News of Chinese writer Mo Yan’s acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature came as some of the world’s best authors were in the city for the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, which will run until Sunday.
During Friday’s festival programme, notable writers Colm Tóibín, from Ireland and Pankaj Mishra, from India, praised Mo for his win. Tóibín, whose novels and essays have been translated into 30 languages, said that Mo’s win could lead to greater international success for other authors who don’t write in English.
"English has become so insular. Everyone thinks English writers are the best and bookshops don’t want foreign writers…[Mo] will be a big discovery for a lot of readers…publishers all over the world now will publish him very well and everyone will pay attention. So it’s great.”
Mishra, a journalist, novelist and travel writer who lives in London and India, responded to Chinese activists’ criticisms of Mo Yan’s win.
“There’s been a lot of negative reactions to Mo Yan’s win … [with people saying] that a true Chinese writer is a dissident living abroad, as if something’s not right with someone winning an award who lives in China.”
Chinese artist-activist Ai Wei Wei had called Mo’s win an “insult to humanity and to literature,” criticising him for having “no involvement with the contemporary struggle”.
Mishra said, “My problem with that is, when Toni Morrison wins a Nobel Prize no one calls [English artist] Damien Hirst to ask what he thinks about it. Why is Ai Wei Wei always called up to say what he thinks about anything?”
Mishra will appear in Hong Kong again at the Asia Society on Tuesday evening to speak about his new book, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia.
On October 25, Tóibín will release his latest novel, A Testament to Mary, which is written from the perspective of the Virgin Mary twenty years after crucifixion.