues and price of fame

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 8:21am

Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan has revealed in an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post that he believes censorship has motivated authors to write about topics seen as taboo.

The novelist, who won the literature prize almost a year ago, sparked controversy before the awards ceremony in Stockholm by saying mainland censorship was a "necessary evil".

The decision of the Nobel Committee to award the prize to Mo Yan - a long-time Communist Party member and vice-chairman of the party-aligned Chinese Writers' Association - also raised eyebrows among critics of China, who saw him as a writer "inside the system".

However, the 58-year-old told the Post in a three-hour interview at his new apartment on the outskirts of Beijing: "Censorship gives writers motivation to challenge these forbidden zones."

Mo Yan, who started writing in the 1980s, said: "The 1980s was a golden period for literature that I miss so much. At that time, there were many taboos which writers liked to challenge. Their excitement inspired creativity and imagination.

"But I'm not saying that these taboos gave rise to good works of literature. As a matter of fact, I never meant to say anything like that. I'm just giving you a true picture of that period."

He added: "I don't think a writer should shun social problems. On the other hand, I also don't believe a writer's responsibility is to write about grave and complicated social issues."

He said each individual writer should have the freedom to decide what to write and what subjects they could handle best. This year's Nobel Prize winners will be announced next month and Mo Yan said the attention he has received since winning had "disturbed his peaceful life".

But he sees this as the price he must pay for his fame. He said: "I have received all sorts of requests. I feel so distraught. I really want to satisfy all the requests, but I am unable to do so."

He added: "There is no free lunch in the world. I won the Nobel Prize and now enjoy the fame. I have to pay the cost. This is fair to me."

Mo Yan is the first Chinese citizen to win the literature prize.

Gao Xingjian, who is a Chinese-born dissident with French citizenship, won the Nobel prize in 2000, but his books are banned on the mainland.

Another Chinese Nobel laureate, Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, is serving an 11-year prison sentence in Liaoning.

During the interview, Mo Yan talked about Hong Kong and his respect for local authors' work.

He said: "Hong Kong is … a highly civilised place. But as a person who has lived in the countryside for many years, I felt depressed walking in narrow alleys between high-rises without being able to see the sky."