The award of the prestigious Nobel Prize to individuals deemed to have conferred the "greatest benefit of mankind" guarantees that every choice is open to debate. The Swedish Academy's decision to give the literature prize to Chinese author Mo Yan is no exception. While the nation basks in glory and hails it as belated global recognition of Chinese literature, some question whether the Communist Party-friendly writer is worthy of the honour.
Celebrated and successful, Mo's works, as the judges say, are reminiscent of those by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and William Faulkner. He was praised for his "hallucinatory realism" which merge "folktale, history and the contemporary". Domestically, however, the 57-year-old is more known for his close party links. His ability to survive in a heavily censored publishing regime has raised eyebrows. He also came under fire for failing to support dissident writers. Not surprisingly, the award has been seen by some as a departure from the tradition of honouring writers who champion free will, idealism and humanism. Some went further to accuse the academy of currying favour with China, which was angered by the literature award to exiled author Gao Xingjian in 2000, and the peace prize to dissident Liu Xiaobo two years ago.
Given the prestige of the literary award, there is no shortage of controversy surrounding the 108 people awarded the prize over the past 111 years. Mo may stand small compared with many of his predecessors. But that does not make him less worthy of the honour. It is true to say that he is a mainstream author with a political identity recognised by the Communist Party. But some of his works remain critical. In the literary world, to be able to stand out from countless writers is no small achievement. Being able to transcend language barrier and clinch one of the top international awards is even bigger. Perhaps the best way to judge him is to read his works. That is what the academy has done before making the decision.
Mo's success offers the opportunity for rejoicing and reflection. If the international recognition can be translated into China's rising soft power on the global stage, the dissenting views arising from the award are also food for thought in country's quest to be a genuine global player. The state's reaction this time is remarkably different to that when the prizes were given to Liu and Gao. A nation confident of itself should have room for dissent.