Thursday, 11 October 2012

Clinching the World's Highest Honour

Nobel Prize winner in Literature Mo Yan
We are ecstatic to hear writer Mo Yan has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

There was speculation Japanese author Haruki Murakami would clinch the prestigious prize, but not long after Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel in 2010 did Mo become the third ethnic Chinese to win, but the first not jailed or exiled.

When Mo was contacted earlier today, Peter Englund, secretary of the Swedish Academy reported "he said he was overjoyed and scared". Apparently Mo was with his father when he received the call.

In citing the award, the academy said: "Through a mixture of fantasy and reality, historical and social perspectives, Mo Yan has created a world reminiscent in its complexity of those in the writings of William Faulkner and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition."

Mo Yan, which is a pen name "don't speak" for Guan Moye, is the son of farmers born in 1955 and during the Cultural Revolution he left school to work on a farm and later a factory.

In 1976 when the Cultural Revolution ended, he joined the People's Liberation Army and began to study literature and write.

Five years later his first short story was published in a literary journal.

"In his writing Mo Yan draws on his youthful experiences and on settings in the province of his birth," the Nobel biography said, referring to his 1987 novel called Red Sorghum in 1993 that was later made into a movie by director Zhang Yimou.

The Garlic Ballads was published in English in 1995 and other works "have been judged subversive because of their sharp criticism of contemporary Chinese society."

His other works include Big Breasts and Wide Hips (1996), Life and Death are Wearing Me Out (2006) and Sandalwood Death that will be published in English in 2013. His latest work Wa in Chinese (2009) "illuminates the consequences of China's imposition of a single-child policy."

It's interesting to note Chinese state media are proudly announcing the news of Mo's win, thus indicating the government's approval of him. One wonders how much adulation he will get.

But also -- will the government use Mo as way to show the world that China's soft power now has Nobel recognition? Will a senior government official insist on accompanying Mo to the award ceremonies in Stockholm?

We shall see.

In the meantime kudos to Mo and to one of his many longtime translators Howard Goldblatt for helping to bring Mo's work to a much wider audience outside of China.

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