The Very Different Fates of Two Chinese Nobel Prize Winners

This year's winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, Mo Yan, has travelled to Stockholm to receive his prize. However in contrast, the 2010 Nobel Prize in Peace winner, Liu Xiaobo, is still in prison in China and his wife Liu Xia under house arrest.

In her first interview in 26 months, Liu Xia finally spoke to the Associated Press journalists who sneaked into her apartment in secret during the security staff's lunch break, bursting into tears and saying, “We live in such an absurd place“.

Indeed, it is absurd. Mo Yan, a pen-name that literally means ‘Don't Speak’, attended the Nobel press conference yesterday on December 6, 2012, and said that censorship is inevitable and that he would not back a petition for Liu Xiaobo. However, 134 Nobel Laureates past and present launched a campaign, urging Chinese President Xi Jinping to release Liu Xiaobo back in early December. Mo Yan is obviously not signed up to the petition list.

Liu Xia bursted into tears and said, "We live in such an absurd place". Screen capture from Now TV news.

Liu Xia bursted into tears and said, “We live in such an absurd place”. Screen capture from Now TV news.

While Mo Yan is a winner in every sense, Liu Xiaobo, who has chosen to speak up for democracy and against political injustice, was sentenced to 11 year's imprisonment, and his wife subjected to house arrest for two years. Liu won the Nobel Prize but lost everything.

Actually, the majority of mainland Chinese never had the chance to know that Liu Xiaobo was the first Chinese citizen to receive a Nobel Prize, as the news has never shown up on official media outlets. Similarly, Liu Xia's recent outburst cannot be heard online, as both Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia's names are unsearchable.

Online reactions

On Twitter, some dissidents are elaborating on the absurdity of China. Hu Jia described [zh] his own situation:


I was stopped by the under-cover police in the morning in my building's entrance. I asked them how you choose to be slaves, they said “slaves are better than traitors”. Since September 18, I was under house arrest because of the 18th national CCP Congress, the security police officers said something like that. Today, I asked them [if the strengthening of security control] was related to Liu Xia, they grinned. One of the consequences when Liu Xia speaks is that I have to be under house detention.

Jian Alan Huang pointed out [zh] that absurdity is the nature of authoritarian country:


In an authoritarian society, everyone is like duckweed under the rain and cannot control their fate. Liu Xia can't do anything with her two year's house arrest and can only burst into tears; Fung Xiagang can't produce a movie on 1962 [the Great Leap Forward] and can only produce a film on 1942 [Sino-Japanese War]; Mo Yan can't change the censorship system and can only legitimize it for self-comforting.

Although micro-bloggers cannot talk about Liu Xia on popular forum Sina Weibo, many are speaking out against Mo Yan's cowardice [zh].

红尘三过客:@莫言 说的完全是屁话:“每个国家都有言论审查。”——但世界上只有一个国家将诺奖得主关在狱中。只要有一个作家因为写作而坐牢,这个国家就没有真实的言论自由。“刘大嗑吧不能在自己的国度里自由地生活和出版,那么我们也不能够为今年的诺贝尔文学奖的荣誉感到欣喜。”

@Three passerby in the earthy world: @Mo Yan is talking shit: “every country has censorship” — but only one country in this world puts a Nobel Prize winner in jail. If there is a writer in jail because of writing, this country does not have freedom of speech. If Liu [Xiaobo] can't freely write and publish in his own country, we cannot feel happy and honorable in the result of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature.


@Hao Miao – mms: Mo Yan used the word ‘inevitable’ to describe censorship and concluded that censorship does not have an adverse effect on literature, this is too shameless. Dancers dancing with their feet chained dance better than those without chains… but the issue at stake is that without the chain, the dancer will perform even better. This is common sense. Mo Yan's rhetoric is disgusting.


@Zhen Yen12: As a language worker, he has secretly interchanged censorship by the state and media self-censorship. This is not wise, it makes him look stupid. Yet to make sure he can come home safe, he has to dance with his feet chained.


@Dreamlike shadow: Mo Yan's talk obviously has gone through party censorship.

Wu Zuo Lai, a famous news commentator, used Mo Yan's logic and wrote [zh] a speech for him:


I am writing the [Nobel Prize] winner's remarks for Mo Yan: Thanks to my country and thanks to the CCP for creating this suffering. This is the ill-fortune for the country but the fortune for the poet. Such suffering and absurdity is out of people's imagination and my work is grown out of such rich soil. If Chinese people were living as happy as the northern Europeans, Mo Yan wouldn't be speaking here for getting the prize. Thanks to all the suffering and thanks to the Party. Sorry to my fellows, I can only speak in literature, in reality I am a coward and I can't speak the truth. I repent for being like this.


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