The Writer, the State and the Nobel

A writer who names himself “Don’t Speak”, an allusion to the fear of getting into trouble in a one-party state, becomes a top literary official of that state and goes on to win world’s biggest literary award. Fiction? A Kafkaesque literary thrust at the bitter, age-old struggle between power and freedom? A story idea of which any author would be proud? No, because that’s what just happened on Thursday, when Mo Yan, vice-chairman of the state-run Chinese Writers’ Association, won the Nobel Prize in Literature. The People’s Republic of China has long coveted a Nobel Prize but was unable to celebrate until now, because they kept being awarded to wrong people, free thinkers such as the exiled Gao Xingjian, who took French citizenship (Nobel Prize in Literature, 2000), and the still-jailed Liu Xiaobo (Nobel Peace Prize, 2010). That led to a joke was circulating here yesterday: “China has 3 Nobel Prize winners. The first can’t get in, second can’t get out, and the third is Mo Yan.” (“Don’t speak” is the meaning of Mr. Mo’s pen name; his given name is Guan Moye.) Triumphant, still sounding a little angry, the online version of the state-run People’s Daily said on Thursday, according to Reuters: “This is the first Chinese writer who has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Chinese writers have waited too long, Chinese people have waited too long.” More lightheartedly, The Beijing News dubbed this year’s prize the “Mobel”. But if this year is proving a high point for Chinese literature of the Communist era, Frankfurt Book Fair of October 2009, where China was the guest of honor, was a low point. Convulsed by public arguments over censorship, official delegation, which included Mr. Mo, boycotted events where dissident Chinese writers appeared, the event raised crucial questions about writing and power, including this almost philosophic one: Can a writer in a one-party state practices massive censorship ever be truly free to create? Do censorship and compromise trap the writer’s mind in ways he or she may not be aware of? Mr. Mo has been praised by many at home and abroad for his wide-ranging, earthy writing, which in recent years has not been afraid to probe such sensitive matters as forced abortions under China’s one-child policy. But was he, even then, under a kind of spell? At Frankfurt, where I was present, it fell to Mr. Mo to deliver opening writer’s speech to an audience that included Xi Jinping, Chinese vice-president who is tapped to become the country’s next top leader, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who publicly called on China to respect freedom of expression (…..)



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One Response to The Writer, the State and the Nobel

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: The NYT has a stern and rigorous approach to review the POLITICS of non Anglo Saxon Nobel Prize winners in Literature. A simple search in this paper yields fascinating results. Let’s take the case of Mo Yan today and Ernest Hemingway in 1954. Mo Yan 2012: “A writer who names himself Don’t Speak, an allusion to the fear of getting into trouble in a one-party state, becomes a top literary official of that state and goes on to win the world’s biggest literary award. Can great, lasting literature come from there? The Nobel committee thinks so. Do you?”; Ernest Hemingway 1954: “The choice of Mr. Hemingway had been generally foreseen in Stockholm literary circles, although there were many candidates to choose from. Halidor Laxness, Icelandic writer, was perhaps Mr. Hemingway’s principal competitor. The fact that Mr. Laxness had received the Stalin Prize for Literature might have swung the vote for Mr. Hemingway. The Academy seriously discussed Mr. Hemingway for the prize last year, but postponed giving him the honor in favor of Prime Minister Churchill, whose advanced age was considered a factor in the choice.” The prosecution rests, Your Honor.


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