A Shameful Chapter in Nobel History

A dissident writer in China describes why she believes Mo Yan should not have received the literary award.

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mo-li-305.jpg Mo Li speaks with RFA, Dec. 8, 2012.

Chinese dissident author Mo Li reacts to the award of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature to Chinese author Mo Yan, who is best-known in the West for his novel "Red Sorghum," on which the movie by the same name was based. She told RFA's Mandarin service why, in her opinion, the prize should never have been given to a writer who is a member of China's ruling Communist Party:

I thought Mo Yan's speech was of a very low standard. His topic was "people who tell stories." But the story he told was trivial, superficial, without a modicum of depth. Speeches given by past winners have also told stories, but they have been refined and thoughtful. Not Mo Yan's. He just said that some of us have experienced the suffering of farmers, but he didn't touch on the reasons behind that suffering.

[He claims that literature and politics should be kept separate, but] many of his works are thoroughly political. In "Garlic Ballads" he exposed a lot of corruption among grass-roots officials, but in the end he concludes that the Communist Party of China is marvelous, and that it's only local officials who are corrupt. That's what the Party leadership says as well.

The cultural elite of Sweden and China attended the award ceremony, including officials from the Chinese Embassy. They should hear an alternative view; that the granting of an award to Mo Yan is the most shameful chapter in their history.

Nobel prizes are supposed to be awarded to those who bring the greatest benefits to mankind ... Millions of people died under dictatorships during the twentieth century ... Mo Yan is anti-humanist. In "Sandalwood Death," we see his perverted description of a criminal punishment that is so brutal as to be unreadable. His works also call on people not to resist; to be harmonious ... He speaks for an authoritarian regime: he himself is a member of this authoritarian regime. Mo Yan said that censorship isn't a problem in China, but how many people have been arrested just for posting a few words on the Internet?

Who decides the truth? Is it determined by an authoritarian regime? What about Gao Zhisheng, Shi Tao, Wang Bingzhang and Liu Xiaobo, all of whom were sentenced to many years in jail; did they contravene the truth?

Mo Yan can't see his own multiplicity. On the one hand, he is from a rural background; he writes about the earthy side of farmers, and about their suffering, but he is a member of the ruling class. In 1989, he was involved in organized protests in Tiananmen, but once the crackdown came, and everybody went to jail and a lot of people were killed, he kept his mouth shut, and was even promoted to vice-chairman of the [Party-backed] Writers' Association.

In "Paradise Garlic Song," for example, he wrote about the suffering and unhappiness of the peasants, but he believes that the system itself is able to provide a remedy ... He just opposes grassroots corruption, but he has never opposed the system itself.

In the view of Chen Si and others within the Party-backed system, Mo Yan is a very intelligent person, who reaps the benefits of the system while writing best-selling books and making money, turning the suffering of the people into Western literary prizes. Such is the cynicism of the Chinese intelligentsia.

We shouldn't expect everyone to be [bold and outspoken]; I'm just saying he shouldn't get the Nobel Prize.

Reported by Shen Hua for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie.


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