Nobel Writer Calls for Liu's Release

An award-winning Chinese writer departs from the official line on a jailed dissident.
Email story
Comment on this story
Print story
Mo Yan waits to attend a press conference in Shandong province, Oct. 12, 2012.
Mo Yan waits to attend a press conference in Shandong province, Oct. 12, 2012.

In a move that looks set to dampen official glee over his honor, Mo Yan, winner of this year's Nobel Prize for Literature, has expressed the hope that jailed 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo will be released from jail "very soon."

Mo's honor had previously met with a dismissive reaction from rights activists and dissident writers, while his achievement was widely lauded by the official media, which is closely controlled by China's ruling Communist Party.

"I now hope that he can regain his freedom very soon," Mo told a news conference in in hometown in the eastern provine of Shandong.

"If [Liu] can be freed in good health sooner, then he can study his politics and his social system."

However, Mo, himself a member of the Party, still hasn't strayed too far from the official line on Liu, suggesting that the jailed co-author of Charter 08, a document calling for sweeping political change in China, might be persuaded to change his political beliefs with the benefit of further study.

His remarks drew a lukewarm welcome from rights activists and friends of Liu Xiaobo.

Unwise award?

Beijing Film Academy professor Cui Weiping, who has translated the works of former Czech President and Nobel laureate Vaclav Havel into Chinese, said she was against Mo's award.

"My criticism isn't leveled at Mo Yan himself; rather at the Nobel Prize Committee's decision," she said. "I think there are a lot of other factors at work if a Chinese author like Mo Yan can win the Nobel Prize."

"In an era where there are so many writers in jail, and when those who try to oversee the system are restricted and oppressed, I think that giving this prize to Mo Yan is very unwise."

But she said she hopes Mo will continue to speak out on behalf of jailed Chinese authors.

"I hope that he will play a role in overseeing the system in future, so as to bring even more freedom to others through his own celebrity and freedom," Cui said.

Beijing-based writer Mo Zhixu, who is a close friend of Liu's, welcomed Mo's comments but also called for greater clarity from the Nobel laureate.

"I wish that he could have spoken more directly ... but I don't know if he wants to do that, or if he dares or not," he said.

"But for a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature not to dodge the question when it was asked, shows that he at least has some conscience," he added.

He Jianming, head of the government-backed Chinese Writers' Association, said the award was "a dream come true" for Chinese writers.

Official support

China's official media have reacted with considerable excitement to the award, in marked contrast to their frosty silence in the wake of Liu's 2011 Nobel Peace Prize honor.

State-run broadcaster CCTV interrupted a news bulletin to announce Mo's award live to the nation, while the news made front-page headlines in official newspapers.

Mo's comments on Liu's release came just after he had been congratulated in public by Party propaganda chief Li Changchun, who said the award "reflects the prosperity and progress of Chinese literature, as well as the increasing influence of China."

In an editorial, the Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the Party, lauded the award as heralding a new era of acceptance for what it called "mainstream" Chinese culture.

"The Chinese mainstream cannot be refused by the West for long," the paper said.

The official response to Mo's prize comes in sharp contrast to the angry response by the Chinese authorities when dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.

Mo's win met with a mixed reception among Chinese writers and activists, at home and overseas, with dissident artist Ai Weiwei commenting that his win wouldn't benefit Liu unless he spoke out openly on the peace laureate's behalf.

On Friday, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders released a video showing the silhouette of a lone woman identified as Liu's wife, Liu Xia, smoking by a window at night in the apartment where she has been held under house arrest since Liu's Nobel prize was announced.

"Smoking a cigarette at her window is one of the few freedoms left to her," the group said in a statement, which also called for the release of both Liu Xia and her husband.

Mo became the first Chinese national to win the 2012 Nobel Literature Prize on Thursday, but critics questioned his "surprise" elevation to Nobel laureate.

The Swedish academy said he was picked for his works combining "hallucinatory realism" with folk tales, history, and contemporary life in China.


Some of the books of Mo Yan, whose real name is Guan Moye, have been banned as "provocative and vulgar" by Chinese authorities, but the 57-year-old writer has also been criticized by some as being too close to the ruling Chinese Communist Party in light of the tight state control over cultural affairs in the country.

Mo is best known in the West for his book Red Sorghum, which portrayed the hardships endured by farmers in the early years of communist rule and was made in a film directed by Zhang Yimou. His books also include Big Breasts and Wide Hips and The Republic of Wine.

Liu Xia has been held under strict house arrest since the announcement in October 2010 that her imprisoned husband was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his “long and nonviolent struggle for human rights in China.”

Liu Xiaobo, a literary critic and former professor, was detained in December 2008 after he helped draft Charter 08, a manifesto calling for sweeping changes in China's government that was signed by thousands of netizens.

A year later, he was sentenced to 11 years in jail for “inciting subversion of state power” in the charter and in six other articles published online.

China censored news of the Nobel prize and the award ceremony in Oslo, when Liu’s medal and diploma were presented to an empty chair, an image that became a symbol for the dissident among his supporters online.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese service and by Xin Yu for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

Comments (1)


Mo Yan's somewhat lukewarm comment expressing hope that Liu Xiaobo would be released from jail soon is commendable. However, just as Wen Jiabao has mostly stopped talking about political reform, even in the abstract, Mo Yan will probably not do or say much more in defense of imprisoned or otherwise oppressed Chinese writers. After all, Mo has long been a Party member.

Oct 16, 2012 08:14 PM





More Listening Options

View Full Site