The latest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mo Yan, is a Chinese author whose “popular, sprawling, bawdy tales bring to life rural China”. As the Malta Independent Online describes:

“Mo writes of visceral pleasures and existential quandaries and tends to create vivid, mouthy characters. While his early work sticks to a straightforward narrative structure enlivened by vivid descriptions, raunchy humour and farce, his style has evolved, toying with different narrators and embracing a freewheeling style often described as ‘Chinese magical realism’… His output has been prolific, which has contributed to his popularity and his impact. His works have been translated into English, Russian, French, German and many other languages, giving him an audience well beyond the Chinese-speaking world…Mo is probably best known to English-language readers for ‘Red Sorghum,’ thanks in part to Zhang Yimou’s acclaimed film adaptation.”

He is also the first Chinese winner of the prize who is not a critic of the Chinese government.  Thus, the news that he had been awarded the Nobel was greeted with cheers in China – the state-run broadcaster, China Central Television, reported the news moments after the award had been made and the official writers’ association lauded the choice (Mo is one of its vice-chairmen).  This contrasts with the reception that Beijing gave to previous Chinese recipients of Nobel’s largesse:

“Beijing disowned China-born French émigré dramatist, novelist and government critic Gao Xingjian when in 2000 he became the only other Chinese winner of the literary prize.

After imprisoned democracy campaigner Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Peace Prize two years ago, the government heaped scorn on the award as a tool of the West and chilled diplomatic and economic relations with Norway, the home country of the prize.”

Although the Chinese government has not condemned the prize, others have stepped up to the plate.  Dissident Chinese writer Liao Yiwu, who lives in Germany, on October 13 savaged China’s Nobel Prize-winning author Mo Yan as a “state poet”, close to the communist regime.  Further:

“…Mo, who started writing while in the army, has steered clear from criticizing the government in public. He has been accused of refusing to appear with dissident writers at overseas literary seminars. The award stirred the criticisms anew.

‘Some are opposed to his winning the Nobel Prize because he serves as a vice chair of the China Writers’ Association and helps the government in censorship. But some are supportive, arguing literature should not be linked to politics but be valued on its own merit,’ said Murong Xuecun, the pen name of author Hao Qun, who has become more outspoken about censorship in recent years.

Yu Jie, an essayist and close friend of imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu who fled to the U.S. this year, was more acid. ‘This reflects the West’s disregard for China’s human rights problems. Mo Yan’s win is not a victory for literature. It’s a victory for the Communist Party,’ Yu said on his Twitter feed.”

However, that is not the whole story, for Mo is also a critic of the one-child policy in China who can speak from personal experience.  His most recent work, Wa, highlights the reality of coercive family planning/population control in China.  It tells the story of a rural gynaecologist who delivers babies and also performs abortions in enforcing the one-child policy.  In 2010, Mo discussed in an interview his own experiences of forcing his wife to abort their second child:

“‘I personally believe the one-child policy is a bad policy. If there were no one-child policy, I would have two or three children.’

‘When I was serving in the army, I was promoted to the rank of officer,’ said Mo Yan. ‘There was another officer in the army who lost his rank…because he had a second child. I was afraid I would receive the same punishment, so I chose not to have another child. If it were not for my own selfish ambition, I would have let my wife have a second or even a third baby. I used a very high-sounding rationale to convince her we needed to abort the baby: we had to follow the Party’s policy and nation’s policy. This has become an eternal scar in the deepest part of my heart…It became a big shadow in my heart.’”

Let us hope that the recognition that Mo has gained from his prize will bring recognition to this “eternal scar”, this “big shadow” that lies upon China.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...