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Chinese Hold Breath for Nobel Literature Prize

Latest Update: The Swedish Academy just announced that Mo Yan won the 2012 Nobel Literature Prize. Upon hearing the news, Mo Yan said he was “overjoyed and scared”.

Hours before the Nobel Prize in Literature reveals on Thursday, October 11, 2012 the Chinese are holding their breath.

This year, Chinese writer Mo Yan and Japanese Haruki Murakami are top candidates for winning the literature prize according to several betting agencies says Global Times [en, zh]. Both authors are familiar to Chinese readers, and the news that they have been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize immediately sparked heated discussion of who is more fit to win the award.

Compared with other contemporary Chinese writers such as Yu Hua and Wang Shuo, Mo Yan is most recognized. Indeed, instead of giving credit to Mo’s literary works, most critics online focus on other aspects of Mo's career, which in their opinion disqualifies him for the Nobel.

Chinese author Mo Yan

Chinese author Mo Yan pictured in Hamburg in 2008. Photo by Johannes Kolfhaus (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Offbeat China outlined Mo’s “sins” posted by netizen 滕_彪on Weibo (the original post was deleted but the translated one is preserved):

He was one of the writers who copied Mao’s Yan’an Talks on Literature and Art by hand [The talk was given by Mao in 1942 which laid out the approval style of art and literature in China, one that has no darkness and showed only the bright side of society.] He once said that there were no restrictions or censorship on novelists in China. At Frankfurt Book Fair, he refused to sit in the same seminar with [dissident Chinese authors] Dai Qing and Bei Ling. When he was asked about opinions on Liu Xiaobo’s 11-year sentence, he said he didn’t know much about it and had nothing to say. He has never said a single word against ‘a China heart’…

“假装在纽约” accuses him of similar “sins” but goes a step further when he points out that the universe of literature should be boundless:

@假装在纽约:文学无国界,一个真正的文学家,他的心中也应该是没有祖国的。他不会在书展上和官员一起退席抗议异议作家的出席,也不会抄写极权领 袖在文艺座谈会上的讲话。因为真正的文学家,在思想上既是引领时代前行的先驱,也代表着一个时代最后的坚守。诺贝尔文学奖应该给这样的人,至于他是不是中 国人,不重要。

@假装在纽约: “A writer who deserves a Nobel Prize should be one without borders – he shouldn’t protest against the presence of dissident writers together with government officials and he shouldn’t copy a dictator’s talks by hand, for a true great writer should not only be the pioneer of his time, but should also hold his ground. As for whether he is a Chinese or not, it is the most important thing.”

Others criticize Mo for not daring to protest literary censorship by ridiculing his pen name, which translates literally to “don’t speak”:


@封新城: If Mo is awarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature, it is mostly because of his pen name.

Yet, those who are more familiar with Mo’s work stepped up efforts to merit Mo’s literary achievement and give Mo their blessings. Famous host from Chinese Central Television Cui Yongyuan’s voice may represent many:


@崔永元-实话实说:I hope he wins. He deserves it.

The poet Zhao Lihua argues that the Nobel Prize should get away from the moral high ground and calls for a more tolerant heart :


@赵丽华:Mo Yan's works are full of vitality, multicolor and abandon. They possess breadth, depth, imagination and a cutting edge by reflecting on our history and reality. Bestowing the honor on him is worthy. Copying a dictator’s talks by hand is just a token. It is not necessary to criticize him with a moral high ground.

For many netizens out of the literary field, they think Murakami has better odds partly because his works are more popular among Chinese readers. As @Adelaide是全称 asserted:

@Adelaide是全称: 我真心觉得我们这代读过村上村树的要比读过莫言多。。。

@Adelaide是全称: I really feel that our generation read more of Murakami than Mo Yan.

While for others, Murakami’s courage to challenge the system and to bring the uniqueness of each individual soul to the surface is his charisma. As netizen Li Fanghua commented:


@李芳华: I hope that Murakami could win the prize. Some say that the aesthetic value of literature surpasses politics, and I think there is no better place to find out the answer in Murakami's speech when he accepted the Jerusalem Prize: “Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.”

Nobel Prize in China

For the Chinese, the Nobel Prize is both a dream and a scar. Up to now, the Nobel Prize for Sciences has never been conferred to a Chinese national, and partly due to this, China has long been viewed as a nation lacking of innovation. Last year, the Nobel Peace Prize was given to Liu Xiaobo, who has been sentenced to prison for 11 years on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”. His prize was considered to be “Anti-China”.

In Literature, the only other writer with a connection to China was Gao Xingjian, a French-Chinese dissident writer who left China in 1987 and won the award in 2000. Therefore, Mo Yan, as a typical Chinese author whose work reflects ordinary life in China, has been the only hope for Chinese depend on.

Only few hours before the announcement, we hold our breath for the final results. But many are still suspicious, as the author Feng Tang wrote on his Weibo account:


It is ridiculous when foreigners who don’t understand Chinese gather together and give credit to a Chinese writer through its translated version.

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