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China: Where my Nobels at?

When one of the best writers in the country flees, is asked not to come back and then wins a Nobel prize in literature while in exile, would it be a bit disingenuous to accuse the Swedish Academy of bias against awarding Nobel prizes to mainland Chinese? Perhaps not, judging from Sina.com [zh] bloggers—those who have heard of him—in response to Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk's Nobel win this month:

How far [zh], asks Sina.com blogger From Water (从水), is China from getting a Nobel prize?

2006年度个诺贝尔奖已经陆续揭晓,其中引人注目的是这次的诺贝尔科学奖无一例外的又一次落入美国人的口袋。读到这个消息时,真的应该庆贺美国人,可是在为别人鼓掌之后,总会感到一些失落,毕竟荣誉是别人的,不是我们自己的。据我所知,除了6位华裔科学家外,完全土生土长的中国科学家还从来没有问鼎过这一奖项。这对于一个有着悠久历史的拥有13亿人口的大国来说,不能不是一个遗憾或者是伤痛。

The 2006 Nobel prizes have already been announced one after another, and among them what caught people's eyes is that this time the Nobel science prizes once again without exception fell into American pockets. When I read this news, I really felt the Americans should be congratulated, but after applauding for other people, there's always a bit of a feeling of loss. After all, the honors went to others. As far as I know, except for six overseas Chinese scientists, through-and-through China-born and raised scientists have still never received this award. For a country with such a long history and population of 1.3 billion, not only is this a pity, but it hurts too.

Zhang Shumei (张蜀梅):

诺贝尔文学奖为什么那么让人嫉妒,因为它奖金高。
这是我个人的认为。
每年都会评一次诺贝尔奖,其实诺贝尔奖有好多项,比如医学,物理,经济,和平等等。但是,在我们心目中,”诺贝尔文学奖”为
什么那么神秘,那么令人向往?因为,没有我们的作家得过,所以是永远的痛。更重要的是,唯一一个华人作家得过这个奖,却又是外籍
华人,而不是自己,非常不过瘾。
其实,我个人觉得,为什么我们的作家们那么重视这个奖,对这个奖耿耿于怀?因为它的奖金最高,而我们又拿不到。
记得在2000年10月12日,瑞典文学院宣布,将本年度诺贝尔文学奖授予旅法中国作家高行健。
当天,我正在上海出差,晚上7点,报社的领导打电话来,要我采访一下国内的一些作家,让他们谈谈对第一次有华人获得诺贝尔文学
奖有何看法。报社准备了好几个版呢。于是,我在酒店拼命向北京,上海,南京,成都的作家们电话。

The Nobel prizes are awarded once every year, and there are quite a few categories, like medicine, physics, economics, peace, etc. But, in our eyes, why is the Nobel prize in literature so mysterious, desired by so many people? Because, none of our writers have won it, that's why it's an eternal pain. Most importantly, the only ethnic Chinese to ever win this award was actually an overseas Chinese, and not one of us. Very uncool.
Actually, in my view, the reason our writers place so much importance on this award, why they take it so hard, is because the amount of award money is so high. And yet we can't get it. I remember on October 12, 2000, the Swedish Academy announced that that year's Nobel literature award would be bestowed upon exiled Chinese writer Gao Xingjian. That day I happened to be in Shanghai on a business trip. At seven pm that night, a newspaper leader phoned me, wanted me to interview a few mainland Chinese writers, have them discuss their views on the first time an ethnic Chinese had won a Nobel literature award. The paper prepared several pages. Then like my life depended on it, I made phone calls to writers in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Chengdu.

在采访之前,说实在的,我对高行健还不了解,只好到网上去搜索。其实网上对他的介绍几乎没有的。好在,我立即给复旦大学中文系我
原来的现当代文学史的老师陈思和先生电话,他答应给一篇文章我,算是给我补了一堂”当代文学史”的课。另外,我当时给文学评论家王干电话,采访他,而当时,他正和李泽厚在一起,就顺便也采访了李先生。他倒是很愿意谈。但是,记得那天采访国内的作家都不是太顺利,打了很多的电话,不是不愿意谈,就是说话酸溜溜的。还有的说,他是谁啊?我怎么都不知道呢?要说我们能获这个奖的应该是鲁迅,沈从文;现在还活着的,就是莫言和余华,还有谁谁谁和谁谁谁,最有希望了。
我噼里啪啦,电话打了很多,稿子也赶写了不少,可是,到了晚上11点,报社领导来电话说,稿子不用传了,没有采访到的,也就算
了。说,上级有通知,统一用新华社的通稿子。第二天,回到广州,一看稿子,在头版,仅仅200个字。

