News / Asia

    Award Spotlights Nobel Group's Troubled Past With China

    Chinese writer Mo Yan at news conference in his hometown Gaomi, Shandong province, October 11, 2012.
    Chinese writer Mo Yan at news conference in his hometown Gaomi, Shandong province, October 11, 2012.
    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 past.

    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 triumph.
     
    2012 Nobel Prize in Literature

    Mo Yan


    • Born in 1955, grew up in Shandong province in northeastern China.
    • First short story published in a literary journal in 1981.
    • Breakthrough work was Touming de hong loubo, first published in Chinese in 1986.
    • Seen as one of the foremost contemporary authors in China.
    • The Royal Swedish Academy said his work "with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary."
    "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.

    Dissident anger

    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 subtle."

    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 overlooked."

    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.

    Jeff Seldin

    Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters and is national security correspondent. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

    You May Like

    Top US General: Turkish Media Report ‘Absurd'

    General Dunford rejects ‘irresponsible' claims of coup involvement by former four-star Army General Campbell, who led NATO forces in Afghanistan before retiring earlier this year

    Video Saving Ethiopian Children Thought to Be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at efforts of one African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children

    Protests Over Western Troops Threaten Libyan 'Unity' Government

    Fears mount that Islamist foes of ‘unity' government plan to declare a revolutionaries' council in Tripoli

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Wangchuk from: NYC
    October 12, 2012 12:21 PM
    When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo and the Dalai Lama, China claimed the Nobel committee was biased against China. Now the CCP sings the Nobel's praises when a Party member is awarded the prize for literature. Mo Yan deserves this award, the CCP does not. It is the CCP that is biased here.

    by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
    October 12, 2012 12:44 AM
    Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo lived in China even in a jail when he was awarded, didn't he? Faithfully Nobel prize should be free from any political power. But it cannot help being affected by such power especially on Peace and Litereature Prize to some extent. A Japanese PM got Peace Prize a bit long ago as a reward of his work of handing back of Okinawa from the U.S. But he is not honored by most of Japanese because it was uncovered later that he had consealed a secret promise with the U.S. over the issue of Okinawa.

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunitiesi
    X
    VOA News
    July 25, 2016 5:09 PM
    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Four Brother Goats Arrive in Brooklyn on a Mission

    While it's unusual to see farm animals in cities, it's become familiar for residents of Brooklyn, New York, to see a little herd of goats. Unlike gas-powered mowing equipment, goats remove invasive weeds quietly and without adding more pollution to the air. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this is a pilot program and if it proves to be successful, the goat gardener program will be extended to other areas of New York. Faith Lapidus narrates.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora