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Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize 'third time lucky' for PRC
Matt Pickles | 24 Oct 12
The first thing is Yan’s distinctive style, which is laced with irony. Professor Mitter attributes this to the troubled climate in China during Mo Yan’s early years.
'Mo Yan is one of the most creative writers in modern Chinese fiction,’ he says. 'He was born in the 1950s and he grew up during the Cultural Revolution when essentially he was thrown out of school.
'The bitterness of that experience shapes a great deal of his writing and has also created a strong sense of irony in what he writes. Humour isn’t always something that westerners expect in Chinese novels, although in the modern tradition, the great writer Lu Xun is just one of those who use irony as social commentary.
'One of his other novels is entitled Jiuguo – it’s a pun in Chinese that can either mean 'national salvation' or 'country of booze.' It’s up to the reader to decide how to interpret that ambiguity.'
Mo Yan is not the first ethnic Chinese winner of a Nobel Prize – Gao Xingjian won the 2000 Nobel prize for literature but lives in exile in France, while dissident Liu Xiaobo won the peace prize in 2008. But, Professor Mitter says, Mo Yan is the first Chinese winner who has been officially celebrated by the Chinese government.
'This is seen in China as being a very big deal – the front page of the People’s Daily Online offers massive congratulations to Mo Yan, for instance,' he says.
But not everyone in China is as delighted. Professor Mitter explains: ‘There are also voices out there that say this is because he is too close to the establishment and essentially he is almost a safe choice to pick because he has never taken direct aim at the Chinese Communist Party.'
That said, one of his first acts post-Nobel was to voice support for Liu Xiaobo.
Politics aside, perhaps we should let Mo Yan’s writing speak for itself. Professor Mitter recommends a passage from his 1987 book Red Sorghum, which was made into a groundbreaking film by Zhang Yimou. Here are a few lines from Howard Goldblatt’s translation:
'I didn’t realise until I’d grown up that Northeast Gaomi Township is easily the most beautiful and repulsive, most unusual and most common, most sacred and most corrupt, most heroic and most bastardly, hardest drinking and hardest loving place in the world. In late autumn during the eighth lunar month, vast stretches of Red Sorgum shimmered like a sea of blood.'
Professor Mitter has discussed Mo Yan's award in full on BBC Radio 3’s Night Waves.