Before the interviews, to tell the truth, I wasn't too clear who Gao Xingjian was. I did an internet search but there was almost no information about him on the internet [in Chinese]. I quickly called my old history of modern and contemporary literature professor from Fudan University Chen Sihe. He said he'd give me an article, which turned out to be a refresher course in modern and contemporary literature. Aside from that, I called up literary critic Wang Gan to interview him, and at the time he just happened to be sitting with Li Zehou, so I got to interview Mr. Li as well. He was actually quite willing to talk. But, I remember that interviewing mainland Chinese writers that day didn't go so smoothly. I made many phone calls and it wasn't that they weren't willing to comment, but they spoke very sourly. And some of them said, ‘who is he? How could I have never heard of him before?’ They said that if we're going to get this award, it should go to Lu Xun or Shen Congwen. Or someone still alive, it would be Mo Yan or Yu Hua, or so-and-so, so-and-so have the best chances.
I talked and talked, made many phone calls, busted and ended up writing a lot. But, around 11 pm, a newspaper leader phoned back and said the piece wouldn't run, that I should forget about those I hadn't yet interviewed because the higher-ups had sent down a notice: everyone would have to use the Xinhua version. The next day I went back to Guangzhou. I saw the piece, on the front page, just 200 words.

—snip—

我觉得我们国家不是没有那个级别的作家,而是我们太自闭,我们的作品外国人看不到,能翻译出去的很少,别人连你的书都看不到,又怎么给你评奖呢。再说,这个奖拿不拿得到,又怎么样呢?自己写自己的,能写成什么样子就什么样,评论家说什么也不要在意,什么奖的评委说什么。也不要在意。关他们什么事。你不惦记着那些名誉,那些利益,不惦记着人家那么的美金,心里会有那么多的不平吗?

I don't think it's that our country lacks writers of that level, it's that we're too closed, and foreigners don't see our works, too few are translated. If people can't even see your book, how can they nominate it? Besides, is it so big a deal if we win this award or not? You write what you can write and should pay no heed to what the critics or some award's judges say. Pay them no attention. What business is it of theirs? If you don't worry about the fame, the benefits, the American dollars, would that still be so bad?

Truth Only Valuable When Sought (求真才可贵):

今年全部的自然科学诺贝尔奖以及经济学奖都被重视基础研究的Uncle Sam拿走了,我相信这与他们严谨和勤奋的工作以及良好的科研环境是分不开,而文学奖则被土耳其作家拿走(我在腾讯看到的,但在GOOGLE和百度上还没看到这新闻).中国本土产的科学家依然没办法染指这些奖项,甚至连提名都没有,我一直在想为什么我们这么大的国家拥有这么庞大的科研人员却仍然没办法接近诺贝尔奖–这一代表科学和文化界最高荣誉的奖项.

The whole of this year's Nobel prizes in the natural sciences and economics have been taken by the foundation research-focused Uncle Sam. I believe that this is connected to their precise and diligent work as well as their good research environment. And the prize for literature was taken by a Turkish writer (I saw it on QQ, but I still haven't seen the news on Google and Baidu). China's native scientists still have no way to get their hands on these awards; they haven't even been nominated. I've always wondered why such a big country with such an massive number of researchers still has no way get close to a Nobel prize, which represents the highest honors in both the scientific and cultural worlds.

在我们连续无缘这些奖项时我看到了非常奇怪的言论,比方说什么诺贝尔评奖委员会歧视中国人,诺贝尔奖的评选有猫腻.甚至说中国的发展取得了巨大的成就,而没有获得诺贝尔奖是有人在操纵诺贝尔奖,因此大家要抗议诺贝尔奖的评选.而最近因为又有新闻说某位瑞典议员提议”东突分子”为诺贝尔和平奖提名,更是给了这些观点直接的证明.

