The 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature is making big news in China, being
hailed on television and the Internet, in a marked departure from the
Just minutes after the Swedish Academy gave the award to Chinese writer
Mo Yan, state-run television broke into its usual programming to relay
the news. Millions of Chinese took to social media and
micro-blogging sites to post their feelings, many calling the prize a
"I am proud of him as Chinese," said Beijing resident Zheng Qingcheng.
"The Nobel Prize is a world class prize. He is great. I am
so happy for him."
Hu Yanyu, a 29-year-old finance officer, called it a first.
"I think this sends a signal that the foreign mainstream culture is now
accepting Chinese culture, so I think this is very gratifying and worth
congratulating," she said.
But this is not the first time someone from China has been given the prestigious honor.
A troubled past
In 2000, the Swedish Academy awarded the literature prize to Chinese
writer Gao Xingjian for his "bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity . .
. in the writing of Gao Xingjian literature is born anew from the
struggle of the individual to survive the history of the masses."
But by the time the award was announced, Gao Xingjian had been living in
France for 13 years, having been declared persona non grata by Beijing.
More recently, the Nobel Committee awarded the 2010 Peace Prize to
jailed writer and activist Liu Xiaobo, infuriating China.
Chinese officials said awarding Liu a Nobel prize was an insult. Neither
Liu nor his family was permitted to attend the award ceremony in Oslo,
where his absence was marked by an empty chair on the stage.
In China, the anger over the so-called "insult" has lingered. Just this
past June, China refused to grant a visa to former Norwegian prime
minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, whom it blames for the decision to award
Liu the peace prize.
China changing course
This time, though, there will be no empty chairs.
"He said that he was overjoyed and scared and, yes, he is coming to
Stockholm," said Swedish Academy permanent secretary Peter Englund, who
praised Mo Yan for his "hallucinatory realism."
Editor-in-chief of the state run Global Times
newspaper, Hu Xijin, said Thursday Mo’s winning the award was a sign the West is looking beyond Chinese dissidents.
But not everyone is happy.
Hong Kong-based blogger Wen Yunchao criticized the committee for giving
the prize to Mo, who serves as vice president of the pro-establishment
China Writers Association.
"The two words 'Mo Yan' mean 'do not speak,' and they are a very real
portrayal of the current political situation in China," Wen said.
"With Mo Yan winning of the prize, people in China will get the message
that you can become an accomplice of an authoritarian government. As
long as you have made enough contributions to literature, you will have
the chance to win the most prestigious international award. Morally and
politically, I think this will have devastating consequences.''
New insight into China
Those who teach Mo Yan's works say they understand the criticism but
they also say to focus only on the current politics is unfair.
One of them is Alexander Huang, a professor of English, theater and
international affairs at George Washington University, and an author who
has written about both Gao Xingjian and Mo Yan.
"Some of his [Mo Yan's] works were censored early on," he said. "I
think his works, especially the fantastical realism, has a lot to say
about his society. In other words, his form of social criticism is more
Huang says by putting the spotlight on Mo Yan, the Nobel Literature
Committee may be signaling an important shift in how Chinese literature,
as well as the whole region, needs to be viewed.
"We are only interested in the output by the so-called dissidents. We
are less interested in art for art's sake. And in Mo Yan's humorist,
satirical and humorist narratives about his society we see a different
face of art and literature from that region," he said.
University of Maryland literature Professor Andrew Schonebaum agrees.
"This pick seems to celebrate Chinese cultural productivity on its own
merits, as opposed to being really politicized," he said. "When it
comes to China in the last couple of decades, we in the States [the
United States] have been primarily concerned with politics and
economics, and this I think is a pretty crucial component that's often
Both Huang and Schonebaum say the focus on Mo Yan could help bring
attention to more artists and writers from China, perhaps even
catapulting some onto the international scene.
If any of them manage to catch the eye of the Swedish Academy, they
could join a growing list of influential artists and scientists. Seven
other Nobel laureates were either born in China or are of Chinese
heritage, although none lived in China at the time of their award.