Ai Weiwei angered by Mo Yan Nobel Prize for Literature

Communist Party welcomes China's first Nobel Prize for Literature, but fellow artists are unimpressed

LAST UPDATED AT 16:09 ON Thu 11 Oct 2012

CHINESE writers and artists have expressed dismay at the decision to award the Nobel Prize for Literature to the 57-year-old Chinese novelist Mo Yan.

The Swedish Academy said Mo was a writer "who with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary", adding that "despite his social criticism [he] is seen in his homeland as one of the foremost contemporary authors".

The Academy compares Mo Yan's work to that of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez.

Mo Yan, which means 'Don't speak', is the pen name of Guan Moye. He was born in 1955, according to Xinhua, and grew up in Gaomi in Shandong province in eastern China. His parents were farmers.

Peter Englund, head of the Swedish Academy, said Mo was "overjoyed and terrified" when he was told he had won the Nobel. "He has such a damn unique way of writing. If you read half a page of Mo Yan you immediately recognise it as him."

The New York Times points out that some of Mo's novels, including 1995's The Garlic Ballads, "have been judged subversive because of their sharp criticism of contemporary Chinese society". Wa, published in Chinese in 2009, "illuminates the consequences of China's imposition of a single-child policy".

Reuters notes that although some of his books have been banned by China for being "provocative and vulgar", Mo has also been criticised for being too close to the Communist Party – a perception that will only be reinforced by the reaction to news of the award from the People's Daily.

"This is the first Chinese writer who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature," said the paper, a mouthpiece of the Communist Party. “Chinese writers have waited too long, the Chinese people have waited too long.”

A number of Chinese cultural figures have expressed distaste for Mo's elevation to Nobel laureate.

Dissident artist Ai Weiwei brought up the situation of Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who is still in jail two years after being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. "His [Mo's] winning won't be of any help for Liu Xiaobo, unless Mo Yan expresses his concern for him," said Ai.

"But Mo Yan has stated in the past that he has nothing to say about Liu Xiaobo. I think the Nobel organisers have removed themselves from reality by awarding this prize. I really don't understand it."

Mo Zhixu, a Beijing-based writer, said Mo Yan "doesn't have any independent personality". Yu Shicun, an essayist and literary critic, said Mo's award made no sense: "His works are from the 1980s, when he was influenced by Latin American literature. I don't think he's created his own things. We don't see him as an innovator in Chinese literature." · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.