Each time we fail to get one of the prizes, I see some extremely strange opinions. Some, for example, say the Nobel judging committee discriminates against Chinese, that there's something fishy with the selections of the Nobel prize awards. Some even say that since China's development has seen huge results but hasn't won a Nobel prize, someone must be manipulating the Nobel prizes and that everyone should protest the Nobel prize selections. And recently the news says that some Swedish MP has nominated the ‘East Turkistan terrorists‘ for a Nobel prize, giving these viewpoints direct proof.

Jin Wei (靳玮):

“每年的十月,中国作家就要痛经一次。”这么精辟的话可不是我说的,是朱文的专利。十月本来并没有什么特别的色彩,就因为它是诺贝尔奖颁发的月份。而我们中国的作家又是从未忝列其中,自然会格外紧张这件事。其实把诺贝尔不眷顾中国人的罪过归结到中国人的才智上,那明显有失公道。中国十几亿人,作家何止成千上万,要从中找出一个能拿诺贝尔奖的,应该不算是个问题。而且中国历史悠久,文化积淀深厚,有道是一方水土养一方人,在中国这块土地上,哺育培养一个诺贝尔文学奖获得者也不算问题。有例为证,2000年诺贝尔文学奖获得者高行健,就是旅法中国作家。他是吃中国人的奶水长大的,血管里流着中国人的血,他的获奖也是汉语文学在世界范围内的一次胜利。还有连续几年都获诺贝尔提名的诗人北岛,他们的存在已经很好的证明了中国人的智慧,那为什么中国作家依然对诺贝尔文学奖耿耿于怀?当年高行健获奖之后,中国有篇报道似乎说出了中国作家的心病所在。现全文摘录如下:

“Every October, China's writers will be in pain.” Such a well-worded phrase unfortunately didn't come from me, the patent is Zhu Li's. October never used to be anything special, but it's the month in which the Nobel prizes are handed out. Us Chinese's writers once again find themselves among those shamed, so naturally they are especially sensitive to this event. Actually, placing the blame for Chinese's not being awarded with a Nobel prize on Chinese's ability and wisdom is an obvious loss of justice. There are over a billion Chinese and writers number in the thousands. To find a writer among them who can get a Nobel prize shouldn't be a problem. Chinese history is so long, its culture so deep and rich, and we're all products of our environment here, so fostering and raising a Nobel prize winner here in China is also not a problem. As proof of that, the 2000 Nobel prize for literature went to Gao Xingjian, an exiled Chinese writer. He was raised on Chinese breastmilk, there is Chinese blood coursing through his veins; his award was also a victory for Chinese language literature. There's also Bei Dao, nominated for a Nobel prize several years in a row. Their existence already proves well Chinese's intelligence. So why do Chinese writers still so take winning a Nobel prize to heart? The year that Gao Xingjian won his award, there was a new report that seems to have found where Chinese writers’ heartache lies. Here's the report:

当地时间(2000年)10月12日13:00(北京时间12日19:00),瑞典文学院宣布,将本年度诺贝尔文学奖授予旅法中国作家高行健。瑞典文学院认为,”其作品的普遍价值,刻骨铭心的洞察力和语言的丰富机智,为中文小说和艺术戏剧开辟了新的道路。”
然而,这位走向了世界的文学家,也是当代华语读者圈的陌生者。当他的获奖消息在互联网上迅速传开时,网友也在相互打听——高行健究竟是谁?
高行健究竟是谁呢?这位中国实验戏剧的先行者,剧目在全世界演出,1992年曾获法国政府艺术大奖,目前定居在法国。
他第一个圆了中文作家百年诺贝尔梦,然而他的身份证上注明是法籍;我们熟悉他早期的剧作,但那都是些对西方现代主义的实验;后期他着力书写中国的”过去”,然而他的读者却少有了国人……
高行健曾经有部戏叫《彼岸》,这个名字似乎正成了他今日获奖的一个隐喻——

