Mo Yan

Mo Yan shares some Nobel thoughts

Mo Yan sings the praises of motherhood and its power to move mountains, while he is a bit less enthusiastic about hurried trips to Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 4:12am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 5:43am

Q: How have different literary traditions influenced your writing?

A: Every writer in China is influenced by Chinese literature and Western literature. For Chinese literature, writers are influenced in two ways. They are influenced by the poems from the Tang dynasty and novels from the Ming and Qing dynasties. They are also influenced by folk tales. In my case, folk tales have a greater impact on my writing.

In your Nobel award speech you spoke a lot about your mother. You mentioned that after she died you were grief-stricken and decided to write a novel dedicated to her [1997's Big Breasts and Wide Hips].  Why do you say mothers are "the last saviours" and "the true compassion"?

What makes a woman great is her quality of motherhood. The power of motherhood can "move mountains and fill the sea" and nothing can stop it. The character "Mother" in the novel has gone beyond the limit of classes and portrays the style of novels from previous decades.

Chinese novels published after 1949 overemphasised the political side and social background of a person. They simply distorted and ignored the description of human nature. Women play an important role in my writing.

My experience tells me that when you are in difficulty, or if your mind is in turmoil, it will be women who are the ones to come to comfort your heart. They restore everything that men have destroyed.

You started writing in the 1980s. When you look back now, what do you think about that era and its cultural conditions?

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.

In your novel Frog you criticise China's family planning policy. Now, in some places on the mainland, parents who are only-children themselves are allowed to have more than one child. What do you think of the change?

When I started writing the novel, my intention was not to criticise the family planning policy but to portray the character of "Aunty". It has been more than 30 years since China introduced the one-child policy. In fact, the policy allows rural families to have a second child. When the first child is a girl, families can have a second child after eight years. But if their first child is a boy, then they are not allowed to have another child. Of course, there were variations in the way the policy was carried out. Some cases were extremely disturbing.

I don't think a writer should shun social problems. I also don't believe it is a writer's responsibility to write about grave and complicated social issues. To write about them or not depends on the conditions of the writer and where his talents lie.

Some people are adept at writing about love. Then they can write a lot of good romance novels which are not so related to social problems. Some writers are good at historical topics so they write historical novels well. In the same vein, people with a rich imagination can write science fiction well. I think their works also have a high value.

Of course, we also need writers who focus on grave and sensitive issues. I think they also have a role to play in society.

You have visited Hong Kong on several occasions. What's your impression of Hong Kong? And who are the Hong Kong authors you know of?

I have been to Hong Kong a few times but each time I just came and went in a rush. To me, Hong Kong is a bustling, hot city. Of course it is also a highly civilised place. But, as a person who has lived in the country for many years, I feel out of place in such a busy city. I felt depressed walking in narrow alleys between high-rises without being able to see the sky.

But, of course, once you are used to one place, you will find it is all the same as other places. Likewise, when you come to my hometown, you will find a vast and flat plateau where you can see the horizon, but you may feel empty.

Hong Kong authors I know of include Xi Xi, the pen-name of poet Zhang Yan, Wong Bik-wan, Dung Kai-cheung, Lau Yee-cheung and of course Jin Yong.

I deeply respect them. They all write well and each has a distinctive writing style.