Mo Yan: the First Chinese Writer to Win the Nobel Prize for Literature

After receiving the news that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mo Yan expressed his excitement at a news conference in his hometown Gao-mi in east China’s Shandong Province.

He said, “It is really a big surprise for me to win the Nobel Prize in literature, for there are so many excellent writers both at home and abroad. And I feel very happy. Some people say the winning of the prize is a recognition of universal values by the western countries. I understand those universal values as truth, kindness and beauty. And only when you feel and experience it, can you write good works that can both touch yourself and your readers.” Senior CPC leader Li Changchun has congratulated Mo Yan on winning the 2012 Nobel Literature Prize. Li says in a letter to the China Writers Association that Mo’s winning of the prize reflects the prosperity and progress of the Chinese literature.

Mo Yan’s novel Red Sorghum first came to wide attention on the big screen both at home and abroad in 1987. The film was directed by Jiang Yimou and marked the acting debut of Gong Li. Many got to know of Mo when director Zhang Yimou adapted this novel from his 1986 novella of the same name, bringing to life a visual landscape characterized by red sorghum fields and a fiery setting sun.

Set in Gaomi, the story is the tale of a sedan carrier who saves the bride he is carrying from bandits, and later marries her. The wild, audacious man urinates in the local winery’s precious barrels, but also later dies fighting against Japanese troops during World War II. Editor Ye Kai has high praises for this work, calling it an ode to the power of life.

Not all were convinced that Mo deserved to win the prize. Some writers criticized Mo on his perspectives rather than talent, and cast doubts that he could be objective and independent enough when discussing serious social issues in his works. They believed his winning of the Nobel Prize was in direct conflict with his position as vice-chairman of the official Chinese Writers Association.

Paper Republic’s Abrahamsen appreciates Mo’s poise between literary and analytic aspirations best. “Chinese literature can often go to one extreme or the other,” he says. “Either it’s an exposition of a writer’s opinions about a social issue, sacrificing literary value, or else it’s a work that retreats from reality and plays games with imagination. I think Mo Yan has kept the balance.”