Local time (2000) October 12, 13.00 (Beijing Time Oct. 12th, 19.00), the Royal Swedish Academy annouced that the year's Nobel prize for literature will be awarded to exiled Chinese writer Gao Xingjian. The Royal Swedish Academy decided thus “for an œuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama.” Yet, this world-travelling writer, is also a stranger to readers of modern Chinese language literature. When news of his award made the rounds of the internet, netizens asked: who in the world is he?
So who in the world is Gao Xingjian? This pioneer in Chinese experimental theater, with his plays performed around the world, won a large literature award from the French government and resides in France at present.
The first to fulfill one hundred years of Chinese writers’ dreams of Nobel prizes, yet his ID says he's French; we're familiar with his earlier plays, but those were experiments in Western modernism. Later he went on to write a book about his past in China, which few of his [Chinese] countrymen read……
Gao Xingjian once wrote a play called The Other Shore. This name seems like a metaphor for his winning of an award today…

我想症结就在于高行健的国籍上吧。也难怪,一向保守的国人,应该不会简单的把高行健的获奖当成自己人的获奖,毕竟”人家已经是法国人了嘛!”同样的,北岛也是定居瑞士多年了,他被提名同样也不能算作中国人的骄傲。所以我们自强不息的国人就愤怒啊,为什么诺贝尔不眷顾中国人?天理不公啊!为什么中国人到了外国就获奖、就提名?连物理学奖都是这样,太欺侮人了,你瑞典人是看不起中国这样一个伟大的民族、这样一个泱泱大国还是怎的?我们有五千多年的历史,地大物博、人杰地灵啊,凭什么在家里就不受待见,一出国就被捧上天?要说政治因素,那也有失偏颇。中国改革开放二十多年了,中国早已是西方大国的重要的贸易合作伙伴,而且文化交融的进度与日俱增,我国的翻译成绩和汉学家们的对外传播效率也年年有所提高,那为什么中国的文学始终进入不了西方主流文化圈的视野?这个问题才是最根本的问题。而高行健和北岛之所以被越来越多的外国人认可,并不是因为他们加入了外国的国籍。如果那么简单,那中国作家估计一大半都要去考toefl、GRE了。
保守的国家永远都无法融入更广大的圈子,开放不仅仅是经济的开放、文化的开放,更重要的是制度的开放、全民思想意识的开放。我想到了中国真正开放的那一天,中国人就不会再怀疑中国作家的智慧,中国作家也就不会再为国籍之类的问题耿耿怀。因为文学,永远是开放的,是世界性的。

The point I'm trying to make is in Gao Xingjian's citizenship. And no wonder; a country full of convervatives wouldn't simply cast Gao Xingjian's award as something one of their own won. After all, “everyone's already French!” Similarly, Bei Dao has also been settled in Switzerland for many years. His nominations also don't count as pride for Chinese. That's why our relentless countrymen are furious. Why can't the Nobel prize be awarded to a Chinese? There's no justice! Why do Chinese only get awards, get nominations, when they go abroad? Even physicists are this way. It's too unfair. Do you Swedes look down on such a great race as us Chinese? What's wrong with a vast country like this? We have over five thousand years of history, vast territory with plentiful resources, a land full of outstanding spirits. Why do we receive this treatment at home, but as soon as we leave the country we're raised up like gods? If you say political factors, that's also prejudice. China's been opening up and reforming for over twenty years; China's been an important trade partner with western countries for a long time now. And cultural blending increases by the day. Our achievements in translations and Chinese studies scholars efficiency in dealing with others has been increasing every year. So why is it that China's literature has never been able to enter the field of vision of mainstream western cultural circles? This is the most basic question. Gao Xingjian and Bei Dao's growing acceptance by foreigners has nothing to do with their foreign citizenship. If it were that simple, then most Chinese writers would off be taking the TOEFL or GRE.
Conservative countries will always have no way entering a larger circle. Opening up is not only in economics; the most important is the opening up of the system, of the whole country's thinking and consciousness. I think that when the day comes that China is fully, truly open, Chinese will no longer need to doubt the intelligence of Chinese writers, and Chinese writers will no longer fret over questions like citizenship, will stay open and worldly forever.

Chen Xiaoming (陈晓明):

其实诺贝尔奖并不取决中国评论界的声音,主要起关键作用的还是汉学家,以及国际图书市场对中国文学翻译。近年来传说很多,原来说是北岛,后来又传李锐,近来又说杨炼。如果杨炼得诺奖,那中国有一大片的诗人生气,至少有二人要气死,这就不说了。按大江健三朗的说法,莫言早该得诺贝尔文学奖了。

The Nobel awards have actually never depended on the voices of Chinese critics; the most important role still lies with Chinese studies scholars as well as the internation book market's translations of Chinese literature. Many have been seen in recent years; first it was Bei Dao, then it changed to Li Rui and now recently, Yang Lian. If Yang Lian wins a Nobel, then a lot of Chinese poets will get angry; at least two people will get pissed off, so let's not talk about that. According to Kenzaburo Oe, Mo Yan should have received a Nobel literature prize long ago.

其实,在我看来,与莫言齐名的中国作家就是贾平凹了,贾平凹是一个大作家,且具有鲜明的本土特色,与莫言旗鼓相当。要说典型的本土或汉语言特色,贾首届一指。但贾平凹在国外的名声不如莫言大,贾平凹的小说有非常好的细节和局部处理,微妙处尽见高明。贾平凹的小说语言看似平常,洗炼而有韵致,但翻译成英语可能味道全无。贾的故事变成洋文也显得老套,如果失去语言的支持,贾的小说讲述的那些故事可能不会令洋人动心。另外,贾的小说格局略显小气,过分迷恋中国古籍文化,对美文的痴迷,有时骗了别人,也会经常诓了自己。贾应该有更为独特而深刻的气象,这还需要小说中有大势。

Actually, as I see it, the only writer on par with Mo Yan is Jia Pingwa. Jia Pingwa is a master writer, with distinctly vivid Chinese characteristics, a match to Mo Yan. If you want to talk about representative local or Chinese characteristics, Jia is second to none. But Jia Pingwa's reputation abroad is not as big as Mo Yan's. Jia Pingwa's novels have extremely good details and plot treatment, both subtle and brilliant. Jia Pingwa's novels appear normal, refined and charming, but if you translate them into English, all flavor might be gone. Jia's stories turned into foreignese would seem pretty dull. If they lose the support from the language, the stories told in Jia's novels might just not captivate foreigners. On top of that, the structure to Jia's novels come off as quite finicky, exceedingly infatuated with China's ancient literary culture and obsessed with aesthetics. Sometimes to the point of cheating others, but also self-misleading. Jia should have a more unique and deeper style, and there needs to be more conflict in his novels.

2 comments

  • Great post. Thanks.

  • mahathir_fan

    Orhan while a nobel caliber writer was given the prize primarily because his “freedom of speech” trial in Turkey generated a lot of publicity. Without that trial, he would have a much harder time trying to win that prize.

    It is a bit sick for me to be reading opinions where certain Chinese bloggers felt insecure and something must be wrong with China if they haven’t received any foreign validation of their achievements.

    What it simply meant is that China hasn’t exceled based on Standards of the West. You have not become like Western people. But Western standards are not absolute standard. China always has its own standards.

    I will give an example. In Malaysia, we have a fruit. It is called the Durian. Have you seen a durian? You can click here: http://www.timwu.org/durian.JPG if you don’t know what fruit I am talking about.

    It is a very popular fruit. People in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam love this fruit. We consider it the King of all Fruits. We find it very very very tasty and delicious. The best if not one of the best fruits in the world according to us.

    When we try to give the Durian to foreigners, they could not even stand next to this fruit. To them, this fruit smell like sewage. When they eat it that is if they can even put it into their mouth, they may spit it out. Some will take one or two bites, and then enough. They don’t want anymore. To them it is not at all tasty or delicious.

    So here we have 1 fruit, the Durian. For a group of people, the Malaysians, they think this is the tastiest fruit of all. For another group of people, the Westerners, they think eating this fruit is the equivalent of eating shit.

    Is there then something wrong with Malaysians or is it simply because the environment that we grew up in, cultivated different standards?

    They hey days of Nobel Prizes are over. When men like Albert Einstein was winning them, it really did mean something about personal achievement. Today, many scientists who win them felt that they have simply be singled out of a larger group of scientists to receive that prize. A lot of scientific research today are team work based, but the Nobel awards to individuals giving the false impression that they single handedly discovered something.

    And when people like Mikhail Gorbachov wins the prize, quite clearly, the prize is awarded to those who help mould the world into the Western ideal. In other words, the Communist party of China will never win the Nobel Peace Prize for poverty reduction, but Wang Dan would have won the Nobel Peace Prize if he succeeded in disintegrating China in 1989.

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