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

US Border Patrol Union Accused of Taking Sides on Immigration

Report alleges agents leaking info to immigration opponents, appearing at their private events; Center for Immigration Studies director defends agents' actions More

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Reporting from Somali capital for past decade, Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal has been working at one of Mogadishu's leading radio stations covering parliament More

Video Rights Monitor: Hate Groups' Use of Internet to Inflame, Recruit Growing

Wiesenthal Center's Abraham Cooper says extremists have become skilled at celebrating violence, ideology on Web More

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.
Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Interneti
X
Mike O'Sullivan
June 30, 2015 8:20 PM
Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Syrians Flee IS Advance in Hasaka

The Syrian government said Monday it has taken back one of several districts in Hasaka overrun by Islamic State militants. But continued fighting elsewhere in the northern city has forced thousands of civilians from their homes. In this report narrated by Bill Rodgers, VOA Kurdish Service reporter Zana Omer describes the scene in Amouda, where some of the displaced are taking refuge.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video S. Korea Christians Protest Gay Rights Festival

The U.S. Supreme Court decision mandating marriage equality nationwide has energized gay rights supporters around the world. Gay rights remain a highly contentious issue in a key U.S. ally, South Korea, where police did a deft job Sunday of preventing potential clashes between Christian protesters and gay activists. Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.
Video

Video In Syrian Crisis, Social Media Offer Small Comforts

Za’atari, a makeshift city in Jordan, may be the only Syrian refugee camp to tweet its activities, in an effort to keep donors motivated as the war in Syria intensifies and the humanitarian crisis deepens. Inside the camp, families say mobile phone applications help hold together families that are physically torn apart. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

VOA Blogs